Summer warmth brings out Georgia’s 40 species of snakes

Published 11:46 am Monday, May 16, 2016

Ty Torrance

Our warm temperatures have plants blooming and gardens growing, but animals and insects are becoming more active as well. I thought I would talk about one of these animals that seem to strike fear in most people, snakes.

As most of you know, snakes are reptiles so the outside temperature affects their activity. That is why you don’t see snakes during the winter, or on extremely hot summer days. They prefer moderate temperatures, making spring and fall the best times to see snakes active during daylight hours. All snakes eat animals. This can range from earthworms and insects to rodents and small birds. The most common form of defense by snakes is avoidance; any other defensive behavior is usually a last resort.

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We have 40 species of snakes in Georgia. They range from the earth snake which never reaches more than 12 inches to the eastern indigo snake which can grow more than 8 feet long. Of these 40 species we only have six snakes in Georgia that are venomous. Five of these are pit vipers and include the cottonmouth, copperhead, pigmy rattlesnake, canebrake (timber) rattlesnake, and the eastern diamondback rattlesnake. The other venomous species is the coral snake. The best way to differentiate the coral snake from the similar, but nonvenomous, scarlet king snake is to be a Georgia Bulldog fan. If the red and black bands are touching then all is right with the world and it is a non-venomous scarlet king snake. However, if the Georgia Tech yellow band is between the red and black, then you have a problem and a venomous coral snake.

Of the 40 species that occur in Georgia only one is considered legally threatened – the eastern indigo snake. The indigo snake is protected by law from being killed, harassed or kept as a pet. No protection is provided for the venomous species in Georgia. All non-venomous snakes are protected under the state’s nongame species law; so think about this the next time you kill a non-venomous snake.

Most of the snakes that people come in contact with are rat or king snakes which are only harmful if you hurt yourself trying to get out of the way.