The best advice I can give to someone who calls our Extension office because they saw a snake in their yard is to leave it alone! Even worse is when someone brings a chopped up snake in our office for identification.
There are several reasons why you should leave snakes be. The main reason is because most people get bit while trying to kill them. If you can reach a snake with a shovel or hoe, they are within striking distance of you. If you are ever bit by a poisonous snake, you should call 911 right away. Never use a tourniquet, cut the wound, suck out the venom or pack the wound in ice. Out of the 7000-8000 venomous snakebites that occur each year in the U.S. only five or six of these bites result in death. Nonvenomous snakebites should be washed with warm soapy water and a tetanus shot may be needed.
The second — and also very important — reason to leave snakes alone is because they are our friends. They eat mice and rats that carry disease. Most people who bring in a dead snake, then call our office within the month asking how to get rid of rats and mice. When you kill a snake and then the mouse population gets out of control, you have caused your own problem. Snakes are living close to your house for a reason.
There are only six poisonous snakes in North Carolina. They are the Eastern coral snake, copperhead, cottonmouth, Carolina pygmy rattlesnake, Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and the timber rattlesnake. There are 31 other snakes that are not poisonous, so you are much more likely to encounter the non-poisonous kind.
Snake bites can cause problems with horses that get bit in the face. This is because they can’t breathe very well through their mouth. So, a swollen nose can interfere with oxygen supply. Horses that get bit in the nose should be examined by a veterinarian. Most other larger livestock and pets can survive a snake bite. However, snakebites to small pets can be fatal.
If you want to identify a snake, you don’t have to bring it into our office. You can just learn to identify the poisonous ones. They have catlike eyes with slits, a triangular shaped head with pits on both sides (except coral snakes) and one row of scales on the underside end of their tale (except coral snakes). Non-poisonous snakes have black eyes, rounder heads, no pits and two rows of scales on the underside end of their tale. Proper identification can also help medical personnel select the most appropriate treatment in the unlikely event of a bite.
If you ever find a snake in your house, shooting at it or chopping it with a hoe are never the answer. People have really messed up their houses in this way, including tearing up the plumbing work. You can open the door and herd the snake in the right direction without getting close to it or you can call a pest removal company.
Children should be taught to respect snakes but not fear them. People who are scared of snakes may want to consider getting a cat. Cats eat mice and rats and scare off snakes, which can solve your problem all in one. You can also keep grass short and get rid of old piles of wood or scrap metal. They like to hide and take cover in areas like this and so does their food supply.
For additional information on wildlife, please contact Tiffanee Conrad, Agricultural Extension Agent at 997-8255 or email at [email protected]