As spring fades into summer, the number of snake-related calls and emails to John Jensen go up. But most center on two questions: What species is this and what do I do with it?
“Only every once in a while is it a venomous snake,” said Jensen, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and co-author of “Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia.”
Whether it’s a venomous snake is, of course, the concern or fear underlying most of the questions. Chances are it’s not, Jensen said. Only six of the 46 species native to Georgia are venomous and only one of those – the copperhead – usually thrives in suburban areas, where the majority of Georgians live.
So what to do if you spot a snake?
•Try to identify it from a distance. Resources such as www.georgiawildlife.com/georgiasnakes, which includes DNR’s “Venomous Snakes of Georgia” brochure, can help.
• Do not try to handle the snake. Give it the space it needs.
• Remember that snakes are predators that feed on rodents, insects and even other snakes. There is no need to fear non-venomous snakes. Native non-venomous species are protected by state law, and the eastern indigo is federally protected as an imperiled species.
• If a clearly identified venomous snake is in an area where it represents a danger to people or pets, contact DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division for a list of private wildlife removal specialists. Most snake bites occur when a snake is cornered or captured, prompting it to defend itself.
Non-venomous snakes such as scarlet kingsnake, eastern hognose and watersnake species can be confused with their venomous counterparts. Pit vipers, which include native venomous snake species in Georgia except for the coral snake, are often identified by their broad, triangular-shaped heads. Yet many nonvenomous snakes flatten their heads when threatened and may have color patterns similar to venomous species. Use caution around any unidentified snake.
For more on Georgia’s snakes, visit www.georgiawildlife.org/georgiasnakes. Also, “Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia” (University of Georgia Press) is a thorough reference. From eastern indigo snakes to bald eagles, The Nongame Conservation Section works to conserve rare and other Georgia wildlife not legally fished for or hunted, as well as rare plants and natural habitats. The agency depends primarily on fundraisers, grants and contributions. That makes public support key.
Georgians can help by contributing to the state’s Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund. Here’s how:
• Buy or renew a DNR eagle or hummingbird license plate. Most of the fees are dedicated to wildlife. Upgrade to a wild tag for only $25! Details at www.georgiawildlife.com/licenseplates.
• Donate at www.gooutdoorsgeorgia.com. Click “Licenses and Permits” and log in to give. (New customers can create an account.) There’s even an option to round-up for wildlife.
• Contribute to the Wildlife Conservation Fund when filing state income taxes – line 30 on form 500 or line 10 on form 500EZ. Giving is easy and every donation helps.
• Donate directly to the agency. Learn more at www.georgiawildlife.com/donations.
Visit www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/annualreport to see how support is put to work for wildlife.
• Benefits: While some snakes eat rodents and even venomous snakes, others prey on creatures Georgians also many not want near their homes. Brown and red-bellied snakes, for example, feed on snails and slugs, the bane of gardeners. Crowned snake species primarily eat centipedes.
• Babies? Snakes such as earth and brown snake species do not grow large and homeowners occasionally mistake them as juveniles. The concern here: Are larger parents nearby? Yet though some species are live-bearers and some are egg-bearers, snakes do not exhibit parental care, DNR’s John Jensen said. If there are parents, they’re not watching over their offspring.
• Prevention: To reduce the potential for snakes near your home, remove brush, log piles and other habitat features that attract mice, lizards and other animals on which snakes prey.