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Kammermeyer: Snakes on the move

POSTED: September 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Are you worried about snakes? You probably shouldn’t be, because most snakes are harmless to you and actually perform a service to us by eating rodents, insects and even other snakes. Most snakes, when given the opportunity, will quickly leave the area and run for cover. Coiling and striking are usually defensive maneuvers reserved for last resort.

What you can do to avoid encounters with snakes is keep your eyes open, and watch where you step.

Snakes, both poisonous and non-poisonous, can get very aggressive when stepped on and strike in self defense.

The timing of this column is no accident. Late summer, especially September is an active time for snakes, and encounters with them will likely increase. September temperatures are ideal for snakes and many are also looking for a last meal before finding a place to den for the winter.

If you don’t want snakes around your yard, then remove cover such as rock piles, wood piles, debris, thickets and other places for snakes to hide. If you have lots of mice, then you will automatically have lots of snakes. Repellants may be somewhat effective if snakes are getting into basements, carports, outbuildings or crawl spaces. Lime sulfur applied as a spray on rags or moth balls placed in snake resting areas under buildings may help repel them.

How do you know if the snake in front of you is poisonous?

There are only three species of poisonous snakes in Northeast Georgia. These are the timber (or canebreak) rattlesnake, copperhead, and pygmy rattlesnake. The timber rattler is a stout snake usually brown with black crossbands in the shape of chevrons.

The pygmy rattler has dark round or oval blotches with the central line the most distinct.

Two rows of less distinct blotches appear on the sides.

Both species of rattlesnake are becoming uncommon or even rare in Hall County as their habitat and cover disappears from development. Copperheads, our most common poisonous snake, are stout with a tan or light brown skin with dark brown or reddish hourglass shaped crossbands that are narrowest at the midline of the back. It gets its name from the coppery color on top of its head. Copperheads (also called highland moccasin) thrive in overgrown, brushy areas and old homesites. All poisonous snakes have triangular shaped heads, vertical elliptical eye pupils and a pit between the nose and eye.

If you’re close enough to one to observe these characteristics, you are probably too close if it is still alive!

Surprise, surprise, there are no cottonmouths, diamondback rattlesnakes or so-called poisonous water moccasins in Northeast Georgia. Normally, poisonous snakes are not aggressive and are sluggish.

Snakes shed their skin about twice a year in summer. When shedding is in progress, the layer of skin over their eyes turns cloudy and they cannot see very well making them nervous and more prone to strike.

You have friends in the snake world.

The Eastern chain king snake which is shiny black with a prominent white chain link pattern on its back will readily kill and eat any of the poisonous snakes that are smaller than itself.

The black rat snake, probably the most common snake in this area is jet black with white specks on his back with a white belly.

Once, I unknowingly stepped within two inches of the head of a coiled copperhead and he did not strike, though he could have easily bitten me on the ankle.

On another occasion, a copperhead ran between my legs fleeing as I stood there with a garden sprayer. Some strikes from poisonous snakes, do not inject venom through the fangs and therefore can be relatively harmless.

When venom is injected, the pain is worse than a bee sting and there will be two fang puncture marks. If you have been bitten by a non-poisonous snake, you will see a U-shaped row of puncture marks but not two fang marks.

If poisonous, kill the snake and bring it with you to the emergency room for positive identification. Don’t panic, keep calm.

Nearly all snakebite victims recover completely in a short time with proper medical care.

Kent Kammermeyer is a certified wildlife biologist. His column appears monthly.

In summary, don’t let an overactive fear of snakes keep you from conducting your normal outdoor activities. Poisonous snakes are usually not aggressive, they do not exist in large numbers, and your chances of encountering one are slim. Just be alert, use your eyes and watch your step! A detailed guide to Georgia and South Carolina snakes is available from the University of Georgia at www.uga.edu/srelherp/snakes/index.htm.



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