Contrary to popular belief, the only good snake is not a dead snake. They serve a very important purpose in the environment. Without them, we’d be overrun with rodents of all sizes. Their other food sources include insects, fish, amphibians, birds, eggs and even other snakes. Cottonmouths have even been known to feed on carrion. Snakes are also a food source to other wildlife, hawks and great blue herons to name a couple.
There are about 40 species of snake in Georgia, both venomous and non-venomous. They will range in size from about 12 inches long (earth snake) to more than 8 feet (eastern indigo snake). Most snakes are non-venomous and harmless to us but there are five venomous species to watch for (cottonmouth, copperhead, pigmy rattlesnake, canebrake aka timber rattlesnake, and the eastern diamondback rattlesnake) and a 6th that is very seldom seen except along the coast (Eastern Coral Snake).
Snakes can be found most anywhere including your own backyard, even in the city. Most are shy, preferring to stay under cover and hide except when coming out to hunt. They often shelter under woodpiles, shingles, metal or other yard debris. You might even find one in the barn, chicken coop or storage building. Water snakes can also be found if you have a stream, swamp or pond nearby. If you happen to see a snake in the yard but have no cover or food sources around, then it is likely they are just passing through on their way to somewhere else.
Do you know how to tell the difference between venomous and non-venomous? It’s not always as easy as you think. All pit vipers have triangular heads but so do non-venomous water snakes. Pit vipers have elliptical pupils and all non-venomous snakes in the eastern US have round pupils but so do venomous coral snakes. There is no single rule to identify venomous vs. non-venomous snakes except whether they have fangs. The bite from a non-venomous snake is harmless but it can still hurt and without proper cleansing, can possibly become infected.
There are no guaranteed products available to repel snakes from your yard, though many claim to, especially those that contain sulfur or naphthalene (mothballs). Honestly, the amount required to work effectively would also make your home unpleasant for everything else, including you! The best way to prevent snakes from taking up residence in your yard is called habitat modification. Remove wood piles, rock gardens and other debris that tend to look like their preferred habitat. Don’t encourage their natural food source either, keep the grass mowed; if the rodents don’t have a place to hide, neither will the snakes.
To learn more about Georgia’s snakes and habits, visit the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory Herpetology website, https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/index.htm. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Brenda Jackson at Murray County Extension at 706-695-3031 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.