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Get To Know The Snakes Of Alpharetta

Released May 10, 2024 11:40 AM

Sssssnakes.  For some residents, even hearing the word snake is enough to send a sssshiver down their spine, but these amazing animals are an important part of our natural ecosystem and help to control the population of mice, rats, and other pests.  They sometimes can be found in our yards and make their homes in wooded areas like those along the Big Creek Greenway.  So, let’s take a moment to learn a little more about snakes including which ones you should view as friends and which you need to avoid.

Georgia is home to 46 species of snakes of which only six are venomous and only three of those make their habitat in our region of the state.

Our Non-Venomous Snakes:
The vast majority of snakes in our area are non-venomous, pose no threat to people, and are very beneficial as they control populations of mice, rats, and other pests.  Some, such as the Eastern Kingsnake, are resistant to the venom of copperheads and rattlesnakes and prey upon them.  All of our state’s non-venomous snakes are protected by Georgia law, which means that killing or possessing them in captivity is illegal.

Three Venomous Snake Species Found Locally:
Unfortunately, one of the three venomous snakes common to our area, the copperhead, is responsible for most venomous snakebites in Georgia and the United States.  This is not because they are particularly aggressive or ill-tempered but because they can live in a wide variety of habitats, from woods and mountains to the mulched planting beds of suburban neighborhoods, and are one of the most populous snake species around.  The coloring of copperheads and their tendency to remain motionless also makes them blend in perfectly with the pine straw that many of us use to mulch around flowers and shrubs, so they can be hard to spot when residents are pulling weeds, etc.

The good news is that the venom of the copperhead is the weakest among Georgia’s venomous snakes, and human death from a copperhead bite is nearly unheard of.  Dry bites, a bite in which no venom is released, is also common with this species.

The other two venomous snakes found in our region of Georgia, the timber rattlesnake and the pigmy rattlesnake, tend to make their habitat in more heavily forested areas, so they are even less likely encountered by those who are not hikers, hunters, and others who seek more remote locations.

Identifying Venomous Snakes:
The three venomous snake species in our area of Georgia are all pit vipers, which means that they have heat-sensing “pit” organs under each eye and nostril.  More helpful in identifying them, however, is that they all have triangular-shaped heads.

For more detailed information on identifying each of Georgia’s venomous snakes, please follow the link titled “Venomous Snakes of Georgia” found at the bottom of this article.

Snake Safety:
Regardless of whether a snake is venomous or not, the best thing you can do is leave them alone.  Snakes are shy by nature and really want nothing to do with humans.  In fact, many snake species are quite secretive and spend most of their time underground or under cover.  The majority of snake bites occur when a person is attempting to handle, harass, or kill the snake, so the first rule to follow when you see a snake is to give it space.

A few other snake safety rules to follow are:

Watch your step and your reach.
Accidentally stepping on or touching a snake can communicate to the animal that you are trying to harm it, so the snake may respond aggressively.  Even reaching under your house or into bushes or other plants blindly can put you in conflict with a hiding snake.  Because most of Georgia’s snake species use camouflage to protect themselves from predators and to catch their prey, they can be hard to spot unless you are paying attention.  So always pay close attention to the ground around you.

Remain calm if you see a snake.
If you encounter a snake, simply step back or, if you are on the road, drive around or let it pass. Most snake encounters are just observations of these animals moving from Point A to B. Remember, they are not interested in harassing you as you are much bigger than they are; they are just going about their business.

Clear debris and wood from your yard.
Snakes use debris to remain cool during hot months, or to find prey. Keeping yards clear of debris and structures keeps them from using these areas. Use gloves and remove firewood from wood piles carefully and during daylight hours. Watch your step next to wood piles and around the crevices between the wood. These spots can be moist hiding grounds for several species.

Keep dogs on leashes and cats indoors.
Your furry friends probably don't understand the difference between venomous and non-venomous snakes, and your dog’s reaction to a snake could be to stick its nose in the middle of a coil to sniff it. Meanwhile, your cat may think the snake is a play toy. Either situation makes the snake think the dog or cat is going to eat it, and it will react accordingly.

Do not try to remove a snake.
If a snake is on your property, leave it alone. People generally observe snakes in their yard when they are on the move. When they are moving, they are doing just what you want them to anyway – going away. Even if your intention is to just nudge a snake to move it on its way, please remember that a snake can consider this an attack.

Teach your children venomous snake identification.
Children can readily learn venomous snake identification at an early age. This knowledge empowers your child to know which species are potentially harmful and which are acceptable to stand back and observe.  A visit to the Chattahoochee Nature Center can help with your child’s snake education and makes for a fun and educational outing.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, at least 20 percent of the US population suffers from some degree of snake fear.  A much higher percentage of snakes have a fear of humans because we are much bigger and seen by snakes as a predator or other threat.  So, for those residents who hope they never see a snake, take comfort in knowing that snakes don’t want to see you either.

Sometimes, though, our paths will cross those of our snake neighbors.  When they do, give them a smile, a nod, and a little space as you each continue on about your day.

Links To Additional Resources:
Venomous Snakes of Georgia Brochure
Copperhead Fact Sheet
Pigmy Rattlesnake Fact Sheet
Timber Rattlesnake Fact Sheet