The black rat snake is common throughout the Eastern U.S. (Photo: Eileen Hornbaker/USFWS)

As spring fades into summer, the number of snake-related calls and emails to John Jensen go up. But most center on two questions: What species is this? 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 fear underlying most of the questions. Chances are it’s not, Jensen said. Only six of the 46 species native to Georgia are venomous and only one of those — the copperhead — usually thrives in suburban areas, where the majority of Georgians live.

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So what to do if you spot a snake?

  • Try to identify it from a distance. Resources such as the DNR’s “Venomous Snakes of Georgia” brochure, found online here, 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 nonvenomous snakes. Native nonvenomous 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 the Georgia 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.

Nonvenomous snakes such as the scarlet kingsnake, eastern hognose and watersnake species can be confused with their venomous counterparts. Pit vipers, which include native venomous snake species in Georgia 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.

Snake Notes

  • Benefits: While some snakes eat rodents and even venomous snakes, others prey on creatures that people also may 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.

For more on Georgia’s snakes, visit www.georgiawildlife.org/georgiasnakes. Also, “Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia” (University of Georgia Press) is a thorough reference.

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