Underfoot and overhead, snakes are on the move again. They’re the flash of scales in monkey grass, the dark shadow arrowing across your garden.
But relax. Show some common sense, say the experts, and you can coexist with our legless neighbors. You may even grow to appreciate them.
Atlantans have little to fear from snakes, said Georgia's chief herpetologist, John Jensen. He wrote the book on snakes — literally — and has some advice for snake-a-phobes.
“If it’s a big snake, nine times out of 10 it’s a rat snake,” he said.
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That's a good snake. Rat snakes are agile, black and like to hang out where humans do — no surprise, considering their main delicacy, rats, also stick close to people. Other good snakes that hang out around these parts: corn snakes and the common king snake. If you see one, relax; it does not want to bite you.
If it’s a small snake? Nine times out of 10, it is not a baby. It’s probably a brown snake, and it’s not likely to get longer than 10-12 inches long. They eat snails, slugs and the occasional earthworm. In all of recorded history, brown snakes have killed no one.
Still, people get shakes over snakes, said Matthew Field. The founder of All Wildlife Control of Roswell, he fields about 300 snake calls yearly. Nearly all the callers, he said, are certain they've got a copperhead in their midst.
“Everybody who calls thinks it’s something that’s going to kill them,” he said.
Most of them are mistaken. Water snakes, said Field, are the dominant snake hereabouts.
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Field also anticipates getting more calls in the coming weeks. “They’ve been hibernating all winter,” he said. “Now, it’s time to eat and get a girlfriend.”
A word of advice: avoid ivy. In 2014, Field captured a “boatload” of copperheads in some Cobb neighborhoods. “You know what they had in common?” he asked. “They were all in ivy.”
Not the one that bit Levi Fisher. He was walking across pine straw in the front yard of his family’s east Cobb home in the summer when he stepped in the wrong place.
“He stumbled and fell and started screaming,” recalled his mother, Christina Fisher. “I caught him before he hit the ground.”
As she held the toddler, Fisher saw a movement in the straw — a snake, still coiled. She yelled for her husband. Justin Fisher was at her side in an instant.
“It’s a copperhead,” he said. “I’m calling 911.”
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The ambulance driver headed to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. There, physicians treated the child with antivenin, neutralizing the poison in Levi’s bloodstream. They responded just in time: The venom had traveled halfway to his heart. If it had reached that tiny organ, the venom may have killed Levi.
The child was in the hospital for four days. He had to periodically return to the hospital for three months so specialists could test his blood. “It took that long for the venom to go away,” said Christina Fisher.
She suspects that the snake had been living in their backyard, which had a fine stand of ivy until the Fishers removed it. Its preferred habitat gone, the copperhead found something else.
Since that encounter, she said, the Fishers have removed fallen trees and leaf piles from their rear yard. “There’s no perfect answer,” Christina Fisher said. “I’m sure there are still snakes in our yard.”
You can count on that, said Anthony DeVingo, owner of Ever Green Landscape Management. The lawn care company has been looking after Atlanta yards for 30 years. “In Georgia,” he said, “you’re only about 10 feet away from a snake at any given time.”
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But that is no reason to panic, said DeVingo, trained as a gardener. Snakes eat insects, rats and other vermin. Got a nice yard? Thank a snake.
“I am so pro-snake,” said DeVingo, who routinely picks up the crawly creatures and moves them aside when he’s cutting away bushes and other undergrowth. “I love snakes — especially in the garden.”
The takeaway in this brief missive, dear reader? You watch your step, and Mr. Snake will watch his, er, crawl.
WHICH SNAKE IS THAT?
Not sure what's curled up in your yard? Go to www.georgiawildlife.com/BackyardWildlife. Scroll to the bottom (under "Additional Links") to find the following brochures and information to find out more:
- "Is It a Water Moccasin?"
- "Venomous Snakes of Georgia"
- "Snakes of Georgia and South Carolina"