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Extension advice: Is that thing dangerous? A discussion on snakes
It’s that time of year for snake sightings. Shown here are: A. copperhead (venomous); B. rat snake (non-venomous); C. coral Snake (venomous); D. eastern indigo snake (non-venomous) –- all of which can be found in Bryan County. Photo provided.

This is the time of year when snakes are out in full force, and here in Bryan County we have a good diversity between the north and south ends of the county.

I know the word “snake” conjures up feelings of fear and distrust in many – I won’t try and change your minds, but I do want to point out what should be feared and what “can” be appreciated.

Snakes eat insects, fish, amphibians, birds, rodents, eggs and other reptiles. And many snakes eat nuisance animals, too. In fact, one rat snake can eat two or three rats every two weeks – for some that is useful.

Clearly then, one snake can greatly impact an ecosystem by reducing the potential for serious diseases, like Lyme disease.

Typically, at the first sign of danger or human contact, snakes will usually flee. Most snakes strike in defense as a last resort. Non-venomous snakes are usually harmless.

While there is no one clear rule to use to tell the difference between a venomous snake and a non-venomous snake every time, there are some useful features to point notice.

Eye pupil shape is one way. Most venomous snakes have an elliptical pupil while most non-venomous snakes have a round pupil. Though hopefully nobody is that close to tell!

Many of you probably know the old limerick regarding color: “Red and yellow kill a fellow, red and black friend of Jack.” This rhyme refers to the colors that touch each other, which is most helpful when comparing the coral and king snake.

One myth to be aware of is about head shape: a triangular head does not necessarily mean the snake is venomous. In fact, most snakes have a triangle-shaped head.

The three rattlesnakes are easily identified by the rattle at the tip of their tales.

Cottonmouths, unlike non-venomous water snakes, typically swim on top of the water with their heads elevated, according to the DNR.

And copperheads have a pattern of dark brown, hourglass or saddle-shaped crossbands along their back.

Here are some details on a few non-venomous snake species commonly found in Georgia:

• The most notable, the eastern indigo snake, is an endangered species of snake native to us here in Bryan County, especially in the south end. It is quite large and is best identified by its glossy, iridescent, blue-black coloration. It is one of the snakes to be appreciated rather than feared as it eats other snakes and pests.

• King snakes are found in a wide variety of habitats. Adults can reach 4 feet in length. Eastern king snakes are black with light yellow or whitish crossbands. They feed on the regular snake fare and other snakes, including venomous species. King snakes are immune to the venom of rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and copperheads.

• Water snakes are found in aquatic environments. However, some species have been spotted several hundred feet away from water. Water snakes often grow to a length of 4 feet and are light brown on top with darker squares on the back and sides.

• The brown water snake is the most common and is often mistaken for the venomous cottonmouth. This snake frequently basks on tree limbs that overhang the water. Brown water snakes feed almost exclusively on fish.

• Garter snakes are found in habitats that are damp, although not necessarily near permanent water. They are usually less than 2 feet long but can get longer. They have three yellow longitudinal stripes on a dark body.

Their bellies are white or light yellow. This species gives birth to live young, sometimes having more than 50 babies. Garter snakes feed on fish, small reptiles and amphibians.

• Rat snakes are our most commonly found snake,usually in wooded or swampy areas. Adults grow to more than 4 feet in length. Coastal species are olive with four dark stripes on their backs.

They feed on birds, rats, mice and squirrels. They are known as “chicken snakes” in farming areas because they readily eat caged chickens. This is one of the snakes that can be appreciated for its value rather than feared as a threat.

• Black racers are found in a wide variety of habitats. Racers are frequently seen crossing highways during the day.

Adults are usually slender, 3-5 feet long and black except for a white chin. They feed on frogs, rodents, birds, lizards and insects.

To avoid all snake species, be cautious when gardening and performing lawn chores. You can also limit your encounters with snakes by not creating habitats for them in your yard.

For more information on snakes, contact the Bryan County Extension Service office at 912-653-2231 or

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