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At Parris Island, the snakes and spiders can be dangerous, too

BEAUFORT -- Quick-tempered drill instructors aren't the only hazard recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island must negotiate to become Marines.

On an island populated by venomous snakes, insects, spiders and alligators, recruits, drill instructors, Marines and even visitors to the depot should be mindful of the wildlife around them, said Ron Kinlaw, the depot's conservation law enforcement officer.

The military community in the Carolinas got a wake-up call in June about the dangers wildlife can pose during training operations when a 19-year-old Army Special Forces candidate was found dead near Fort Bragg, N.C., after being bitten multiple times on the hand by a water moccasin, also known as a cottonmouth, during a land navigation exercise.

While Parris Island is free of water moccasins, Kinlaw said the depot has Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, the largest of the 32 species of rattlesnake.

The Eastern diamondback, which can grow up to 6 feet long, usually inhabits dry, sandy areas, pinewoods and coastal dune habitats, making Parris Island a prime habitat for the large pit viper.

"When we talk to recruits and talk to people that are going to be in the woods on Parris Island, we tell them to be very careful about where they walk, and to make sure they look down if you have to bend over to pick something up," he said.

Kinlaw said the depot recently inventoried the island's rattler population.

"As we look at the 'Grow the Force' initiative, which may bring increased personnel and recruits into wooded areas that we didn't use in the past, we felt it necessary to do that study and identify the snakes we have and any possible den sites," he said, referring to the Corps' push to have 202,000 active-duty Marines by 2012. "The study will allow us to tell if they're moving, where they're moving to and how best to deal with a problems should we start to see a high incidence of rattlesnake reports."

The group tagged nine Eastern diamttlesnakes.

No one has ever been bitten by a venomous snake on Parris Island, Kinlaw said.

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