Published on 07/23/09

Knowledge cure to snake fear

By April Sorrow
University of Georgia

The grace and beauty of a snake’s slither is often overshadowed by the paralyzing anxiety it can cause. But knowledge is a cure for that fear, says a University of Georgia expert.

“Snakes are like any other wildlife. We should enjoy them. Look at it, learn about it and let it go on its way,” said Wade Hutcheson, the UGA Cooperative Extension coordinator in Spalding County. “Take a few moments to talk about snakes with children so they are aware they are in their environment. And so they can know to go the other way.”

Snakes typically steer clear of humans. However, if your house is surrounded by woods or has streams or swamps nearby, you may see an occasional snake.

Poisonous or not

While any snake can bite, only six of the state’s nearly 50 snake species are venomous. Georgia is home to three kinds of rattlesnakes -- the Eastern diamondback, timber and pigmy -- along with cottonmouths, copperheads and coral snakes.

“Without getting real close, there is not a fool-proof method to determine if a snake is poisonous,” he said. “Knowing their markings and proper identification is the only sure way.”

Get a good guidebook with descriptions and photos to learn which snakes to avoid. The UGA Extension guidebook Snakes of Georgia and South Carolina costs $5 and is available through UGA Extension county offices.

For information on how to identify snakes and color photos, see the UGA Savannah River Ecology Lab's Herpetology Web site at

Remove the welcome mat

Snakes need food, water and shelter to live. Removing these necessities from your landscape will keep them out of your yard and house.

“The best thing a homeowner can do to reduce the chances of seeing a snake is to clean up and clean out,” Hutcheson said. “Reduce clutter that will attract the rodents and insects snakes eat or items that could be hiding and resting places.”

Clean up brush, rock and trash piles, mow tall grass and weeds and remove things snakes hide under.

Clean up clutter in yards, open garages, on porches and in open storage buildings. Remove shrubs right next to the house foundation and other things close to the ground, especially around buildings. Keep things such as firewood and lumber stacked 12 inches above ground or off the floor and away from walls.

Snakes like damp, cool and dark spots. Look for these areas and change them if possible.

Don’t let pet or bird food sit out. This attracts rodents, which in turn attract snakes. Clean food storage areas regularly and keep pet food and trash sealed.

“Keeping the area clean will reduce the reasons why the snake wants to be there,” Hutcheson said. “If he can’t find what he needs, he will move out.”

Unwanted house guest

To prevent snakes from entering your home, seal holes around and under the house.

If one does find its way into your house, use a damp burlap bag to remove it, he said.

“The damp burlap will attract the snake, and there is a good chance he will crawl under it,” Hutcheson said. “Then, you can pick it up (with a shovel) and take it outside.”

Hardware stores sell glue-board traps. Once the snake is trapped on the board, take it far from the home and pour vegetable oil on the snake and trap. The oil will cut the glue and allow the snake to escape.

Several companies remove wildlife from homes for a fee and take measures to prevent them from returning.

Remember, most snakes in Georgia are nonpoisonous. If you are bitten and not sure if the snake is poisonous or nonpoisonous, go to the nearest hospital as soon as possible.

(April Sorrow is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.