Lynnett Farmer was walking outside to check on her garden Wednesday afternoon when she heard a distinctive rattle coming from a ditch a few feet away.
Farmer lives near Chestatee High School in Gainesville and said she felt afraid when she heard the sound.
“To my surprise, I got a rude awakening,” Farmer said. “I got serenaded.”
Farmer ran back inside her home and later noticed a few rattlesnakes crossing the road in front of her house.
She said she felt worried that more snakes were roaming the area after the recent rains.
Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist John Jensen said there are a couple of factors that may lead to an increased number of snake sightings.
“I think the rain in general is the lifeblood of a lot of wildlife,” Jensen said. “Having a lot of water out there, things like frogs are doing really well with all the rain and (it) helps their reproductive abilities by having lots of places for them to breed in. It helps lots of other animals and allows them to disperse across the land without as much worry about drying up and getting caught out in the hot sun.”
The increased water level in Lake Lanier may have also caused some water snakes to disperse across more areas of the lake rather than staying within one specific location.
Jensen said there may be additional sightings because the temperatures in midday have been fairly mild. Some snakes that generally switch over to be more active during the summer’s cooler nighttime hours are still wandering around in the day.
“It makes it more likely people are going to encounter wildlife when you have good wildlife weather,” Jensen said.
While there may be more sightings, Jensen said he doubts there has been any dramatic increase in the number of snakes and thinks more sightings are purely coincidental.
“People just don’t see a ton of snakes,” Jensen said. “If you see a few snakes and you see a few more than you did last year, then (they) think there’s something going on.”
Jensen said there are around 20 different species of snakes that live in the Lake Lanier area, only two of which are venomous; the copperhead snake and the timber rattlesnake.
Jensen said people can rest assured that any other snakes are nonvenomous and should avoid harming them.
“All nonvenomous snakes are protected in the state, so you can’t legally kill them and there’s no reason to,” Jensen said.
He urged people to learn how to identify the two dangerous snakes.
Timber rattlesnakes can be easily identified by the rattles at the end of their tails. Copperheads are marked by hourglass-shaped bands running down their backs.
“Timber rattlers tend to shy away from developed areas and are in more rural areas,” Jensen said. “Copperheads do well in suburban areas for some reason.”
Jensen said he’s heard “quite a few” reports of bites from copperheads this year and cautions people to take care while working outside in their yards.
“They’re very camouflaged so they’re very hard to see,” Jensen said. “Folks are often gardening or working in the yard when they step on one or get their hands too close to one. It’s just a consequence of an abundant snake that occurs in the same place as people.”
People can protect themselves by wearing thick boots and leather gloves while working outside and watching where they’re stepping or placing their hands.
The best way to lessen the odds a copperhead will spend time in a home’s yard is to clean up and remove any rock, log or trash piles or other places where the snakes or their prey may hide.
“The cleaner you can make it, the less likely they have a reason to stay around,” Jensen said. “It’s still not going to prevent one from dispersing across somebody’s yard. You just can’t ever be assured that’s never going to happen in your yard.”