“Yes, I think snakes were active earlier, but there aren’t more snakes,” said Whit Gibbons, an ecologist at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. “When they first came out, there wasn’t as much vegetation, so I think people saw them more.”
Gibbons said the warmer weather in January and February meant snakes were breeding and searching for food earlier than usual.
“That period of activity is usually telescoped into a two-month period, and this year that’s three to four months,” he said.
Thomas Floyd, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said low rainfall also contributed to more snake sightings. The reptiles slither farther to find prey during dry conditions.
The Georgia Poison Center has recorded 121 bites from venomous and nonvenomous snakes so far this year, with the first reported on Jan. 7. The state could be on track to record more than 400 snakebites this year, up from 364 in 2011, said Gaylord Lopez, Georgia Poison Center director.
Lopez said snakebites are highly under-reported, with as many at eight for every one recorded by poison control. Eight cases were documented for the Augusta area in 2011, and none have been reported so far in 2012, although the snakebite season has several months remaining.
At Lake Thurmond this spring, at least one person was bitten by a venomous copperhead snake, said Allen Dean, chief ranger for the Army Corps of Engineers forestry, fish and wildlife management division. The camper received treatment at a hospital after reaching for what was thought to be a stick.
“It’s usually someone who’s got their hand in the wrong place,” Dean said, adding that he hasn’t observed above-normal snake activity in the woods and parks near the lake.
During summer months, snake encounters will occur less often and then peak in September and October, when babies are born, Gibbons said.
“When it gets really hot, the snakes will disappear,” he said. “They’ll be hiding and trying to stay cool like the rest of us.”