Snakes have role in nature

This is the time of year when our extension office gets calls about snakes. I even had the privilege of seeing a big snake in my landscape last week.


It was a rat snake, which is most often found in wooded or swampy areas. Adults grow to more than 4 feet in length. Our inland species range from black to light gray or brown. They feed on birds, rats, mice and squirrels. They are known as "chicken snakes" in farming areas because they readily eat caged chickens.

The one I saw in my backyard was black, and more than 3 feet long. I went inside to get my kids so I could show it to them.

I left the snake alone and thought that was the end of it. The next morning I got a phone call from my wife telling me the snake was in the window of our garage. The garage door was closed. It later dropped down on to the garage floor.

My wife opened the garage door and the snake eventually found its way back out. Needless to say, my wife was not happy knowing a snake had come into the garage through the window.

We haven't seen the snake since. We hope it is busy eating all the squirrels that visit my yard!

If you live next to woods, as I do, you are going to have snakes. The best thing you can do is educate yourself on the different species. Of the approximately 40 species of snakes found in our area, only three or four are venomous.

Here are some details on a few nonvenomous snakes found in the Augusta area:

l King snakes are found in a variety of habitats. Adults can reach 4 feet in length. Eastern king snakes are black with light yellow or whitish crossbands. They feed on other snakes, including venomous species. They are immune to the venom of rattlesnakes, cottonmouths (water moccasins) and copperheads.

l Water snakes are found in and around streams, rivers and swamps, but some species have been seen hundreds of feet from water. Water snakes can grow to a length of 4 feet and are light brown on top with darker squares on the back and sides. The brown water snake is often mistaken for the venomous water moccasin. This snake frequently basks on tree limbs that overhang the water. Brown water snakes feed almost exclusively on fish.

l Garter snakes are found in habitats that are damp, although not necessarily near permanent water. They are usually less than 2 feet long but can get longer. They have three yellow longitudinal stripes on a dark body. They also have black lines on their lip scales.

Some garter snakes have a checkered body pattern with poorly defined stripes and a grayish body color. Their bellies are white or light yellow. Garter snakes feed on fish, small reptiles and amphibians.

This is the snake I see the most in my landscape.

l Brown snakes are found in woodlands and swampy areas. It's also one of the most common species found in residential areas, where they are often seen in and around debris. I see one of two of these every year in my landscape. They feed on earthworms, slugs and lizards. When threatened, they curl their upper lips upward, making their mouths look larger.

l Black racers are found in a variety of habitats. Adults are usually slender, 3 to 5 feet long and black all over except a white chin. They feed on frogs, rodents, lizards and insects.

I have found that most people hate snakes, regardless of whether they are venomous . I grew up in the country and saw lots of snakes. When we saw one, my mother always got the hoe and chopped its head off, no matter what kind it was. To her, the only good snake was a dead snake.

I haven't thought that way in years, particularly since I have been an extension agent.

Snakes eat insects, fish, amphibians, birds, rodents, lizards, eggs and other reptiles, and many snakes eat nuisance animals. One rat snake can eat three rats every two weeks. Clearly, one snake can significantly impact an ecosystem by reducing the potential for serious diseases such as hanta virus or Lyme disease.

At the first sign of danger, or human contact, snakes will usually flee. Most snakes only strike in defense as a last resort.

Nonvenomous snakes are harmless. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to tell a venomous snake from a harmless one.

Pit vipers have large, triangular shaped heads, but so do nonvenomous water snakes. Pit vipers have elliptical pupils, whereas all harmless snakes have round pupils - but so do highly venomous coral snakes.

Many people put out sulfur or commercial products (which contain moth balls and sulfur) to try and keep snakes out of their yard. But the smell from the amount of sulfur required to be effective would be so repulsive that you would not want to live there either.

Sid Mullis is the director of the University of Georgia Extension Service Office for Richmond County. Call him at (706) 821-2349, or send e-mail to


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