Memphis Flooding: Snakes and Other Critters Flee Rising Mississippi River

Water moccasins and alligators turning up in residential neighborhoods.

ByABC News
May 9, 2011, 4:22 PM

May 9, 2011— -- Dangerous reptiles and other animals have been forced to flee their homes, invading residential neighborhoods in Memphis, Tenn., for instance, as the Mississippi River continues to swell to record flood levels.

"You'll see your wildlife moving and, of course, their nature is to move to the higher, drier ground ... We'll see this for another couple of weeks," Bob Nations, Director of Shelby County Tennessee's Office of Preparedness, told ABC News' Diane Sawyer. "[It] probably will have a huge impact on our wildlife in this part of the county."

Residents of flooded areas have had to deal with electrical currents, chemicals and sewage in the water, but also wildlife scrambling for safety. Tennesseans have had to be careful of rampaging deer but the real danger lies with the water moccasins, also known as cottonmouths.

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The venomous snakes are known to be aggressive when agitated, opening their mouths wide to reveal a white lining and deadly fangs when confronted with danger. The snakes are semi-aquatic vipers found near or in water, and are strong swimmers.

"They can cause a fairly serious bite," Dr. James Murphy of Smithsonian National Zoo said to ABC News. "It's normally not fatal, but there's an enourmous amount of tissue damage. In fact, I've seen photographs of bites and it looks like somebody's arm has been put in a drill."

They have apparently been popping up everywhere, sometimes clinging to the trees. People returning to their homes after the flooding subsides might encounter them.

"There was a report of two over on the Mississippi banks yesterday," Nations told Diane Sawyer. "After any of these natural disasters, when you get into recovery and start moving things around, snake bites increase. That's a real threat."

Water moccasins are not the only wildlife threat for residents. The flood waters also contain alligators, spiders, rats and even fire ants according to experts.

Tennessee wildlife groups have been fielding dozens of calls from worried residents. The Shelby County Health Department has issued a special alert, warning its residents to be particularly wary of snakes, as a veritable jungle of critters scrambles to find safe ground.