Every year the extension office receives a large number of calls from people with snake problems. Most calls are from people wanting to know if there are poisonous species of snakes in Georgia and how to control snakes in and around their home.
A major reason many people fear snakes is that some are venomous.
However, of the more than 50 kinds in Georgia, only six species, or less than 20 percent, are poisonous.
Venomous species found in Dawson County are the copperhead and timber rattlesnake. I have known of two Dawson County residents bitten by a copperhead in the past few years.
Fortunately snakebite is a rare accident. Fewer people are killed by snakes than by lightning.
The best defense is knowledge; learn to recognize poisonous species. A “Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians” by Roger Conant is a good reference for snake identification, but there are many other good books and Internet sites on the subject.
Snakes feed on a wide variety of small creatures and are very particular about what they eat. Some species eat only warm-blooded animals, such as rodents and birds. Others may eat only toads and frogs.
Large, land dwelling snakes are likely to feed on rodents, birds and their eggs, lizards, other snakes, toads and frogs. Aquatic snakes feed primarily on fish and amphibians.
Small snakes are likely to eat mice, frogs, toads, earthworms, slugs and soft-bodied insects.
Thus, snakes are a part of the natural system. Many of the things they eat are considered pests, therefore, knowledgeable people spare harmless snakes.
Poisonous snakes are another matter.
Be careful, a snake can strike half its length or more. Even when dead a snake’s reflex movement could result in a bite if handled carelessly. Bites by poisonous snakes need prompt medical attention.
What attracts snakes to dwellings?
If the house is surrounded by natural countryside, with rock piles, streams and swamps nearby, snakes will appear from time to time. Rock gardens, weedy places, piles of boards and debris, deteriorating outbuildings and the likes may harbor snakes. The best way to make yards and outbuildings unattractive to snakes is to clean up and clean out.
The first step is to insure that there are no openings in dwellings or other structures through which snakes can enter. Since snakes can get through very small holes, a careful inspection is necessary.
While snakes are being kept out of the house, steps should be taken to make the rest of the premises unattractive.
Look at the surroundings. Are there rodents or other sources of food? Are there places to hide? If the answers are yes, plan a program to remove food and cover. Control rodents if they are present. Get rid of debris. Remove brush and leaf piles. Place stacked material 12 or more inches above the ground or floor and away from walls.
Space beneath structures and stacks must be kept clean. Keep shrubbery and other plantings away from foundations and walls. Keep shrubbery clean and free of debris. Keep lawns closely mowed. Keep pond banks cleaned. These practices will reduce, but not eliminate, the possibility of finding snakes.
Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706) 265-2442.