Snakes are elongate, legless, carnivorous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes that can be distinguished from legless lizards by their lack of eyelids and external ears.
Most species are nonvenomous and those that have venom use it primarily to kill and subdue prey rather than for self-defense.
Some possess venom potent enough to cause painful injury or death to humans. Nonvenomous snakes either swallow prey alive or kill by constriction.
Snake vision varies greatly, from only being able to distinguish light from dark to keen eyesight, but the main trend is that their vision is adequate although not sharp, and allows them to track movements.
Snakes use smell to track their prey. They smell by using their forked tongues to collect airborne particles, then passing them to the vomeronasal organ orJacobson’s organ in the mouth for examination.
The part of the body in direct contact with the ground is very sensitive to vibration; thus, a snake can sense other animals approaching by detecting faint vibrations in the air and on the ground.
Milk snakes are often mistaken for coral snakes, whose venom is deadly to humans.
Cobras, vipers, and closely related species use venom to immobilize or kill their prey. The venom is modified saliva, delivered through fangs. Venom, like all salivary secretions, is a predigestant that initiates the breakdown of food into soluble compounds, facilitating proper digestion. Even nonvenomous snake bites (like any animal bite) will cause tissue damage. Certain birds, mammals, and other snakes such as kingsnakes that prey on venomous snakes have developed resistance and even immunity to certain venoms. Snake venoms are complex mixtures of proteins, and are stored in poison glands at the back of the head. In all venomous snakes, these glands open through ducts into grooved or hollow teeth in the upper jaw. All snakes are strictly carnivorous, eating small animals including lizards, other snakes, small mammals, birds, eggs, fish, snails or insects.
Bite Snakes do not ordinarily prey on humans, and most will not attack humans unless the snake is startled or injured, preferring instead to avoid contact. With the exception of large constrictors, nonvenomous snakes are not a threat to humans. The bite of nonvenomous snakes is usually harmless because their teeth are designed for grabbing and holding, rather than tearing or inflicting a deep puncture wound. Although the possibility of an infection and tissue damage is present in the bite of a nonvenomous snake, venomous snakes present far greater hazard to humans.
Georgia is home to over 40 different types of snakes but only 6 of these are poisonous. Knowing the difference between a poisonous snake and a non-poisonous snake could mean life or death in some situations. All the snakes listed below should be approached with caution if encountered. The best thing to do is back up and walk briskly away. The snake, unless aggressive, will be much more afraid of you. If you find one in your yard don’t kill it.
The Copperhead is related to the Cottonmouth snake. More people in the southeast are bitten by this snake than any other. Even though it bites more people its venom is rarely fatal. The venom is toxic and can cause damage but if treatment is sought within adequate time the victim has a great chance of recovery and survival.
Copperheads get their name from the copper color of their heads. The sides of the snake are tan and the back is a dark chestnut color. The colors are often patterned like an hour glass. A baby copperhead will look just like an adult except its tail will be bright yellow. There are two different subspecies of this snake, one being lighter in color than the other.
Copperheads can live anywhere although they do like water. They blend in very well with the ground and this is why so many people are bitten. Without seeing the snake they accidentally step on them. If you encounter one in the wild, just back up and walk away. This snake doesn’t like to bite and will give you a warning by vibrating its tail. If threatened it will defend itself.
The cottonmouth or “water moccasin” is an aggressive snake. This snake has been known to actually go after someone who gets too close. They don’t necessarily want to hurt people but they are extremely territorial and will defend their ground. It is the only poisonous water snake in North America. The cottonmouth has a distinctive triangular shaped head and strong jaws. Its bite is much more painful than some snakes. It doesn’t simply strike but it latches on to its victim.
You can find these snake near water or laying out on a rock or tree stump waiting for its prey to stumble by. When young, they look similar to the Copperhead because the babies have bright yellow or lime colored tails. Adult snakes have a pale or yellow colored belly and their back and sides are brown, black or olive colored. Older snakes tend to be darker in color than the younger ones.
The Coral snake is venomous but its bite is rarely fatal. If you can get to the hospital in time you should be fine. Its thought that the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake has more potent venom. The Scarlet King snake and the Scarlet snake look a lot like the coral snake but you can tell them apart by looking at the nose. The coral snake has a black nose while the other two snakes have red noses. The stripes on the Coral snake go all the way around the body and this is not so with the scarlet snake who has a light colored belly.
Coral snakes have bands of red, black and yellow. They are 20 to 30 inches long and feed on other snakes, lizards and frogs. They prefer to live under debris like fallen trees and don’t like being out in the open. Some of them find holes and live comfortably inside.
Try to memorize this poem to help you recognize this snake
If red touches yellow, kill a fellow
If red touches back, you can pet its back
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
This snake is easily recognizable by the diamond pattern outlined in white on its back. It can range in color from brown to gray. It has a triangular head (usually large) and a thick body. It can reach up to 8 feet in length and is the largest North American venomous snake.
They can be found anywhere in the southeast. They don’t mind being out in the open or laying around in abandoned holes. The female snakes give birth to about 10 to 15 babies at once which are venomous from the second they come into the world.
If left alone these animals will not bite. If in an area where people are around you can be sure it won’t stay there for long. This snake can be useful because they catch rats and other rodents. If the snake is bothered it will rattle its tail to worn you. If you continue to come closer then it will bite. Diamondbacks can strike up to two thirds of their body length. A six foot snake can strike about four feet. Due to its size this could be considered the most dangerous animal in North America when threatened.
These snakes usually come out in late spring or early summer. During the cold months they hibernate in caves or holes. In the winter you might have a whole group of Timber rattlesnakes hibernating together although they do hibernate alone as well.
The large males can be seen in the later summer while they are out wondering around looking for a female to mate with. Timber rattlesnakes are long and can reach over 6 feet in length. They are normally gray but can be brown, yellowish or even black. The gray snakes can have a pinkish color to their skin. The tail is always black and their bodies have a black V pattern pointing forward, towards the head.
These snakes are very small and the babies could coil up on a card or even a large coin. Although small they are still poisonous. The venom is usually enough to kill a frog, mouse, or other small animal and not enough to kill an adult. Their first line of defense is to remain motionless if bothered. These snakes are easy to step on because they are so small. The average length of a pygmy rattlesnake is 18 inches or smaller. The rattle on their tales is seldom heard due to its size.
Pigmy rattlesnakes are usually grey in color and can sometimes have a blue tint. They have a black broken zigzag shaped pattern on their bodies. This snake’s temperament greatly varies. Some are aggressive and will attack repeatedly and others will just freeze and not move when approached. If bitten you will likely not die but you will feel the effects of the venom. Children are at a much larger risk of damage than the adults often resulting in a long hospital stay
Snakes are usually classified as a pest species due to people’s fear of the animal. The most common complaints include the following:
Snakes in yard or on property
Snakes living under home or deck
Snake in the swimming pool
Snake inside the home!
Concern for safety of pets
For these reasons, many people wish to have this nuisance reptile removed. Because they’re difficult to trap, removal is usually done by hand (or tong).
SNAKE BIOLOGY: There’s too many snake species to catalogue here. Some facts common to all snakes – they have no eyelids. They smell with their tongues, by flicking the forked tongue out and tasting the air with the Jacobsen’s organ. They are carnivorous. Some give birth to live young, but most lay eggs. One myth about snakes is that if a snake has a triangular head, it is poisonous (venomous). This is not true – most snakes have triangular heads. As reptiles, their body temperature is regulated by surrounding temperatures. Sometimes they’ll sunbathe to raise temperature. Many snake usually prefer to hide under heavy cover in cool areas.
SNAKE BEHAVIOR: The important thing to know is that most snakes are non-venomous, and pretty much none of them are aggressive. That is, no snake will slither up to you and attack you. Most will run, and some will stand their ground, but if you leave the snake alone, it’ll leave you alone. That’s how it works for most animals. Snakes live in a wide variety of habitats. Some are great climbers, some are aquatic. Most are very patient when it comes to catching prey – they sit still and silent for a very long time, then when a prey item is in reach, they strike! Some kill by venom, some by constriction. Some just grab bugs and eat them.
NUISANCE CONCERNS: The primary concern seems to be fear of snakes (Ophidiophobia) which many people have. It’s a common phobia, and I’ve seen it many times. I’ve seen adults cowering up on chairs, shaking. It’s irrational, but very real for some people. Even for those without a flat-out phobia, snakes are often unsettling. Often it’s just a matter of ignorance – people don’t know which snakes are venomous and which are not, so they are naturally cautious around all snakes. Snakes inhabit many ecological niches, and often around human buildings. They’ll get into pools, screened porches, and oftentimes, the home itself. Snakes don’t need much space to enter a home.