It helps greatly to know when the snake you find in your yard is poisonous. This one isn't. It's an albino gray rat snake.
One afternoon I was running barefoot across the yard when I came across a snake. Actually stepped on it. And boy, was I running after that.
Snakes in our yard were fairly common. Our farm was out in the country with woods, ponds and creeks all around us, so we were used to seeing them. We would see king snakes, garter snakes, black snakes, rat snakes, rattlesnakes and, when we went to the creek or pond, an occasional cottonmouth.
People have incredible fears of snakes, whether they're poisonous or not. Too many times I've heard the saying, "the only good snake is a dead snake."
I've also heard too many times the old remedy of applying lime or sulfur to an area to prevent snakes. How this one got started, I'll never know. But it doesn't work.
40 Species of Snakes
Georgia is home to 40 species of snakes. If you live in an area surrounded by woods, you may encounter one. My advice is to be aware that they're out there, but remember they're not out to get you. They're as afraid of you as you are of them, and given the opportunity, they'll usually avoid you.
Learn how to tell what snake it is. Get a resource that gives a color photo and description to help you learn their markings and color patterns.
Teach your children about them and about being safe and aware when out in nature. The University of Georgia Extension Service has a good publication, "Snakes of Georgia and South Carolina," for just $5. Your county Extension Service office may have a copy. Or you can order one from the Ag Business Office, 203 Conner Hall, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602. Or call (706) 542-8999.
Forget the lime and sulfur and remember this: clean up and clean out. Remove objects snakes can hide in and under, such as pieces of lumber, shingles, metal, junk piles and yard debris.
Make Habitat Unattractive
These items will also attract the small insects and rodents snakes prey on. Cleaning up removes the reasons for a snake to be there. Make the habitat unattractive to the unwelcome visitors.
Remember, too, as people move into areas where snakes live, their encounters with them may increase. Snakes are important parts of our ecosystem, serving as both predator and prey. They should be afforded the opportunity to coexist with us.
Second to the question about how to repel snakes is this one: "How do I tell the difference between a poisonous and nonpoisonous snake?" There's no single rule to distinguish the two except the presence of fangs.
Poisonous snakes do have large, triangular-shaped heads, but so do some nonpoisonous ones. This clue isn't always accurate.
Round Pupils Not Foolproof
Poisonous snakes have elliptical pupils, too. All harmless snakes in the eastern United States have round pupils, but so does the poisonous coral snake. So no single rule applies except the presence of fangs.
The take-home message is to learn to identify the different snakes. Maintaining a neat, well-kept landscape which isn't attractive to snakes for food or cover is usually prevention enough.
And if you're running across the yard barefoot and step on one, don't bother to tell your brothers. They won't believe you.
For more information, contact your county Extension Service office.
(Wade Hutcheson is a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent serving Spalding, Henry and Newton counties.)