Oklahoma residents are still recovering from the heavy floods that drowned the region but officials are now warning of yet another threat.
“We were just informed that Water Moccasins have been found in flood waters, please take extra precautions,” the Tulsa Police Department said.
Water moccasins, otherwise known as cottonmouths, are venomous semi-aquatic snakes, according to Kimberly Andrews, an assistant research scientist with the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. They are typically between 24 to 48 inches.
Running into snakes, rats and other creatures when water rises is not uncommon, according to the University of Wisconsin.
“Following floods, rats and other rodents may move into buildings to escape floodwaters. Snakes are often forced into places where they are not usually found. Upon re-entering flooded homes or buildings, you will need to be wary of these possibilities,” the university said.
Here’s what you should do if you have an unwanted run-in:
Do not lift debris with your hands.
“Use a shovel or other tool to flip debris before lifting with your hands,” Dr. Maureen Frank, Texas A&M University Extension Wildlife Specialist warns.
Do not step over debris if you can’t see the other side, Frank says, but start removing all of it as quickly as possible. Then make sure to mow the lawn and trim vegetation.
Wear high boots and gloves in areas with high debris.
If you do encounter a snake, step back and wait for it to leave.
“As a last resort, you may need to kill a venomous snake,” Frank wrote. “Use a long-handled tool, such as a garden hoe, to strike the snake in the head. Make sure the tool keeps you out of striking distance of the snake (about half its body length). Follow through with the strike. Do not jerk the tool back after striking as this may throw the snake.”
Watch out when you’re entering flooded buildings, the University of Wisconsin says.
“Check closets, drawers, mattresses, appliances, upholstered furniture, stacks of clothes or paper, dark corners, attics and basements.”
Make sure that wherever you go, you have a flashlight with you and a solid club, the university said.
Remove all food sources, water and items that could provide new shelter for rodents, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Take out your trash often and watch out for the signs: “rodent droppings, runways, rub marks and tracks,” according to the CDC.
It might also be helpful to air your home for two to three days before reentering, according to the CDC.
You also need to keep an eye out for fire ant colony “rafts,” which may form after floods, according to Paul R. Nester, a Texas A&M Extension program specialist.
“Their colonies emerge from the soil, form a loose ball, float, and flow with the water until they reach a dry area or object they can crawl up on,” Nester writes.
Debris piles from flood waters or flooded homes make the perfect real estate patches for the ants, so colonies must be dealt with extremely quickly.
Dressing appropriately and avoiding contact is critical.
“Cuffed gloves, rain gear, and rubber boots” are all ways to keep the ants off your body, Nester says.
Spraying the colonies with soapy water can help them sink.
“Two fluid ounces of dishwashing liquid mixed with 1 gallon of water sprayed on ants floating in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water caused 80 to 95 percent mortality within 10 minutes,” Nester wrote, citing a report.
You can also spray the ants with products containing pyrethrins or pyrethrum derivatives labeled for ant use.
If you get bitten, use a sting-relief medication within the first 15-20 minutes. You can also use ammonia, camphor, meat tenderizer and tea tree oil.
Just as you’re displaced, other animals like deer and ground-nesting birds will be forced out of their homes.
If you see a displaced animal, make sure to stay at a safe distance.
Small wildlife, like birds, can be contained in pillow cases or wrapped in towels, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries said.
Before you try to provide food and water, seek advice from the experts. Call a local veterinarian, a wildlife rehabilitator in your area, or a local animal shelter, humane society, nature center or state wildlife agency, the Humane Society of the United States says.