Watch Out for Snakes!

After a long winter with cooler temperatures that stretched through April, spring seems to have finally sprung for good in Georgia, and for many that means it’s time to head outdoors. 

However … humans aren’t the only living things ready to stretch in the sunshine of these warmer days. 

Let’s talk about snakes.  

Why Did It Have to be Snakes?

Snakes have existed in Georgia long before there the land was called Georgia, even long before there were people to call the land by any name. 

Not that Georgia is unique in this regard; snakes live the world over, with species on every continent except Antarctica.

Apart from being rude, killing certain snake species is illegal in Georgia. Do yourself and the slithery ones a favor; keep walking. 

Snakes don’t hunt people. Snakes don’t seek to interact with people. If you see a snake, chances are it never meant to cross your path. 

And while venomous snakes can harm humans, they, like their non-venomous kin, subsist on a diet of rodents and birds. Relax; you’re not on the menu.

What if the Worst Happens?

If you are bitten, don’t panic. The survival rate for snake bites in the United States is excellent, provided proper medical treatment is received. 

An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year, but on average only 5 of those bites prove fatal. Hospitals typically carry anti-venom, so as long as you get to one in a timely fashion, you should be okay. 

There are other concerns with a bite, of course, same as with any wound, and even a non-venomous snake bite should be taken seriously and treated by medical professionals. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides these helpful lists of things to do and not do in the event of a snake bite: 

What TO DO if You or Someone Else is Bitten by a Snake

  • If you or someone you know are bitten, try to see and remember the color and shape of the snake, which can help with treatment of the snake bite.
  • Keep the bitten person still and calm. This can slow down the spread of venom if the snake is poisonous.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
  • Dial 911 or call local Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
  • Apply first aid if you cannot get the person to the hospital right away.
  • Lay or sit the person down with the bite below the level of the heart.
  • Tell him/her to stay calm and still.
  • Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.

What NOT TO DO if You or Someone Else is Bitten by a Snake

  • Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it (this may put you or someone else at risk for a bite).
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Do not slash the wound with a knife.
  • Do not suck out the venom.
  • Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water.
  • Do not drink alcohol as a pain killer.
  • Do not drink caffeinated beverages.

Snakes in the Home

Don’t attempt to corral the snake yourself. Leave it alone and call your local animal control service.

Snake Identification Primer 

Georgia is home to 46 species of snakes. Of these, six are venomous.

Five of the six species of venomous snakes are pit vipers and are readily identified by their triangular (or arrow-shaped) heads. Although a few non-venomous snakes have similar head shapes, by and large this is good warning sign to steer clear. 

  • Copperhead: Medium-sized snakes reaching a maximum length of about 4.5 feet, but most are less than 3 feet. The background coloration is usually light brown or gray, but individuals range from rusty orange to pinkish to nearly black. This species is easily identifiable by a pattern of 10-21 dark-brown, hourglass or saddle-shaped crossbands, which are wider at the sides of the body and become narrower along the back.
  • Cottonmouth: Relatively large, heavy-bodied snakes reaching a maximum length of nearly 6 feet, but most are less than 3 feet, 3 inches. Although these snakes are characterized by wide, dark bands along the body on a lighter brown or olive-colored background, individual coloration varies within and among populations. As Cottonmouths mature, many become very dark, and the bands become totally obscured. 
  • Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake: Georgia’s heaviest-bodied and one of the state’s longest snakes, reaching or possibly exceeding 7 feet, but more typically measuring 3-5 feet in total length. The tail has 3-10 brown and white bands and a “rattle” (one or more loose rings of hard keratin) that makes a loud whirring noise when shaken. Upper surface of the body is patterned by a long row of 24-35 dark brown, diamond-like blotches, fringed by thin yellow to cream borders. These blotches are broader than long and are linked together at their tips.
  • Pigmy Rattlesnake: Smallest of the rattlesnakes, with the maximum total length reported of 31 inches, but pigmy rattlesnakes usually reach a size of 16-23 inches. The background color is usually gray or tan, but occasional individuals can be reddish or almost black in some populations. The pattern consists of a series of light-edged dark blotches or spots (22-45) on the back, as well as from one to three rows of dark spots on the sides. There may be a reddish stripe down the center of the back. The tail is tipped by a segmented rattle; however, the interlocking segments of the rattle are poorly notched compared to other rattlesnakes, and occasionally some individuals lack a rattle. 
  • Timber Rattlesnake: Large, heavy-bodied snakes reaching a maximum length of nearly 6 feet in the Coastal Plain and about 5 feet in the mountains, but most range from 3-5 feet in length. The background color ranges through various shades of pink, yellow, tan, gray, brown and olive to velvety black. A series of brown to black chevron-shaped crossbands (15-34) typically cross the body. The tail is black and tipped by a segmented rattle. Very dark or solid black individuals are common in higher mountains of the northeastern part of the state but are rare elsewhere.

Georgia’s sixth venomous snake is not a pit viper and does not have the distinctive head shape. However, the Eastern Coral Snake is easily identified by its coloration, which consists of bright bands of yellow, red, and black. 

Three other non-venomous snakes in our state share these colors, but only on the Eastern Coral Snake are the red and yellow bands adjacent. If you grew up in Georgia (or another state that is home coral snakes) you may have learned a version of the mnemonic rhyme: “Red and yellow, kill a fellow; red and black, friend of Jack.” If you can remember that, you’ll know when to 

  • Eastern Coral Snake: Fairly slender snakes reaching a maximum length of 47 inches, but most range from 20-30 inches long. The body is patterned with broad black and red rings, equal in width and separated by narrow yellow rings. The red rings are dotted with numerous black flecks that may coalesce on the back into a pair of spots. The rounded snout is black and is followed by a broad yellow band across the head and neck. The tail has three or four broad black rings and two to four narrow yellow rings.