With over 30 years experience dealing with snakes in Georgia, Jason Clark could go on all day about the slithering reptiles, people’s misconceptions about them, and how to identify the ones that are deadly.
But for all his knowledge, he can boil it down to just one thing for the average person trying to figure out what to do about a snake found lounging in the back yard.
“You shouldn’t ever interact with a venomous snake anyway by trying to kill it or trying to catch it, and as far as non-venomous snakes go, you shouldn’t catch them either,” he said as he showed three venomous snakes that are commonly found in Middle Georgia.
“Every non-venomous snake native to Georgia is protected. It’s illegal to kill them, and it’s illegal to catch them if you don’t have a license. So no matter which snake you encounter in your yard, just leave it alone.”
Even if people kill or remove a snake, they probably haven’t solved their problem, he said. The snake was there for a reason, which is that it found the habitat of the yard enticing. If people want to keep snakes out of their yard, he said, they should focus on changing the habitat, not removing the snakes.
That means keep the grass cut, get rid of any plants that provide ground cover for snakes, and don’t let limbs, leaves or other debris pile up.
What about old cars?
“If you like snakes, you should do that,” he said. “You should keep old cars in your yard.”
Snake repellant products do no good, he said.
Clark, who operates Southeastern Reptile Rescue based in Griffin, discussed snakes Thursday with Dr. Andy Bozeman, a pediatric surgeon at Fairview Park Hospital in Dublin. Bozeman treats about two or three children each year with snake bites, though he has not seen a fatality. The last fatality in Georgia from a snake bite was in 2015, according to the Poison Control Center of Georgia.
Bozeman said if people do get bitten by a snake, their priority should be to get medical care as soon as possible. The cowboy movie technique of cutting the wound and trying to suck out the venom is a bad idea, he said. A tourniquet also should not be used. He said it’s also not especially important to try to identify the snake because the same anti-venom is used for all venomous snakes in Middle Georgia.
He said the fall is typically when there are more snake bites. The last snake bite he treated was last fall when a child playing in a backyard with overgrown grass was bitten by a copperhead.
Clark showed a copperhead along with a timber rattler and a cotton mouth, also known as a water moccasin.
Anti-venom for a single bite, depending on the severity, can cost around $150,000, but the good news is the majority of the time it isn’t needed. Bozeman said the patient will be monitored, and the anti-venom will only be used if the symptoms become severe. Often the snake injects little or no venom, or it might turn out that the snake was not venomous.
Gaylord Lopez, director of the Poison Control Center of Georgia, said as of July 31 there were 240 snake bites reported statewide this year, and in about a quarter of those, no venom was detected. There were 258 snake bites over the same period in 2017.