If you go:
What: Learning About the Snakes of Oklahoma seminar
Where: Southern Tech Auditorium
When: 6-7:15 p.m. Monday, May 20, 2019
Cost: Free to attend
For all of recorded human history — from Adam and Eve to modern representations of snakes on the silver screen — snakes have gotten a bad rap.
Mike Porter, senior wildlife and fisheries consultant for the Noble Research Institute, looks to repair that reputation Monday during a hands-on seminar at Southern Tech.
For more than 30 years, Mike, has used his knowledge and passion for science to educate others. On Monday he will present some of that knowledge along with dozens of snakes commonly found in Southern Oklahoma.
“I work on lots of different science projects with children, but I noticed they pay a lot of attention when you have snakes,” Porter said. “That’s why I started using live snakes.”
The snakes — some of which are venomous — were mostly caught by Porter, while others are on loan from local ranchers that share his passion for conservation for a vital part of the local ecology.
“Snakes are wildlife, it’s just a small part of my job,” Porter said. “I do a lot of presentations in April and May, I think I had 16 this year, but this will be my last one (this year).”
Porter’s responsibilities range far beyond snakes, and the presentations allow him to go beyond his normal job functions to interact and disperse information.
“I usually work with farmers and ranchers to help them accomplish their goals,” Porter said. “Most of what I work with is traditional wildlife, whitetail deer, large mouth bass, controlling aquatic vegetation management, prescribed fires, managing water quality and native habits as well as different game and none-game species we have around here.”
Porter’s snake presentations provide safety programs for various businesses or organizations, and various environmental camps for area students.
“I did one last week for all of Lincoln Elementary School,” Porter said. “I do some for youth, some for adults, the one we do on Monday is public and I bet that more than half will be adults.”
Porter said he hopes to change opinions on snakes, fostering a live and let live attitude.
“My purpose is to help people understand them more,” Porter said. “People tend to be less afraid of things they understand. You are probably a thousand times more likely to be injured in an automobile, but you’re afraid of snakes. You’ll get in that automobile and just go some place, or ride someplace, but it’s very unlikely that you will get injured by a snake.”
Porter’s presentation will focus on the biology of snakes and will include information about some of the many snake species in Southern Oklahoma.
“I talk about the largest snakes in Oklahoma and some of the smallest ones,” Porter said. “I spend a bit of time talking about venomous snakes, so people can learn to recognize those. I also spend a portion of the program on safety, how to avoid getting bit.”
With 46 native snake species in Oklahoma, seven of which are venomous, the vast majority of snakes commonly encountered are of the harmless variety, some even look like garden variety earthworms, while other, “scary looking” non-venomous species like the rat snake provide significant value if left alone.
While preparing for the presentation, Porter keeps some species in his office, those are usually smaller, none-venomous snakes, in some cases a few feet away from unsuspecting coworkers. Snakes that are large enough to bite, or the venomous ones are kept in a more secure location.
Monday’s presentation will include more than a dozen small species, as well as a 5-foot black rat snake and a Western Diamondback rattlesnake borrowed from a local rancher, Hank Morris, who regularly catches and releases them in eastern Carter County.
Porter said some non-venomous snakes have even been co-opted by ranchers and farmers to help control rodent infestations in barns. The snake is placed in a barn where it climbs up into the rafters to hunt, though some snakes will move on to other locations.
Porter plans to release the snakes used in the presentation, most will be returned where they were found, unless the property owner objects. Those snakes — the venomous ones — are relocated to areas far away from populated areas.