Not too many animals in the world get quite the same emotional response as snakes when they are found in the woods or around the house. People have been repulsed by and attracted to snakes ever since the dawn of time.
Snakes are part of the landscape. Without them — even venomous snakes — we would have greater problems with an overpopulation of rodents and other pests.
Forty kinds of snakes are in Georgia, and only six are venomous. The most common venomous snakes expected in this area are the copperhead and the canebrake/timber rattlesnake.
Snake bites are a rare occurrence. Fewer people are killed by snakes than by lightening. And the best defense against snakes is being able to identify them.
Snakes feed on a wide variety of small creatures. Some species only feed off warm-blooded animals such as rodents and birds, while others eat toads, frogs and fish. Some of the smaller snakes feed on myriad creatures such as earthworms, slugs and soft-bodied insects.
To learn more about Georgia’s snake habitats and habits, visit the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory Herpetology program website at srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/index.htm.
If you have an unfortunate encounter with a venomous snake and are bitten, you can reduce the severity of the bite by following a few simple tips.
First, remain calm. Excitement does not help the situation for you or the people who are trying to help you.
Second, get to medical help quickly.
Third, plan ahead. If you know you are going to be in an area known to have snakes, then ask your doctor what he or she advises regarding snake bites.
If you are with someone who is bitten, a publication from North Carolina State University Extension Office advises keeping the victim calm and laying him or her down.
Next, anticipate any swelling by removing all jewelry.
Then clean the wound with soap and water and apply light pressure above and below the bite site. The light pressure is to reduce lymphatic flow, not blood flow; so don’t think of it as a tourniquet.
Procedures that should never be done are to cut the wound or apply ice to it. Do not try to suck out the venom as this is hardly effective.
As more people encroach on the native habitat of snakes, their sightings become more common. If your property is surrounded by natural countryside or woods, with rock piles, streams and wetlands, snakes may be seen more often. Naturalistic landscaping, rock gardens, piles of debris and deteriorating outbuildings may harbor snakes as well.
No chemical controls can keep snakes at bay.
The best way to reduce the incidence of snakes is to keep landscaped areas and structures unattractive for snakes. Keep areas cleaned up. Do not allow the areas around the house to become overgrown with vegetation or weedy.
Also, think like a snake. Look for sources of food and other places to hide. Snakes can fit into some very small places, so pay attention to the details. If you reduce any food sources, habitat and places to hide, you are more than likely not to have too many problems with snakes near the house.
Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.