The Truth About Snakes

Photo of black snake

Many people we talk to are terrified of snakes. While there are some species of venomous snakes in North Carolina we need to watch for, in reality most snakes are harmless. In fact, snakes can be beneficial in helping keep the rodent and insect populations under control.

According to the NC Cooperative Extension, there are approximately 37 types of snakes found in North Carolina. Of these, only six are venomous. The Copperhead is found throughout the state. This snake is normally 2-4’ long and normally lives in wooded areas or near water. The Cottonmouth, so named for the white near its mouth, is usually found near water in the eastern part of the state and in South Carolina. Cottonmouths grow up to 6’ long and are highly venomous. The Pygmy Rattlesnake is elusive, preferring to hide under rocks and downed trees. This small rattler grows up to 2’ in length and can be found in southeastern NC. The Timber (or Canebrake) Rattlesnake can be found in most areas of the state, though it lives primarily in undeveloped areas. It can also reach 6’ in length. The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is rather rare, though some can be found in the very southeastern section of North Carolina. These snakes can grow to more than 7’ in length and prefer to live in pine flatwoods or areas bordered by forests. The Eastern Coral Snake prefers sandy soil and can be found in the very southeastern sections of the state. It has red and black stripes and a black head, and is often confused with the non-venomous Scarlet King Snake (red head). Visit the Cooperative Extension website for some great photos of all North Carolina snakes.

The most common snakes we come across are non-venomous snakes like Black Racers, rat snakes and garter snakes. These snakes may come close to your house looking for rodents and insects. We often find snake skins that have been shed in crawl spaces where the snakes are finding (and eating) mice and rats! If you have firewood piled near the house, the snakes may hunt for food or seek shelter in the wood piles, so use caution when removing wood in warmer weather.

Most snakes – even venomous snakes – are not terribly aggressive. The best thing you can do to protect yourself against snake bites is to be aware of your surroundings and not provoke any snake you see. Many people are bitten when they try to kill or handle a snake. If you see a snake, just let it be. All snakes can bite and most can break the skin. Non-venomous snakes tend to have smaller teeth and are less likely to break the skin. If you are bitten by a snake you know is non-venomous and it breaks the skin, wash the area with soap and water. If you have any type of allergic reaction, see a doctor immediately. If you are not certain if the snake was venomous, you should head to the emergency room just to be safe. [Note: some people still believe you should cut open a venomous bite and “suck out” the poison. This does not help and is not safe!]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 5,000-6,000 people in the U.S. are bitten by venomous snakes, and approximately 5 people die from those bites. To put that in perspective, according to the Department of Transportation, almost 30,000 people died in 2011 in car crashes. If you work or play outdoors, be aware of your surroundings. If you come across a snake, do not try to pick it up or kill it. Simply back away and allow it to go on its way.

If you are worried about snakes around your house, give us a call and we can investigate!

 

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