- 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.
Snakes might just be the most misunderstood animals in Georgia.
The sight of one basking on a sunny rock, the flick of a forked tongue or an unwavering gaze is enough to send some people scrambling for higher ground.
But John Jensen, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said the creatures often receive a bad reputation due to common misconceptions.
The biggest threat snakes face today results from habitat loss caused by humans, but an individual’s perception of the creatures can also play a role in their demise.
“Snakes are more threatened compared to other animals because so many people are ignorant about their purpose and role and deservedness in this ecosystem and take (it) upon themselves to eliminate them,” said Jensen.
Georgia is home to 41 native snake species, six of which are venomous. Two of these venomous species roam North Georgia: the copperhead and timber rattlesnake.
Jensen said if people learn to identify the species included here, they will appreciate and better understand other snakes they may encounter.
“If you have a harmless snake in your yard, you should be thankful that you have it there,” he explained. “It’s a sign of a healthy ecosystem (and) it may be controlling some pest species that you’d rather not have in your yard.”
Killing a non-venomous snake, said Jensen, is “unnecessary” and also illegal in Georgia.
Still, he said people associate non-venomous snakes with being a threat.
“Even after people find out that a snake isn’t venomous, they are still concerned about them because they’re a snake,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘Well, I have young children and pets and all that.’ (But) they’re as harmless as a sparrow, really, if you don’t mess with them.”
And the best away to avoid a confrontation with a snake is to leave it alone.
“Most snake bites happen from people handling snakes or trying to catch them (or) kill them,” he said. “If you just walk away from them, you stand a much better chance of not being bit than if you mess with them.”
If people spot a venomous snake that they believe to be a threat to pets or children, contact the DNR, which can provide a list of private wildlife removal specialists.
And while venomous snakes might be the most feared species, they are not the most common ones found in North Georgia.
In this area, water snakes are king in terms of abundance, with the most common being the non-venomous northern and red-bellied water snakes.
Often, Jensen said people mistake these snakes for another water-loving serpent, the water moccasin.
“They can occur in really big numbers and a lot of people kill them or fear them, thinking they’re water moccasins,” he said. The water moccasin or cottonmouth, a venomous species, is not found in North Georgia.
Another common misconception revolves around Georgia’s smaller snake species. Jensen said between six and eight different species that reside in North Georgia never grow larger than 15 inches; the brown, earth, ringneck and worm snakes are just a few.
“A lot of people see small snakes and they assume they’re baby snakes, which then they assume there must be a nest and there must be tons of bigger snakes around,” he said.
Snakes, like many living beings, play the role of both predator and prey in an ecosystem. Jensen said birds, especially hawks and raptors, feed on snakes, as do large mammals. Snakes, in turn, prey on a variety of insects, mammals and even other snakes. But they don’t just eat rats and mice, like many people think; crown snakes eat centipedes, queen snakes hunt crayfish, scarlet snakes seek reptile eggs and rainbow snakes eat eels, just to name a few.
They might not the most endearing animals to some, but without snakes, the delicate balance we call life might be forever skewed, as countless other animals count on them for their own survival.