By Dianne Yost
With Spring around the corner, the snakes will soon be out and about in Morgan County. We checked in with local Naturalist David Burke who has a special interest in Herpetology – especially Morgan County’s native species. He has studied and handled snakes since his early teens.
Burke says that because of myths and wrong information on snakes he seeks to help people understand just a bit more about what surrounds them. “Of Georgia’s 41 species of snakes, six of them are venomous.” And, if you encounter a snake in Morgan County, he says changes are that it will be non-venomous.
But if such an encounter should occur, Burke advises not to touch it or try or capture it. “Several times a year people tell me they kill snakes because it might kill their pet dog or cat. Only a rattlesnake will do that, unless your pet has some type allergic reaction to a copperhead bite,” he said.
The Citizen put together a guide to Georgia’s six venomous snakes. Burke says that of the six venomous snakes in Georgia you are only likely to find tow of those living in Morgan County: The Timber Rattlesnake and the Copperhead. As to the Copperhead, Burke said, “Most of the time, people confuse Copperheads with the common and harmless Brown Snake that eats snails and slugs while working in your garden.”
While the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is the most dangerous in Georgia, Burke says you’ve got to go to South Georgia to find them unless one escapes from a herpetologist or is released by someone keeping one captive. And, Burke says to encounter a Cottonmouth, you’ll have better luck in Greene County the White Plains area and in regions near the Savannah River Basin because Cottonmouth’s like the soil composition there.
According to Burke, the Eastern Coral Snake and the Pigmy Rattlesnakes are not commonly found in Morgan County.
Here is a guide to Georgia’s Six Venomous Snakes based on information presented by the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.
The Timber Rattlesnake lives everywhere in Georgia from terrestrial habitats to swamps. Its basic color is grey with black V-shaped cross-bands. Some may have an orange-brown stripe down the middle of its back. The head is solid tan and the tail is black. The Timber Rattlesnake is usually passive if not pestered. And, while it will rarely attack, the Timber Rattlesnake has long fangs and a high venom yield. If you see one, back away quick!
Although copperheads are found in forested areas throughout most of South Carolina and Georgia, their habitat preferences change across our region. While they are commonly found in Georgia, Copperheads have the mildest venom. They favor hardwood forests, both dry and wet. As a general rule, they are less than 3.5 feet long. While a Copperhead bite is almost never fatal, it can still be extremely painful. They bite more people per year in the United States than any other snake. It’s most active in the evening.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake’s large size and potent venom makes him the most dangerous snake in the entire U.S. It is found in dry terrestrial habitats, but also wet areas. As the largest venomous snake in North America, adults can reach up to six to eight feet in length. Its basic color is dark brown with distinct diamonds outlined in white or yellow. The head is triangular and the tail banded with rattles. It’s mostly found in south Georgia.
The Cottonmouth is common to Georgia, in the state’s southern and middle regions in wetland habitats. Adults reach three to four feet long and vary in color (brown/black/tan) background with lighter brown or yellow markings. Its belly is a dull yellow and brown. The inside of this snake’s mouth is as white as cotton, hence the name. It can be aggressive and its venom is particularly harmful as it can dissolve tissue. While the cottonmouth is primarily active at night, it is not uncommon to see them sunbathing during the day. It often stands its ground with an open-mouth threat display. A bite can result in severe injuries and can sometimes be fatal.
Eastern Coral Snake
The eastern Coral Snake is found in scattered localities in the southern Coastal Plain from North Carolina to Louisiana, including all of Florida, where they are most prevalent. They are noted for preying primarily on other snakes and lizards, which they kill by injecting with venom. It likes a variety of habitats from wooded areas, fields to pond margins. Adults reach less than four feet in length. Also, it’s often confused with the non-venomous Scarlet Kingsnake, and can be distinguished by the order of their bands: Red touch yellow harms a fellow is the Coral Snake and Red touch black friend of Jack” is the Scarlet Kingsnake. While the Coral Snake is extremely venomous, they are shy and slow to bite.
Pigmy RattlesnakePigmy rattlesnakes spend most of their time well-hidden among leaf litter and can be very hard to spot. From such hiding places they ambush a variety of prey including lizards, frogs, small mammals, and insects as well as centipedes. These snakes are most often encountered crossing roads on summer evenings. Females give birth to live young in the late summer or fall. They are heavy-bodied and range in size from less than two feet to about one foot long. Their tiny rattle can be nearly inaudible.