Coral snake sightings in Crowley are high but not an 'outbreak'

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“We have a concern because they’re very deadly. They’re very colorful, so little kids would probably love to grab to see what the heck it is.” K.P. Gibson, Crowley police chief

Laurie Suire closely watches her three boys in their Crowley yard after her husband and neighbors discovered and killed extremely poisonous coral snakes nearby.

“I’ve learned more about coral snakes in the last year than I ever thought possible,” she said.

Suire called the number of snakes found in northwest Crowley — 13 by her count, eight in 2012 and five since the spring — an outbreak and turned to social media to shed light on the problem.

While urging residents to use caution when encountering corals, snake experts and Crowley’s police chief said the number found in the Acadia Parish city does not mean there is an outbreak. They also said people react differently to snake sightings, depending on where they live.

“Five snakes (this year) do not make an outbreak,” said Jeff Boundy, a snake expert for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

The coral snake, which can be found worldwide, grows to about 30 inches and lives for about seven years. The Eastern Coral Snake is mostly found in the southeastern and the southwestern United States.

Crowley Police Chief K.P. Gibson has warned residents that “extremely poisonous” coral snakes, with their distinctive red, yellow and black bands, were spotted near several residences near North Crowley Elementary School.

Gibson said Monday he released a statement Friday to protect residents, especially children.

“We have a concern because they’re very deadly,” Gibson said. “They’re very colorful, so little kids would probably love to grab to see what the heck it is.”

Boundy said grabbing a coral snake, which he described as “secretive,” would be a mistake. He made the mistake years ago when, believing the coral snake he had trapped was harmless, grabbed it.

“As soon as you try to pin one down, they’ll whip right around and they’ll bite you up and down,” he said. “... When you grab them they will turn around and bite vigorously. They’re not a harmless little thing you can pick up.”

There could be several reasons why Crowley residents are seeing more snakes these days, Boundy and Gibson said.

Subdivision landscaping resembles the snakes’ natural habitat, which is tree-filled forests that abut grassy fields, Boundy said.

“When you pull the woods into your subdivision, the coral snakes will flow with it,” he said. “It’s perfect for them. They’ll just blend right into a new habitat.”

Gibson said the snakes could be migrating from dry farm fields.

“Every house (where a snake has been found) is on the outskirts of the farm area to the northwest of the city,” he said.

David Sever, a professor of biological sciences at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, said the number of sightings in the small area of Crowley is unusual.

“They’re not terribly common,” Sever said. “But it’s not an outbreak.”

Boundy said the concern among residents — he has received a few calls from Crowley — could be explained in who is discovering the snakes.

Suburbanites encountering poisonous snakes react differently than farmers do, Boundy said.

Farmers grab a shovel, kill the snake and proceed to the next chore, he said.

Subdivision dwellers, thinking the snakes are a big deal, are more likely to convey their experiences on social media, Boundy said.

“When you got 200 people living in a subdivision, and they see five snakes, it’s not an outbreak,” he said.

Suire said she believes the number of snakes near her home constitutes an outbreak, and that her Facebook postings and others’ postings helped bring attention to the reptiles.

Suire said she started talking to Boundy and Wildlife and Fisheries agents last year and has received no answers about why there are more poisonous snakes nearby.

Editor’s note: This story was modified on Aug. 20, 2013. The original story said Suire kept vials of snake antivenom at the ready and was stocking up on more. That is not the case. The Advocate regrets the error.