Snakes on campus: Four rattlesnakes found in building

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Young rattlesnakes have been found in the Receiving and Distribution Building on WSU’s campus. Police say this is the first time incidents like these have occurred on campus.

Brad Colby walked up the narrow staircase in the Receiving and Distribution Building Monday, Oct. 26, and came face to face with a snake.

Yesterday, another young rattlesnake was found in the Receiving and Distribution Building, making a total of four snakes found in the building in the last week.

The most recent snake was caught by members of the zoology department, and it is yet to be decided what will be done with it. Campus police responded to Monday’s incident, at which time they disposed of a rattlesnake. The other incidents were handled privately by employees at the building.

The first snake was seen on Oct. 26, according to employees. Ron Anderson, press supervisor, and John Jex, pressman, described the snake to be a little more than 12 inches long and about the girth of a finger. Jex said he was talking to his boss Monday and was most likely just feet from the snake without realizing it. Based on the description from police and employees, Jon Marshall, a zoology professor, said the snakes are most likely around 1 year old.

Brad Colby, a lead worker in the mail center housed in the building, found the first snake. Colby said he walked up the stairwell connecting the printing room and mail center, then saw the snake lying across a carpet in front of an outside door.

“I just thought it was a rubber snake,” Colby said.

His first thoughts, he said, were “what is it? Is it real?” Colby said that was the closest he’d ever been to a snake.

“I stood right where I was,” he said. “I barely even moved. I hate snakes, so I don’t care what it is; just get it out of here.”

Sergeant Jim Wagner said an incident like this hasn’t happened in his 13 years on campus.

“You can assume they are probably looking for a warmer place this time of year,” he said. “That’s shipping and receiving for the bookstore, and I would assume it was through an open door.”

Though employees are carrying on with work, Anderson and Jex said they are keeping watchful eyes.

“We’re all looking,” Jex said. “I’m not really terrified or anything, but I’m definitely looking.”

One difficulty employees are facing is the size of the snakes. Because all four have been young, none have been developed enough to have a rattle, and all witnesses said the snakes had no more than two grown buttons. Marshall said, despite many rumors to the contrary, buttons do not indicate age.

Along with the difficulty in spotting them, younger rattlesnakes have not yet learned to control their venom, according to Marshall. While adult rattlesnakes have learned to save their venom for catching pray, they’ve also learned to do dry bites, or venom-less bites. Younger rattlesnakes, on the other hand, haven’t developed that control, and will often use more venom in a bite than an adult would. The most recognized warning sign of a rattlesnake is the rattle, which the younger snakes also haven’t grown yet.

“When they’re rattling, they’re telling you to not come closer,” Marshall said. “For sure, don’t try to handle them.”

Another conflict among the employees is how to handle the snakes. Though one has been humanely killed, according to police, there was dispute among those working as to how to dispose of the other snakes. Some lean toward saving the snakes and releasing them back outside the building, while others, Anderson included, would prefer to displace the snakes.

“In my opinion, rattlesnakes don’t belong here, at least not in the building,” Anderson said. “I told my boss, ‘One more in this building and I’m not coming to work.'”

Marshall said he would not be in favor of killing or displacing the snakes because of their role in the environment.

“They play a part in the ecosystem,” he said. “They’re important to have. They’re not as big a danger as people sometimes think, as long as you treat them with respect.”

Colby, despite his admitted dislike of the reptiles, said he is morally caught by the issue.

“I’m kind of caught, because this is their environment, I feel, so to extract them, that’s wrong,” he said.

While he does feel an obligation to be humane, Colby said, when it comes down to it, he just wants them gone.

“I don’t like snakes, so get them the hell out of here and away from me.”