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COLUMN: Meet local snake expert: Bob Todd

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By Linda Ireland

We received a visit in the office last week from long-time herpetologist Bob Todd.

Mr. Todd, who lives in Sonora, saw the article about a copperhead in last week’s LaRue County Herald News and wanted to offer his opinion on it.

Mr. Todd knows snakes. He’s spent a lifetime studying them.

He thinks the snake pictured was not a venomous copperhead but a harmless Prairie Kingsnake.

To the unpracticed eye, the snakes closely resemble each other. Their coloration is similar.

The difference, he said, is the Prairie Kingsnake has circular markings whereas the copperhead has hourglass-shaped markings. The copperhead, like other venomous snakes, has a triangular-shaped head.

Most copperhead sightings actually are of the kingsnake, he said.

Both snakes are common in Kentucky but the kingsnake is more likely to be found in the open than the copperhead, which prefers to hide.

An interesting fact: The Prairie Kingsnake is immune to the venom of the copperhead, cottonmouth and rattlesnake and can eat them.

Another interesting fact: Mr. Todd worked for The LaRue County Herald News for a short time around 1986, delivering papers.

Mr. Todd’s lifelong interest in snakes over time turned into a full-time hobby. He has identified and recorded snakes in all 120 Kentucky counties and has worked with John McGregor, state herpetologist of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, for several years. 

Mr. Todd has found 40 different kinds of snakes in Kentucky. About half of them can be found in LaRue County.

Though self-taught, he gained a mention (actually an entire chapter) in Byron Crawford’s book “Kentucky Stories” about water moccasins and their habitats.

He amassed a collection of 200 snakeskins during his career, which he donated to the University of Kansas. He had another 3,880 preserved snakes, turtles, salamanders and other critters dating from 1949 in his collection that were donated to the University of Louisville.

I asked for his opinion about another self-taught herpetologist – Ernie Brown Jr., better known as “The Turtleman.”

Mr. Todd laughed and said Ernie was a good showman. But ... he had watched one of the segments where Turtleman was trying to snag a copperhead.

The drama on that particular episode of “Call of the Wildman” may have been overplayed on television. After all, Todd said, the “copperhead” was really just a harmless cornsnake.