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Experts give advice on area snakes

By Alton Mitchell

A warmer and wetter than normal winter may be at fault behind what appears to be higher spike in snake populations across the region. While the sight of snakes strikes fear in many experts urge caution and offer a better explanation into how to safely interact with area snakes many of which are non-venomous and not looking to bite humans or pets.
Oxbow Meadows in an environmental learning center located in Columbus, Ga. The center opened in 1995 through a partnership with Columbus State University, The Columbus Waterworks, and The City of Columbus. The center offers exhibits, nature trails, and education resources on ecology including local wildlife. The trained experts at the facility also offer insight into some of the regions wildlife neighbors including snakes.

Lauren Johnson who works at Oxbow Meadows gave a brief tour and insight into some of the snakes that are local to this area. One of the first she discussed is also one of the most discussed in the region, the Copperhead. Copperheads are one of only six venomous snakes found in the region. “A lot of snakes are mistaken for Copperheads, but the easiest way to know if a snake is a Copperhead is Copperheads have a distinct Hershey Kiss pattern on their bodies,” explains Johnson. She explains that particular pattern is distinct to only that species of snake.

A second venomous snake of the region is the Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin. This semi-aquatic snake has a large triangular head with a dark line through the eye. Uniquely they are found year round near waterways. Cottonmouths are known to bask on logs, rocks, and branches near the edge of bodies of water. Many times they are confused with a non-venmous snake that also enjoys relaxing alongside waterways. The Brown Watersnake is very common near water as well in this region. A distinct characteristic between species of water snakes versus Cottonmouth’s is that Cottonmouths rarely climb trees. Cottonmouths also have a white mouth that appears to look like cotton one reason they have acquired their name.

There are three breeds of rattlesnakes that can be found in the region. They include the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Canebrake/Timber Rattlesnake, and the Pigmy Rattlesnake. These snakes are venomous and easy to identify. All species of rattlesnakes carry a rattle on their tail area. Rattlesnakes will rattle this warning device as you approach.

A non-venomous snake is often confused with rattlesnakes because of a warning device that it carries. The Eastern King Snake is very common in the area. It is a large black snake with yellow rings throughout its body. As a defensive action the Eastern King Snake will shake the tip of its tail mimicking a rattlesnake. They are non-venomous to humans. Johnson states these snakes are actually pretty good to have around as they eat other snakes including venomous ones. Research has shown that this breed of snake is immune to the venom of snake species such as rattlesnakes, Copperheads, and Cottonmouths. These species actually make a delicious meal for King Snakes.
King Snakes are sometimes also confused with the final venomous species of snake in the region the Eastern Coral Snake. Eastern Coral Snakes are easy to spot they have various colors on their bodies to include black, yellow, and red rings. Although venomous the snakes are rarely seen in areas they are known to frequent. This species of snake spends the majority of its time underground and will rarely climb trees. Somewhat rare in the Chambers County area the Eastern Coral snake is found generally in regions from Chambers County south into Florida. Small pockets have also been noted in central Alabama near the Birmingham area.
Johnson advises that all species of snakes can climb and swim. One snake stands out in this region as a climber and is very good climber. That is the Rat Snake. This species of snake has three species that are found in the area the Grey Rat Snake, The Black Rat Snake, and the Yellow Rat Snake are all native to this region. All species of this snake that may grow up to six feet long are non-venomous and fairly common around the area. Many people see these snakes scaling the sides of bricks on homes. Johnson advises that Rat Snakes commonly do get into people’s homes. This is because of their diets. Rat Snakes enjoy eating rats and will often enter homes with rat problems for food.
Another good climber is the Corn Snake. Corn Snakes are found throughout the region and easy to identify as they carry a bright orange to reddish skin tone with red blotches on their back. These snakes are non-venomous and commonly found in suburban or agricultural areas. Similar to the Rat Snake they are known to enter people’s homes in search of food. They also are common in barns and old buildings.
The Chambers County area is home to more than 40 species of snakes. Many of which are non-venomous with the exception of the six venomous species mentioned. Johnson advises that snakes are not looking to bite or harm people and will often not bite unless they are bothered by humans through activities such as attempting to pick them up. She states that even the Cottonmouths do not become aggressive until their food is being taken away.
The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory along with the University of Georgia offers the following safety tips on how to be safe around snakes or their environments. When outdoors never place hands, arms, feet, or legs where you cannot see them. Also always wear closed shoes and long pants when walking through the woods. When in the woods walk around logs, some species of snakes are known for residing near logs to feed on rodents. Also the use of a flashlight is encourage. If you encounter a snake it is advised that you remain calm and take a step back. Many snakes do not want to interact with humans as we are much bigger than them.
It is recommended that you clear debris from around your yard and property. Snakes are known to use debris to remain cool during summer months and to hunt prey. Pets are also at risk from snake bites and do not have the ability to differ venomous versus non-venomous species. It is noted that dogs may sniff a snake and cats may take them as a toy, both of which can result in defensive action by the snake.
An individual should also not try to remove a snake on their own. Johnson advises that there are organizations around the region that assist with snake and wildlife removal. One specific that partners with Oxbow is Southeastern Reptile Rescue. The organization is committed to the preservation of lives of both snakes and humans. Johnson advises anyone with questions about snakes or removal can contact Oxbow for information at (706)507-8550. The facility also house several species of non-venomous native snakes and provides education on species of the region.