Saturday, June 16, 2012

Snakes are Friends not Foes - Let Them Live!

Lately, I’m seeing a lot of Facebook posts about killing snakes here in the Piedmont area of North Carolina.  This makes me sad – while I fully understand that snakes are not most people’s favorite animal, they are typically harmless and are very beneficial.  Snakes eat small rodents and insects.  Much like spiders, you wouldn’t want to live in a world where these two creatures weren’t around to do their jobs.

So, why do people in our area kill snakes?  Fear. 

According to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, there are 37 species of snakes in North Carolina.  Of those, six are venomous.  Of those, only three live in the Piedmont.  The three venomous snakes are the copperhead (which most of us worry about), the timber rattlesnake (rare!)  and the cottonmouth (rare!).
Venomous snakes, at least the ones in our area, typically have a broad or triangular head.  Additionally, the slits of their eyes are elliptical like a cats, not round like a humans.  However, you should never be close enough to figure this piece out!

I understand the fear of copperheads; they are not in short supply in our region.  However, with a little knowledge, one can distinguish between a copperhead and his harmless cousins.  Copperheads, and most venomous snakes, have a triangular or broad shaped head.  In addition, the pattern on the scales looks like an hourglass.  While their bite is painful, their venom is on the weaker range.  Don’t want to get bit?  Walk away.  NEVER try to pick up a snake!  AND, one way to get bit is to go after it to kill it.  If you were coming to kill me, I’d bite you too!

Timber rattlesnakes are now fairly rare in the Piedmont.  They have a stout body, that triangular or broad head mentioned with copperheads and a rattle on their tail.  The rattle is pretty distinctive.  They are non-aggressive and will only strike if you get too close (step on them, try to pick them up, try to kill them).  Leave them alone, and they’ll go on their way.

To read more about them, go here:

Finally, there is the cottonmouth.  These are very rare, but still do exist in the Piedmont.  They are typically found around water sources and swim with their heads above the water.  Again, they have the triangular shaped head and cat’s eye pupils.  These ARE dangerous.  Their venom is more potent than the copperhead.  However, you won’t find these slinking around your lawn unless you live next to a water source or swamp.  They have a distinctive light stripe along the side of their head.

To read more about them, go here:

I highlighted the three venomous snakes and provided links for education.  Much like the bunnies and squirrels and other animals we coexist with daily, our slithery friends are just trying to live their lives.  They aren’t here to attack you, and they are just as afraid of you as you are of them.  If you leave them alone, they will gladly go away and do their best not to be seen again. 

As stated, you should NEVER try to pick up a snake.  All snakes have the potential to bite when they feel threatened.  Can you blame them? 
Here are a few of the non-venomous snakes we have around here that I think are particularly beautiful:

The corn snake is one of my favorites.  The colored varieties are just gorgeous - they range in colors of reds, oranges, whites (albino), violet (really beautiful), etc.  Sometimes mistaken for a copperhead, note that the markings on the back are more square.  A copperhead, if you remember, has hourglass shaped markings.

Gorgeous markings on this milk snake make this species a stunning example of reptilian beauty.

This guy is an Eastern Hognose or Puff Adder.  You're thinking - hey, he has a wide head!  That's why he's called a Puff Adder because he flattens out his head to give the appearance of size when threatened.  However, if you look at his eyes, you'll see that the pupils are round and not slits.  Funny thing about this guy, who typically won't bite even when threatened, he'll play dead if you aren't scared by his big headed display.

Finally, the black rat snake is very common in our area.  In our area, most of the ones we see are that trademark black.  However, if you'll follow the link under the picture, you'll see they come in different patterns of color.  Leave these guys alone - they are only doing their job keeping the rodents at bay.

As stated earlier, there are 31 species of non-venomous snakes in NC.  So, don't grab up your hoe and wage war the next time you see one slithering across the yard, say a little thank you for keeping the mice out of your kitchen from a distance and go about your day.  Educate yourself and your children on the types of snakes in your area.  Then, you can admire the non-venomous snakes from a distance and walk away from the venomous ones safely. 

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