(Forsyth County, GA) Every year when the warm weather rolls around again, social media sites are inundated by posts from frantic individuals asking “what is this snake?” Though many local snakes are not harmful and are even beneficial, it’s only natural to want to know which slithery species is hanging out on your porch, sneaking through your yard, or even lurking in your garage.
It’s important to know if you may have a venomous snake in your area, especially for families with children or pets. But it’s also important to understand the important and beneficial role snakes play in the environment so that they won’t be harmed needlessly.
Out of 47 Georgia native snake species, only seven are venomous. Native snakes need to keep doing what they’re supposed to - keeping the rodent population down, eating some critters that bedevil gardeners and even consuming some venomous snakes. Also, remember that non-venomous snakes are protected under Georgia law.
To help residents get to know our local snake population, we put together this list of some of the most common snakes you may encounter in the Forsyth County area. This list isn’t comprehensive, but it will help you identify the snakes you are most likely to see and help you understand the role they are playing in our local ecosystem.
First, here’s a rundown on the most common venomous snakes in Forsyth County:
- Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix): The Copperhead is a venomous snake with distinct “Hershey’s Kiss” markings on its body. Unfortunately, this is the one venomous snake most often encountered in North Georgia, preferring wooded areas and rocky hillsides, and occasionally suburban landscapes. Although they can be dangerous, copperheads are non-aggressive and will usually retreat when they see you (unless they think they’re hidden; in that case, they may not move).
- Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus): These rattlers prefer hardwood and pine forests, but may also be found in cane thickets and in high areas around swamps. They sometimes wait for prey on fallen logs. Caution is necessary around these snakes due to their potent venom, but they are generally non-aggressive and will usually retreat if given space. Pygmy rattlesnakes are less common in Forsyth County and the state's other rattler, the Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake, isn't found here.
Here are a few other venomous species that are found in Georgia, but not in Forsyth County:
- Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius): The Eastern Coral Snake is a venomous species, but its reclusive nature and small mouth make it less dangerous than other venomous snakes. It features striking bands of red, yellow, and black along its body. They prefer wooded areas with loose, sandy soil and are typically found in the southern part of the state. However, they may also be found in the lower Piedmont region along the Flint River.
- Cottonmouth/Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus): This pit viper is one of the world’s only semiaquatic snakes. Like its relative the Florida cottonmouth, which is also found in Georgia, it gets its name from the white patch clearly visible when its mouth is open. Cottonmouths can swim and do so with their entire body on the surface of the water, but they are often found on rocks, stumps, or logs basking during the day.
“I'm not aware of any confirmed cottonmouth sightings in Forsyth [County], and our range maps do not show them occurring in the northern quarter of the state,” said Rick Lavender from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
“Watersnakes [which are nonvenomous] are often misidentified as cottonmouths,” Lavender added.
Speaking of non-venomous snakes, Georgia has 40 species of non-venomous snake pals, many of which play an important role in their local ecosystems. Here are a few you might see in our area (and a few more you may want to know about):
- Eastern Rat Snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis): Often mistaken for a venomous snake, this snake plays a valuable role in controlling rodent populations. It has a glossy black color with a white or yellow underside and is commonly found in forests, woodlands, and suburban areas, often climbing trees or buildings in search of prey.
- Black Racer (Coluber constrictor): This snake is known for its sleek black body and incredible speed. It is a constrictor and feeds on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. These snakes are adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and even urban areas.
- Corn Snake (Pantheophis guttatus): This vibrantly-colored snake may look scary, but it has a reputation for being a docile, calm reptile. The corn snake is actually a popular pet choice among reptile enthusiasts, but not in our state. “You cannot legally own a native Georgia snake species, even if bought from a pet store,” said Lavender. “The sale of such would be illegal as well. That said, these are beautiful snakes!”
- Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula): This common Forsyth County snake is easy to recognize with its glossy black scales and white or yellow chain-link bands along the back and sides. This guy should be welcome in your yard because it’s known for its ability to consume other snakes, including venomous ones.
- Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi): This federally-protected non-venomous snake is the longest native snake species in North America. Another glossy black snake, it is highly valued for its ecological role as a predator, particularly in controlling rodent populations. Eastern indigos are found only in parts of south Georgia, but as the only federally-protected species in the state it’s a good one to be familiar with.
- Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis): This little guy is a slender snake with distinctive longitudinal stripes running down its body. It is known for its adaptability to various habitats and is often encountered near gardens or water sources.
- Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) : Though these non-venomous snakes are often mistaken for a venomous cottonmouth species, you are much more likely to see them in Forsyth County. These snakes tend to have blotchy patterns on their back instead of bands and are found primarily in the Piedmont region of the state or in the mountains near lakes, marshes, rivers, or streams. These dark-colored snakes may be 24-55 inches long and tend to feed on amphibians and fish.
What to do if you see a snake
If you see a snake, don’t panic! If the snake is outdoors, leave it be. If it’s in your home, garden, or patio area, you can try to identify it from a safe distance. Make sure kids and pets stay away from the snake. Remember that many snake species look similar. If you can safely take a picture on your phone, that can make it easier to ID it later. Don’t try to handle or remove the snake yourself. Most bites happen when a snake feels cornered and is trying to defend itself. If you decide the snake is venomous and you are worried about it being near your home, you can contact a private wildlife removal specialist.
Take extra care near wood piles, when moving flowerpots, or when turning over rocks or logs, since these can be refuge places for snakes. Snakes also sometimes hide in brush piles and occasionally even pine straw. Snakes may hide out in a garage or crawl space under a home, especially since these cold-blooded animals don’t like being out in extreme heat or cold and also if these areas house potential prey, such as mice. Close up any holes or other openings that might allow snakes into your home.
Still have questions about snakes in your area? One place to find out more is the Urban Wildlife Program. The Urban Wildlife Program serves nine metro Atlanta counties, including Forsyth County. Part of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the program’s purpose is to help metro Atlanta residents “resolve conflicts with wildlife, prevent conflicts before they start, and promote desired wildlife habitat and conservation in backyards.” The program offers outreach and education as well as situation-specific technical assistance. In an emergency, it can even provide an onsite response.
While caution is important when encountering any snake, Forsyth County residents can learn to respect and appreciate their ecological significance. Better education about our local snakes helps keep both people and reptiles safer this summer.
Have you seen a snake in your area this summer? Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know.