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HOW TO BE SAFE AROUND SNAKES


 

VENOMOUS SNAKES OF SC and GA

EASTERN DIAMONDBACK RATTLESNAKE Usually less than 6’ long • Black/brown/gray with darker diamonds outlined in white/yellow on back • Black diagonal stripe on the side triangular-shaped head • Does not always rattle in the wild • Declining through much of the range due to urbanization and intentional killing.
CANEBRAKE / TIMBER RATTLESNAKE Usually less than 5.5’ long • Brown/yellow/gray (or pinkish toward the coast) background with black bars (“chevrons”) and a brown/rust-colored stripe on back • Pattern transitions into a more solid black toward tail • Solid tan head • Rarely rattles in the wild • Local declines due to urbanization and intentional killing.
PIGMY RATTLESNAKE Usually less than 2’ long • Gray (light or dark) background with black squares outlined in white • Orange/pink stripe on back extends on to head • Solid black around mouth • Tiny rattle that is practically inaudible • Locally abundant, but mostly in Florida. Similar nonvenomous species: southern hognose, juvenile eastern hognose.
COPPERHEAD Usually less than 3.5’ long • Light to dark brown or grey background with darker brown hourglass or saddleback shapes across back • Solid-colored “copper” head • Sometimes rattles tail against leaves, particularly younger individuals • Most common venomous snake in the area but also has the mildest venom.
COTTONMOUTH / WATER MOCCASIN Usually less than 4’ long • Dark brown/black/tan background with lighter brown or yellow markings but can be solid black as adults • Babies look similar to copperheads with darker bands on lighter background • Black band across the eye on head above mouth • Gapes and exposes white mouth and shakes tail when cornered and can’t flee • Nonvenomous watersnakes are commonly mistaken for cottonmouths and killed. Similar nonvenomous species: banded watersnake, northern watersnake.
CORAL SNAKE Usually less than 4’ long • Red bands always touch yellow bands (vs. red touches black on scarlet snakes and scarlet kingsnakes) • Black nose/head • Slender snakes with small heads • Incredibly secretive and usually hidden. Similar nonvenomous species: scarlet kingsnake, scarlet snake.

There are 42 species of snakes in South Carolina and Georgia and only 6 of them are venomous. The venomous species that we do have tend to be quite secretive and are some of the least frequently encountered species. The most frequently observed of our resident snakes are black racers, rat snakes, and nonvenomous water snakes, common and important predators in our ecosystems.

The true risk of venomous snakebite and death in the United States is greatly exaggerated. While there are approximately 7000 reported snakebites on an annual basis, an estimated half of these are actual envenomations and the rest are “dry bites” where the snake bites but does not inject venom. On average, there are fewer than 1900 overall animal-related deaths in the country each year; bee and wasp stings and dog attacks account for a majority while snakes only account for 5.5 deaths each year, a 0.0008% death rate. Most of these accidents occur at home with captive pets and in backyard encounters. Further, the majority of wild bites occur when the person is attempting to harass, kill or handle the snake. White males and young adults (18-28 years old) are the most frequently bitten demographic. Certain precautions can be taken to avoid almost all snake bites, reducing the true threat of snakebite to lower than that of being struck by lightning.

 
You are most likely to encounter snakes:
1) when they are crossing roads;
2) when they are moving through your backyard or through other transient habitats;
3) during breeding season (spring or fall) when they are moving to look for mates;
4) when they are basking near habitat edges (e.g., water bodies, forest lines).
 

WATCH YOUR STEP AND YOUR REACH

Many of our snake species use camouflage to protect themselves from predators or to catch their prey. Accidentally stepping on or grabbing a snake can communicate to that animal that you are trying to harm it, resulting in an aggressive response.

  • Never place your hands, arms, feet or legs where you can’t see them when outdoors. Even reaching under the house for something blindly can cause you to disturb a hiding snake. While venomous snakes generally do not strike when approached or even stepped on, they almost always do if you grab them and/or pick them up whether intentionally or accidentally.
  • Always wear closed shoes and long pants when walking through woods or places where you won’t have clear views of where you step.
  • Walk around logs instead of blindly stepping over them. Some snakes are rodent specialists and feed along logs.
  • Use a flashlight so you can see the ground at night in areas where venomous snakes might be present.

 
REMAIN CALM IF YOU SEE ONE

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 for remaining 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.
 

PETS ARE CURIOUS! 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. In the situations of venomous snake encounters, avoidance is achievable almost all of the time.
 

DO NOT BE SCAMMED BY SNAKE DETERRENT PRODUCTS

Do not purchase products that claim to prevent snakes from entering your property, even if they are sold in reputable stores. In open areas outdoors, none of these products work as advertised. Using enough to keep snakes away would make the property uninhabitable by people.
 

TEACH YOUR CHILDREN VENOMOUS SNAKE IDENTIFICATION

Children can readily learn venomous snake identification at early ages since there are only 6 species that all look unique in any given location in SC and GA. This knowledge empowers your child to know which species are potentially harmful and which are acceptable to stand back and observe. Playing outside is healthy for children physically and psychologically and being informed can make this activity safe and give you peace of mind as a parent.
 

EDUCATE YOURSELF

The best way to overcome a fear of snakes is to learn which snakes are harmless and which ones are venomous. Pass this information on to your family, friends, and children. Once you know how to differentiate, you can navigate this setting with confidence. If you observe a snake in your yard, please take a picture that can be emailed. You can contact srelherp@gmail.com if you seek positive identification or if you have questions regarding how to handle the situation. Check out SREL's Snakes of South Carolina and Georgia to learn more about each of our resident species.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

• More information on general snake safety
• Information specific to snake safety on the Savannah River Site
• Snake safety video (trailer)
• What to do if bitten
 
SREL Outreach snake-related fact sheets:
Eastern cottonmouth
Is it a water moccasin?
Snakebite
Pigmy rattlesnakes
Diamondback rattlesnakes
Hognose snakes
Scarlet kingsnakes
 
For more information on Outreach Wildlife Safety training programs, please contact us at outreach(at)srel.uga.edu.