As spring warms up, the number of snake-related calls and emails to John Jensen go up. But most center on two questions: What species is this and what do I do with it?
“Only every once in a while is it a venomous snake,” said Jensen, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and co-author of “Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia.”
Whether it’s a venomous snake is, of course, the concern or outright fear underlying most of the questions. Chances are it’s not, Jensen said. Only six of the 45 species native to Georgia are venomous and only one – the copperhead – usually thrives in suburban areas, where the majority of Georgians live.
What to do, then, if you spot a snake?
- Try to identify it from a distance. Resources such as www.georgiawildlife.com/GeorgiaSnakes, which includes DNR’s “Venomous Snakes of Georgia” brochure, can help.
- Do not try to handle the snake. Give it the space it needs.
- Remember that snakes are predators that feed on rodents, insects and even other snakes. There is no need to fear non-venomous snakes. Native non-venomous species are protected by state law, and the eastern indigo is federally protected as an imperiled species.
- If a clearly identified venomous snake is in an area where it represents a danger to people or pets, contact DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division for a list of private wildlife removal specialists. Most snake bites occur when a snake is cornered or captured, prompting it to defend itself.
Non-venomous snakes such as scarlet kingsnake, eastern hognose and watersnake species can be confused with their venomous counterparts. Pit vipers, which include all of the state’s venomous snake species except for the coral snake, are often identified by their broad, triangular-shaped heads. Yet many nonvenomous snakes flatten their heads when threatened and may have color patterns similar to venomous species. Use caution around any unidentified snake.
For more on Georgia’s snakes, go to www.georgiawildlife.org/georgiasnakes. “Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia” (www.georgiawildlife.org/conservation/reptileamphibianguide, UGA Press) is a thorough reference.
From eastern indigo snakes to bald eagles, DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section conserves Georgia’s endangered and other wildlife not legally fished for or hunted, as well as rare plants and natural habitats. Yet the agency depends primarily on fundraisers, grants and contributions for this vital work.
Help conserve Georgia’s native wildlife now and for future generations:
- Buy or renew a DNR eagle or hummingbird license plate. Most money from sales and renewals is dedicated to nongame conservation. Upgrade to a “wild” tag for only $25!
- Donate directly to the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund, www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/support.
- Learn more about conserving Georgia’s nongame, www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/annualreport.
- Benefits: While some snakes eat rodents and even venomous snakes, others prey on creatures Georgians also many not want near their homes. Brown and red-bellied snakes, for example, feed on snails and slugs, the bane of gardeners. Crowned snake species primarily eat centipedes.
- Babies? Snakes such as earth and brown snake species do not grow large and homeowners occasionally mistake them as juveniles. The concern here: Are larger parents nearby? Yet though some species are live-bearers and some are egg-bearers, snakes do not exhibit parental care, DNR’s John Jensen said. If there are parents, they’re not watching over their offspring.
- Prevention: To reduce the potential for snakes near your home, remove brush, log piles and other habitat features that attract mice, lizards and other animals on which snakes prey.