This is the time of year when the Liberty County Extension office gets lots of calls about snakes.
For some people, the thought of crossing paths with a snake evokes extreme fear, but the truth is that snakes are an ordinary and important part of the landscape in Georgia.
Over the years, I’ve found that, generally, the more people learn about snakes, the less they fear them. By learning about species identification, hopefully you will greatly reduce your fear of Georgia’s snakes and enjoy the outdoors more this summer.
First, while snakes are not guaranteed to be lurking under every rock, snakes inhabit every corner of the state and provide important ecosystem services, regardless if that ecosystem happens to be someone’s backyard or a pine forest.
Without snakes, Georgia would be overrun with rodents and other pests. Some species feed on warm-blooded animals such as rodents and birds, while others feed on amphibians and fish.
Some smaller snakes even feed on earthworms, slugs and soft-bodied insects. In fact, one rat snake can eat two or three rats every couple of weeks!
Most people dread the thought of a snake biting them, but at the first sign of danger, or human contact, snakes prefer to flee. Most snakes strike in defense as a last resort.
Non-venomous snakes are generally harmless, but anything with a mouth can bite. Caution should be exercised around any snake.
To reduce your chances of having a negative snake encounter, do not corner or try to capture the snake.
I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the six species of venomous snakes that live in Georgia. While snakebites are a rare occurrence, if a venomous snake bites you or someone with you, there are basic steps you can take to reduce the severity of the snakebite.
If the snake that bit you is nonvenomous, simply wash the area with warm soapy water; a tetanus shot may be needed. As with any wound, keep an eye on it and go to your doctor if you suspect the bite is not healing properly.
If the snake is venomous, follow these recommendations by Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Poison Control Center:
DO stay calm! Keep the bitten area below heart level, and remove rings, watches, and tight clothing. Try to identify the offending snake if you can easily do so but do not put yourself at further risk or waste valuable time.
DO get to the nearest hospital or emergency medical facility immediately, even if you suspect a dry bite. The universal treatment for a serious snakebite is the use of snakebite serum, which should only be administered by a medical doctor. If local doctors aren’t sure which antivenin to use, advise them to contact the American Association of Poison Control Center.
DO NOT eat or drink anything, including alcoholic beverages or medicines.
DO NOT run or engage in strenuous activity.
DO NOT cut into or incise bite marks with a blade.
DO NOT apply a tourniquet after a pit viper bite.
DO NOT use a stun gun or other electrical shock.
DO NOT freeze or apply extreme cold to the area of the bite.
Georgia laws regarding snakes: Many people believe that “the only good snake is a dead snake” and go out of their way to kill them. Harmless water snakes are frequently mistaken for cottonmouths and are killed “just in case.” Even the highly beneficial Eastern king snakes, which are strong constrictors that prey on a variety of other animals—even venomous species such as rattlesnakes and copperheads—fall victim to the zero tolerance mindset.
Please know that killing non-venomous snakes is illegal in Georgia. Keeping native non-venomous snakes as pets also is illegal without the proper permits.
Venomous snakes, although beneficial, are not protected since they may pose a threat to humans.
Again, only six species are venomous, so be sure you know which species of snakes in Georgia are venomous. If possible, simply leave venomous snakes alone; you don’t need to kill them just because it’s legal.
To learn more about Georgia’s snakes, visit the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division ¬snake information page or contact the Liberty County Extension office at 912-876-2133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.