As temperatures soar, don’t be surprised if you see more late-afternoon activity on your sidewalks and driveways, particularly activity of the slithering variety. Not to worry, though: Snakes can be a homeowner’s best friends, as long as you remember a few important tips.
First, snakes are best left alone. Most snakebites occur when a person tries to handle or corner a snake, prompting the animal to defend itself.
Second, of the 41 native snake species known in Georgia, only six are venomous. Although telling some species apart can be difficult, becoming familiar with the colors and patterns of venomous species can enable even novices to determine whether a snake is venomous or not, providing peace of mind.
The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division has several online resources intended to help the public identify venomous and non-venomous snakes and understand their natural roles. Some of these resources include the brochure “Is it a Water Moccasin?”, plus the guide to Georgia and South Carolina snakes at www.uga.edu/srelherp/snakes/index.htm. There is also the excellent reference “Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia” available from the University of Georgia Press (www.ugapress.uga.edu/).
Non-venomous snakes such as the scarlet kingsnake and eastern hognose are sometimes confused with their venomous counterparts. Venomous snakes are often identified by their triangular-shaped head. However, many snake species flatten their head when threatened. Use caution when approaching any snake, and snakes in the wild should only be handled by an experienced person and after proper identification.
As reptiles, snakes are cold-blooded and rely on external sources to heat their bodies. In the fall and winter, you are more likely to see them warming themselves on rocks, sidewalks and paved roads. During summer, many snakes avoid open areas during the hottest part of the day and may become much more active during the evening.
About half of Georgia’s snake species give live birth. The young of all others are born from eggs, hatching within 40-80 days, depending on the species.
Newborn snakes can be seen from mid-summer to fall. Also, during summer, many snakes will leave their usual hiding spots looking for prey that may be found close to dwindling water sources.
Adults of many of Georgia’s smaller snake species are often mistakenly assumed to be newborns. Although snakes in the state range from the eastern indigo, with recorded lengths up to 8 feet, 4 inches, to the crowned snake, which grows only 13 inches long, several non-venomous species commonly found in residential areas are small. These include worm, ringneck and brown snakes, which each average about 12 inches in length as adults.
All snakes are an essential part of Georgia’s wildlife resources. Fear or negative attitudes about snakes often stem from a lack of knowledge of their habits and role in the ecosystem. The majority of snakes found throughout the state are non-venomous, harmless and usually beneficial to man. A greater understanding of their importance as predator and prey often brings a greater appreciation for these admittedly not so “warm and fuzzy” animals with which we share our yards, gardens and forests.
If you spot a venomous snake in an area where it represents a danger to children or pets, you can contact Wildlife Resources for a list of private wildlife removal specialists.
What to do when you see a snake in your yard:
- Never attempt to handle any kind of snake. If you are unsure of the snake’s identification, keep your distance
- A venomous snake will most often have a triangular-shaped head as well as elliptical pupils similar to cats’ eyes, rather than round ones.
- Snakes are important predators that feed on rodents, insects and even other snakes. There is no need to fear a snake in your yard. Simply give them the space they need.
- Despite the relatively low level of danger posed by venomous snakes many people consider their fear justification for killing snakes. In Georgia it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail to possess or kill many of nongame wildlife species, including non-venomous snakes (O.C.G.A. §27-1-28).