Whenever we spend some time in our yards there is always the chance that we will encounter a snake. Consequently, what is to best way to react when you do see one?
To begin with, according to the state herpetologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Daniel Sollenberger, chances are the snake you see will not be poisonous. The reason for this is that out of the 47 species of snakes native to Georgia only 7 are poisonous. In addition, the copperhead is the species that is usually found in suburban areas.
When you see a snake, here is what the Georgia Department of Natural Resources recommends that you do.
Do not attempt to handle it. Give the reptile a wide berth. If possible, take a photo of the snake.
If you cannot identify it, a good source of information can be located at georgiawildlife.com/georgia snakes.
Remember, state law protects our native nonpoisonous snakes. In addition, federal law protects the eastern indigo snake.
Since the snakes in your yard are trying to hunt down prey such as insects, small mammals, amphibians and even other snakes, they should be allowed to escape into nearby cover. However, if you locate a potential poisonous snake that poses a potential danger to you, your family, or pets, do not try to remove it yourself. Instead, your best course of action is to contact a private wildlife removal specialist. You can obtain a list of them by going to georgiawildlife.com/preventing-wildlife-conflicts.
If you have any questions regarding snakes, contact Daniel Sollenberger, senior wildlife biologist – (478) 994-1438; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds face a host of perils. One of these is being caught by a snake. Over the years, hummingbird fanciers have sent me pictures of snakes coiled around feeders seemingly patiently waiting to pluck an unsuspecting hummingbird out of the air as it flies in to catch a quick meal. Since this unsettling scene is rarely reported, I suspect it does not happen very often. In our case, during the decades my wife and I have been feeding hummingbirds we had never seen it until this past week. Not only did I find a rat snake hanging onto one of our feeders, it was also clutching a hapless hummingbird in its gaping mouth. None of the photos I have received in the past ever captured this.
All of this changed when I stepped out on to on our deck on a quiet late summer morning less than a week ago and spotted what appeared to be a dark lump on the far side of one of our hummingbird feeders. I immediately stopped and tried to figure out what I was looking at. When I advanced closer to the feeder, I could see that the unknown object was a young rat snake. It was so small (three feet long) that it did not have to wrap itself around the feeder.
Once I realized what I was looking at, I turned around and went back into the house to tell my wife to grab her camera and hurry outside to see what was taking place. On the way back outside, I picked up my camera too.
When we returned, we realized that the best view of the snake was from the yard. When we found just the right spot to record the event, we started snapping pictures. All of this time the snake remained motionless. Finally, the snake moved its head away from the perch that encircled the feeding ports enough for us to realize it was just not waiting for a bird—it had already caught one and was in the process of swallowing it headfirst. Initially all we could see of the hummingbird was its emerald green back, wings, tail, and legs.
As we stood, transfixed, the snake began making swallowing motions that consisted of moving its head forward and opening and closing it mouth. As it did so, the bird slowly slipped deeper into the snake’s mouth and throat. Remarkably, in only five to 10 minutes the bird disappeared.
I then removed the feeder from the shepherd’s hook on which it was hung, and slowly walked to the far back of our spacious backyard and set the feeder on the ground. Throughout the whole process, the snake showed no signs of fear. However, when I placed the feeder on the grass the snake slowly slithered off.
Of course, we are disappointed that we lost a hummingbird to a rat snake. However, we realize that each year an untold number of hummingbirds succumb to predators, being caught in spider webs, accidents, and disease. At the same time, it will not hurt of feelings if we never witness it again.
The chances of finding a poisonous snake in a Georgia backyard are low. However, if one does appear, throughout most of the state, it will be a copperhead. One reason for this is the snake is ranges throughout the Peach State except in that portion of the southeastern Coastal Plain below the Altamaha River. Another reason is copperheads appear to be more tolerant of human development than other species of poisonous snakes.
While nobody ever wants to find a poisonous snake in their yard, if one does appear, probably the one that you want to see is the copperhead. It is not an aggressive snake. As such, more often than not, copperheads will only strike when they are disturbed or folks try to pick them up.
Unfortunately, copperheads do bite humans. An average of 2,920 copperhead bites occurs annually. The good news is, since copperhead venom is the least potent of any poisonous snake found in North America, copperhead bites are rarely life-threatening. In fact, only 0.01 percent of these bites are fatal.
Since fire ants were accidentally introduced into the United States during the twentieth century, they have plagued both humans and native wildlife. However, findings of research conducted by biologists at Pennsylvania State University suggest that fence lizards that eat fire ants increase their immunity to the fire ant venom.
The researchers found that blood tests of the fence lizards that consumed dead fire ants three times a week developed three different types of increased immunity against the fire ant venom.
It is interesting to note that being stung by the fire ants did increase the lizards’ immunity against future stings.
Unfortunately, folktales link many of our backyard wildlife neighbors such as owls, toads, snakes, and bats to Halloween. That being the case, with Halloween only a few weeks away, there is no better time to dispel one of the tall tales regarding one of these unfortunate animals — the toad.
The animals associated with Halloween have a number of things in common. For example, many are creatures of the night. This is a time when folktales tell us these animals consort with witches and goblins. Such associations are enough to malign any animal. As such, it is not surprising that people fear the toad. Although we are not afraid toads will bite us, many people honestly believe that, if you touch a toad, you will get warts. Apparently, toads also infect witches with warts as they are often depicted with warts on their noses. Let’s do a fact check and see if this bit of folklore is actually true.
The origin of this belief was long ago lost in the mists of history. However, it is widely believed this notion originated from the fact that the skins of toads are covered with lots of oddly shaped warts. Since medical knowledge was rudimentary at that time in history, this conclusion was not disputed and took on a life of its own. Who among us has not heard our father or mother tell us not to pick up that toad, because will give your warts?
The truth of the matter is warts are caused by something called a human papillion virus. There are 150 or so viruses of this type. They most often infect humans through a cut or scratch. It has been suggested that one of the reasons children seem to develop warts more than adults is their roughhousing make them more prone to get scratches and cuts. In addition, the fact that their immune systems have not yet fully developed makes them more susceptible to many infections like warts.
I can personally attest to the fact that toads do not cause warts. When my granddaughter was a youngster, I often accompanied her on forays into the dark to see how many toads she could capture in a single night. On a good night, she might catch a dozen or more of the “warty” critters. After examining and photographing them, she released them where they were captured. During these unforgettable adventures, she never developed any warts. However, I was left with a wealth of priceless memories.
I hope that I have dispelled this folktale. Unfortunately, I suspect that the belief that toads can infect us with warts will be around for many Halloweens to come.