STEPHEN MORTON/AP FILE
The UGA Savannah River Ecology Laboratory Herpetology Program (http://srelherp.uga.edu) offers everything you need to know to stay safe around snakes. We turn to them for information here and start with the WATER MOCCASIN (also called the COTTONMOUTH). These snakes are semi-aquatic (found on both land and in water), have triangular heads, are heavy-bodied, vary in coloration and have large jowls. Water moccasins/Cottonmouths can be active day or night, but typically feed in the dark when it’s hot. Their range is the entire Southeast, but in Georgia they’re typically found in the southern Coastal Plain area. You can, of course, come across them in metro Atlanta. They can be found in nearly all freshwater habitats but are most common in cypress swamps, river floodplains, and heavily-vegetated wetlands. In this file photo, Whit Gibbons uses a mechanical hand covered by a glove to pick up a Water Moccasin he found on the Savannah River Site near Aiken, SC. (Please don’t do this.)
JOHN JENSEN/GA. DNR
The COPPERHEAD is much more common in the metro Atlanta area. They’re fairly big, heavy-bodied snakes with large triangular heads, tan/brown bodies showing dark hourglass-like crossbands along their length. Copperheads range throughout the eastern and central U.S. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats, proving as comfortable in dry, rocky areas as they are in cool, forested areas or wetlands. Copperheads are responsible for the majority of snakebites in the Southeast each year.
STEPHEN MORTON/AP FILE
The CANEBRAKE / TIMBER RATTLESNAKE is a big, heavy-bodied snake that can grow to 6 feet in length. There is color variance: Canebrakes are usually gray, may have a pink hue and may have a pink, yellow, orange or brown stripe running along its back. Timber rattlers, UGA says, “are typically more brown or yellowish and may even be black. Both forms have solid black tails that appear almost velvet and black chevrons on the back and sides with the point of the (V) pointing forward.” These snakes are found widely in the eastern U.S. but are mostly absent from Florida. UGA describes their habitats as “lowland cane thickets, high areas around swamps and river floodplains, hardwood and pine forests, mountainous areas, and rural habitats in farming areas. They typically become reduced in numbers in highly urbanized or areas of housing development.” Active both day and night, they hibernate during cold weather but become active in late spring and can remain so until late fall. Here, Whit Gibbons tests the short temper of a Canebrake Rattlesnake that sinks its fangs into his protective boots after Gibbons lightly stepped on the snake. (Again, please don’t do this.)
The EASTERN CORAL SNAKE is highly venomous, its venom potentially causing death. These are slender, mid-sized snakes with a smooth appearance and its notable bright red, yellow and black rings. According to UGA, “the eastern coral snake is found in scattered localities in the southern Coastal Plain from North Carolina to Louisiana, including all of Florida, where they are most prevalent.” Although rarely seen in their habitats, they are most often encountered in spring and fall. Coral snakes are not in any way limited to rural areas. “Perhaps because of their secretive habits, coral snakes often persist in suburban areas,” UGA notes.
According to UGA, the EASTERN DIAMONDBACK RATTLESNAKE is the largest of all current rattlesnake species, having “large, heavy [bodies] with large, broad heads with two light lines on the face. The background color is brown, tan, or yellowish and covered with the namesake diamonds, which are brown and surrounded by lighter scales.” These snakes are found in the Lower Coastal Plain in the Southeast from North Carolina to Louisiana, but are most prevalent in south Georgia and Florida. “This species usually inhabits dry sandy areas, palmetto or wiregrass flatwoods, pinewoods, coastal dune habitats, or hardwood hammocks,” UGA notes, adding that “they generally avoid wet areas but sometimes live along the edges of swamps. They are accomplished swimmers and even travel through saltwater to and from barrier islands.” Eastern Diamondback rattlers are active during the day, mostly mornings and evenings in summer. They generally hibernate during the winter.
The PIGMY RATTLESNAKE is small, having a tiny rattle. UGA notes that these snakes “have a row of mid-dorsal spots and a bar than runs from the eye to the base of the mouth, but the color of this bar can vary from black to brownish red. An orange or reddish brown dorsal stripe is also present” in the two subspecies found in Georgia. Additionally, “the Carolina pigmy rattler can be gray, tan, or lavender. Some specimens from northern Georgia and eastern North Carolina are orange or red,” UGA says. They’re found in northeast, northwest and central Georgia and throughout South Carolina. Pigmy rattlers live in a variety of habitats, both wet and dry, including creeks, swamps, mixed forests and even sandhills. They mostly hide “in leaf litter and can be hard to spot,” according to UGA. They are active throughout the day.