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Watch Out for Snakes

May 22, 2018
Not only harmless, the rat snake is a helpful species that eats rodents.

Memorial Day is just around the corner, and with it the unofficial start to summer. After a long winter with cooler temperatures that stretched on and on, warm weather seems to be here to stay in Georgia, and for many that means it’s time to head outdoors.

However … humans aren’t the only living things ready to stretch in the sunshine of these warmer days.

Let’s talk about snakes.

Why Did It Have to be Snakes?

Snakes have existed in Georgia long before the land was called Georgia, even long before there were people to call the land by any name.

Not that Georgia is unique in this regard; snakes live the world over, with species on every continent except Antarctica.

Apart from being rude, killing certain snake species is illegal in Georgia. Do yourself and the slithery ones a favor; keep walking.

Snakes don’t hunt people. Snakes don’t seek to interact with people. If you see a snake, chances are it never meant to cross your path.

And while venomous snakes can harm humans, they, like their non-venomous kin, subsist on a diet of rodents and birds. Relax; you’re not on the menu.

What if the Worst Happens?

If you are bitten, don’t panic. The survival rate for snake bites in the United States is excellent, provided proper medical treatment is received.

An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year in the United States, but on average only 5 of those bites prove fatal. U.S. hospitals typically carry anti-venom, so as long as you get to one in a timely fashion, you should be okay.

There are other concerns with a bite, of course, same as with any wound, and even a non-venomous snake bite should be taken seriously and treated by medical professionals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides these helpful lists of things to do and not do in the event of a snake bite:

Snake Bite Response

What TO DO

  • If you or someone you know are bitten, try to see and remember the color and shape of the snake. Knowing the species can help with treatment of the snake bite.
  • Keep the bitten person still and calm. This can slow down the spread of venom if the snake is poisonous.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
  • Dial 911 or call local Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
  • Lay or sit the person down with the bite below the level of the heart.
  • Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.

What NOT TO DO

  • Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it. This may put you or someone else at risk for a bite.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Do not slash the wound with a knife.
  • Do not suck out the venom.
  • Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water.
  • Do not drink alcohol as a painkiller.
  • Do not drink caffeinated beverages.

Snakes in the Home

Snakes are outdoor critters, but as we build ever outward there is less distance between the wild and human habitation. While you may think of the land around your home as your domain, a snake sees only the inviting spaces: tall grass, leaf piles, wood stacks, etc. Beware such areas on your property as you would in the wilderness.

If you should encounter a snake in your home or yard, don’t attempt to corral the snake yourself. Leave it alone, get to a safe spot, and call your local animal control service.

Snake Identification Primer: 6 Venomous Snakes in Georgia

Georgia is home to 46 species of snakes. Of these, 6 are venomous.

Pit Vipers

Five of the 6 species of venomous snakes are pit vipers and are readily identified by their triangular (or arrow-shaped) heads. Although a few non-venomous snakes have similar head shapes, by and large this is a good warning sign to steer clear.

Copperhead

Image of copperhead courtesy of the Herpetology Program at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, http://srelherp.uga.edu
Medium-sized snakes reaching a maximum length of about 4.5 feet, but most are less than 3 feet. The background coloration is usually light brown or gray, but individuals range from rusty orange to pinkish to nearly black. This species is easily identifiable by a pattern of 10-21 dark-brown, hourglass or saddle-shaped crossbands, which are wider at the sides of the body and become narrower along the back.

Cottonmouth

Image of cottonmouth courtesy of the Herpetology Program at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, http://srelherp.uga.edu
Relatively large, heavy-bodied snakes reaching a maximum length of nearly 6 feet, but most are less than 3 feet, 3 inches. Although these snakes are characterized by wide, dark bands along the body on a lighter brown or olive-colored background, individual coloration varies within and among populations. As Cottonmouths mature, many become very dark, and the bands become totally obscured.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Image of eastern diamondback rattlesnake courtesy of the Herpetology Program at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, http://srelherp.uga.edu
Georgia’s heaviest-bodied and one of the state’s longest snakes, reaching or possibly exceeding 7 feet, but more typically measuring 3-5 feet. The tail has 3-10 brown and white bands and a “rattle” (one or more loose rings of hard keratin) that makes a loud whirring noise when shaken. Upper surface of the body is patterned by a long row of 24-35 dark brown, diamond-like blotches, fringed by thin yellow to cream borders. These blotches are broader than long and are linked together at their tips.

Pigmy Rattlesnake

Image of pigmy rattlesnake courtesy of the Herpetology Program at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, http://srelherp.uga.edu
Smallest of the rattlesnakes, with maximum recorded length of 31 inches, but typically 16-23 inches. Background color is usually gray or tan, but occasionally reddish or almost black. The pattern consists of a series of light-edged dark blotches or spots on the back, as well as 1 to 3 rows of dark spots on the sides. There may be a reddish stripe down the center of the back. The tail is tipped by a segmented rattle; however, the interlocking segments are poorly notched and some lack a rattle.

Timber Rattlesnake

Image of timber rattlesnake courtesy of the Herpetology Program at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, http://srelherp.uga.edu
Large, heavy-bodied snakes reaching a maximum length of nearly 6 feet, but most range from 3-5 feet in length. The background color ranges through various shades of pink, yellow, tan, gray, brown and olive to velvety black. A series of brown to black chevron-shaped bands typically cross the body. The tail is black and tipped by a segmented rattle. Very dark or solid black individuals are common in higher mountains of the northeastern Georgia, but rare elsewhere.

Coral Snake

Georgia’s sixth venomous snake is not a pit viper and does not have the distinctive head shape. However, the Eastern Coral Snake is easily identified by its coloration, which consists of bright bands of yellow, red, and black.

Three other non-venomous snakes in our state share these colors, but only on the Eastern Coral Snake are the red and yellow bands adjacent. If you grew up in Georgia (or another state that is home to coral snakes) you may have learned a version of the mnemonic rhyme: “Red and yellow, kill a fellow; red and black, friend of Jack.” If you can remember that, you’ll know when to walk away.

Eastern Coral Snake

Image of eastern coral snake courtesy of the Herpetology Program at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, http://srelherp.uga.edu
Fairly slender snakes reaching a maximum length of 47 inches, but most range from 20-30 inches long. The body is patterned with broad black and red rings, equal in width and separated by narrow yellow rings. The red rings are dotted with numerous black flecks that may coalesce on the back into a pair of spots. The rounded snout is black and is followed by a broad yellow band across the head and neck. The tail has 3-4 broad black rings and 2-4 narrow yellow rings.

Snake images courtesy of the Herpetology Program at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory

Snake descriptions drawn from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division brochure, Venomous Snakes of Georgia (PDF).

Jon Suggs

About the Author

Jon Suggs is the Content Strategist for Digital Services Georgia. He writes on a variety of topics for Georgia.gov.

Jon is a Georgia native and former journalist who has worked in state government for more than a decade.

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