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It’s Snake Season!

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Written by Libby Blosser, Intern at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Bladen County Center

Summer is quickly approaching! The warm weather provides the perfect opportunity to get outside and do some gardening! It may bring some other visitors to your garden as well. With the peak of gardening season right around the corner, you may run into a snake or two. Here are some tips and information to help
you better handle an encounter with a snake. Hopefully, this article will help dispel some common misconceptions about snakes and help people respect their role in North Carolina’s ecosystems.

What kind of Snakes are in NC? 

Did you know that NC is home to 38 species of snakes? Snakes are important ecological players in North Carolina, serving as both predators and prey to help maintain our ecosystems. Of these 38 species, only 6 are considered venomous snakes. Some of North Carolina’s nonvenomous snakes include the Black Racer, Corn Snake, Eastern Kingsnake, Banded Water Snake, and Green Snake. Venomous snakes are sometimes referred to as poisonous snakes. Their venom can actually be used for medicinal purposes. The 6 venomous snakes native to NC are the Eastern Coral Snake, Copperhead, Cottonmouth, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Timber Rattlesnake, and the Pigmy Rattlesnake.

What Should I Do When I Encounter a Snake?

Whether you’re a pro snake handler or not a fan of snakes at all, it’s important to remain calm when encountering a snake. Their reaction is often based on your reaction. Snakes rely on sight, hearing, and smell to detect prey and avoid predation or danger. Snakes sense vibrations stemming from sounds and movements
through their bodies. Some pit vipers have special organs that allow them to sense heat signatures. Contrary to some beliefs, snakes only bite when they feel threatened or sometimes when accidently stepped on. Snakes are attracted to covered areas such as pots, rocks, piles of wood, and other debris. If you don’t want snakes around, it’s important to minimize the presence of these structures. If you encounter a snake, it’s important to properly identify the species in order to assess the risk involved. If you can avoid disrupting the snake, it is best to leave it alone where it is at. However, if a snake finds its way in a building or restricted path, then removal may be necessary. Non-venomous snakes can often be swept away or removed by hand (although removal by hand does come with risk of being bitten). You should never try to move a venomous snake by hand. If you are uncertain whether the species is venomous or not, it is best to leave the snake alone or contact a wildlife professional if the snake does not leave.

How Do I Know if it’s Venomous or Not?

There are several identifiable features that help us distinguish between a venomous and nonvenomous snake. If you are not familiar with snakes, you should be aware that scale patterns among certain species look similar and could lead to incorrect identification. Often, venomous snakes will have elliptical-shaped pupils compared to rounded pupils of nonvenomous snakes. Venomous snakes in the family Viperidae also have pits located below their nostrils and triangular-shaped heads. This characteristic can be misleading sometimes because some nonvenomous snakes can make their heads appear wider and triangular-shaped. The Eastern Coral Snake is the only NC native venomous snake in the Elapidae family. The best way to identify this snake is by its scale coloring, which consists of red, yellow, and black bands. The thick red and black bands are separated by narrow yellow bands. A common saying for identifying the coral snake is “Red touches black, you’re ok Jack; Red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow!”

If possible, it is always best to leave a snake alone, whether venomous or not! Many venomous snakes in NC are endangered or a species of special concern. For more information, you can visit our publication on Snakes, which includes a complete list and pictures of snake species in North Carolina.