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Snake Numbers Actually Low in Summer, Expert Says
Anxious homeowners say Georgia is crawling with snakes this summer. But a University of Georgia wildlife expert says snake numbers are actually much lower in the summer than in the fall.

"Snakes tend to mate during the spring or early summer," said Jeff Jackson, an Extension Service wildlife specialist and a D.B. Warnell School of Forestry professor at UGA. "The young are born or hatched in late August, depending on the species."

"Looking at the food chain and daily survival from predators, we know there are fewer and fewer snakes each day until the annual arrival of new little snakes," he said.

Snakes reproduce only once a year, he said. Most species have a dozen to two dozen offspring. Some lay eggs, while others give birth to their young.

Snake eggs are oval, white and rubbery, Jackson said. "The eggs look like lizard and some turtle eggs," he said. "But the shells are stiffer."

Seeing more snakes during the summer doesn't mean the population has exploded. "Georgia's climate is such that you could find snakes year-round if you were an enthusiast," he said.

Most people fear snakes. "Our attitudes toward snakes, for the most part, come from the environments we were raised in," said Jackson, who played with snakes and other wildlife as a child.

"Some people think if they kill a snake, they're somehow saving the world," he said. "But this attitude is changing."

Jackson said people who are afraid of snakes usually grab the nearest weapon of destruction when they see one.

"If you see a snake, you don't need a weapon," he said. "Just stay out of the snake's way. Be defensive. And watch where you put your hands and feet when you're outdoors."

He said some people try to find logical reasons to let snakes live. "People always ask 'What good is it?' about animals they don't know or animals they fear," he said. "They're out there. They exist. We don't go hunting for 'good' when we see a mockingbird."

Over his 22-year career in wildlife management, Jackson has answered thousands of snake-related phone calls.

"People are always asking me what to do when they see a snake in their yard," he said. "I tell them to do the same thing they do when they see a frog, a turtle or a bird. Do nothing."

Jackson says common sense comes into play when you find a venomous snake near your home.

"Doing battle with the snake will put you at a greater risk than walking the other way. But that's a judgement call," he said. "A poisonous snake near your home can be an accident waiting to happen. And I'll admit I've turned a few into natural history specimens for my classes."

Jackson suggested arming yourself with knowledge.

"Most zoos and nature centers keep a display of local venomous snakes," he said. "Take a visit with the kids and learn what these snakes look like. Knowledge is power. It's that basic."

Jackson said relying on a formula ("triangular-headed snakes are poisonous") can put people and snakes in danger.

"If a snake has a triangular head, it has little or nothing to do with whether it's venomous," he said. "Plenty of harmless snakes have been killed because they have triangular heads. On the other hand, coral snakes don't have triangular heads, and they're highly venomous."

With modern medicine, the fatality rate for snakebites is low.

"Of those bitten each year, 99 percent survive," Jackson said. "Those are great odds. The same number of people are killed each year by uncontrolled pets as by snakebites. Yet dogs are considered man's best friend."

Of the 39 snake species native to Georgia, he said, only six are venomous.

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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