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Snakes can be helpful, too

Posted: June 16, 2013 - 12:10am

Not too many animals get quite the emotional response as snakes when they are found in the woods or around the house. People have been repulsed by or attracted to snakes ever since the dawn of time. Snakes are part of the landscape. Without them, even venomous snakes, there would be an overpopulation of rodents and other pests. The most frequently observed snakes are black racers, rat snakes, and nonvenomous water snakes, They are common and important predators in our ecosystems. Forty different kinds of snakes inhabit Georgia, and only six are venomous. The most common venomous snakes found in this area are the copperhead and the cottonmouth/water moccasin.

Snakes feed on a variety of small creatures. Some species feed only on warm-blooded animals such as rodents and birds. Other species eat toads, frogs and fish. Some of the smaller snakes feed on earthworms, slugs and soft-bodied insects.

Many snake species use camouflage to protect themselves from predators or to catch their prey. While they intend to blend in to their background, sightings of them become more numerous as people encroach on their habitat. Property adjacent to natural countryside or woods with rock piles, streams and wetlands is more likely to have snakes.

Accidentally stepping on or grabbing a snake can communicate to that animal that you are trying to harm it. This may result in an aggressive response. Never place your hands, arms, feet or legs in a place you can’t see when outdoors. For example, reaching into tall grass or under the house blindly can cause an accidental encounter with a snake. 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 stepping over them. If you encounter a snake, step back.

No chemical controls can keep snakes out of the landscape. Mothballs and lime create a noxious smell that may deter snakes temporarily. The best way to reduce the incidence of snakes is to keep landscaped areas and structures unattractive for them. Do not allow the areas around the house to become overgrown with vegetation or weedy. Look for sources of food and places to hide. Remove wood piles, brick piles and trash piles. Reducing food sources and places to hide can discourage snakes from staying in the area. Check around to ensure the home is properly sealed. Small holes in the foundation or crawlspace for pipes are often big enough to allow entry by snakes.

The best way to overcome a fear of snakes is to learn which are harmless and which are venomous. To learn more, visit the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory Herpetology program Web site at srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/index.htm.

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