Biologist offers tips to keep them away
If you think there are more photos of slithery sneaks on Facebook than usual, you’d be correct – it’s peak time for snakes.
Local biologist Mark Bailey said snakes of all kinds are more active in the spring and the fall.
“Once it’s really hot, say July to September, many species reduce their activity, and of course, tend to be dormant in the winter,” Bailey said.
Alabama has about 40 snake species, and while the majority can be found in Covington County, the most frequently encountered around here are the black racer; the rat snake, AKA “oak runner;” the hognose snake, AKA “spreading adder;” various water snakes; the copperhead and cottonmouth moccasin; and the eastern diamondback rattlesnake.
“Only the last three are venomous,” Bailey said. “I am certain that we have more copperheads now than we used to, and I attribute that to the mysterious disappearance from many areas of the eastern kingsnake, which eats copperheads and rattlesnakes.”
Bailey said the kingsnake is a large black snake with white or yellowish rings, and it was once common around Andalusia and in Conecuh National Forest.
“I would be very interested in hearing from readers who have seen one recently,” he said. “They are still common in other parts of their range, and the last sightings I have heard of from this area were a few years ago near Gantt.”
Q: What snakes are venomous, and where do they live?
A: All six of Alabama’s venomous snakes occur in Covington County. Of those, two – the copperhead and the cottonmouth – could be considered very common. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is now gone from portions of its range but is still frequently seen in some areas, mainly uplands with sandy soil. In the southern part of Covington County, the timber or “canebrake” rattlesnake is uncommon and seems to be strongly associated with low floodplains, but is more widespread and common in other habitat types in the northern portion of the county.
The little pygmy rattlesnake (AKA “ground rattler”) is found in a variety of habitats, but seems most common in sandy soils. They are secretive and are most often seen in the fall. The red-yellow-black-banded eastern coral snake is now extremely uncommon and seldom seen in our area, although one was documented in Geneva State Forest just a couple of years ago. There are two non-venomous snakes that at first glance may be mistaken for coral snakes, but they have neither black snouts nor touching red and yellow bands.”
Q: What do you do when you come in contact with a snake?
A: When I see a snake I take time to observe its behavior. They can be fascinating to watch, but I realize not everyone shares my interest in snakes. Leave it alone is almost always the best advice, unless it’s clearly a venomous snake posing a direct threat to pets or children. Most snake bites are the result of someone either handling or trying to kill a snake. Try not to overreact; I heard a doctor recently say that he’s treated far more people for injuries they sustained while trying to get away from a snake than for snakebites. The majority of our snakes are harmless, and probably 90 percent of snakes encountered inside buildings are beneficial rat snakes.
Q: What steps can one do to lessen their appearance in one’s yard?
A: The best thing you can do is to remove their cover and reduce their food. If you have piles of wood or roofing tin lying around, you are inviting small rodents, and the snakes will follow. I encountered numerous copperheads in my yard at a previous home a few years back, and although my lawn was mowed and neat, there were several very large clumps of azaleas 15 to 20 feet across, which I think served as snake refuges. Keep debris cleaned up, weeds and grass mowed short, and shrubby areas small, and you should seldom see a snake in the yard.