SEASON WILL BE HERE FOR A WHILE
season is upon us, and the following are recent queries, some of which
I get every year.
Snakes seem to be more abundant in suburban areas around Birmingham
than they were when I was growing up. Is that true?
The answer lies in perception more than reality. Some snakes probably
have become slightly more abundant in suburban neighborhoods than they
were when the areas were natural woodlands simply because they can thrive
under current conditions. For example, ratsnakes can find more to eat
in the form of rodents and small birds, both of which can be abundant
in suburban areas. Also, shrubs and trees in many suburban areas have
grown substantially since they were first planted, so more suitable
habitat is available for snakes and other wildlife.
perception of snake abundance has also changed significantly. Social
media and the availability of instant photography with cell phones has
allowed people to be informed of any snake sighting in the neighborhood.
So, 30 years ago when someone found a ratsnake in their backyard, you
might hear about it at next weeks bridge club, whereas today you
hear about it immediately on Facebook or Instagram from neighbors you
What kinds of snakes are most common in big cities? I know at least
some are present because people find garter snakes and ring-necked snakes
in their gardens.
Last year I interviewed professional herpetologists about the most common
snakes found in the 25 largest cities in the eastern United States.
Each of them had received requests to identify snakes in urban areas
and had kept records throughout the year. The common gartersnake was
the most prevalent species, being frequently reported in 24 metropolitan
areas from Boston to Chicago to Atlanta to Miami. The second most common
species was the brownsnake, formerly called DeKays brown snake,
a small species that can be found in vacant lots, backyards and home
gardens in most southeastern towns and cities.
(northern or southern banded), racers and ratsnakes were commonly reported
residents in more than half of the large cities despite all being relatively
large snakes. Ring-necked snakes were reported as among the most common
snake species in 10 of the cities. Fortunately, venomous snakes were
not reported as prevalent in most cities. Notable exceptions were coral
snakes in Florida (Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa) and copperheads
I live north of Atlanta, and we have copperheads in the neighborhood.
Would a kingsnake residing in the area kill them?
Eastern kingsnakes, which would be native to that area, are immune to
the venom of pit vipers (copperheads, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes) and
have been documented to eat them. If the kingsnake encounters a pit
viper in the wild that is small enough for it to eat, the kingsnake
will bite it, kill it by constriction and then swallow it whole. When
kingsnakes and copperheads are found in the same area, the former probably
reduce the numbers of the latter. However, migrant pit vipers can wander
into an area and go a long time without encountering a kingsnake that
will eat them.
It is really confusing when the same snake can have different appearances.
Based on a book I have about snakes, even the same kind can come in
different colors. Is there a surefire way to tell whether a snake is
harmless so I can safely pick it up?
As with other groups of animals and plants, many species look similar
and simply require learning how to differentiate between them. Butterflies,
oak trees and treefrogs have many lookalikes, but the cost for picking
up the wrong snake can be very high. A primary rule regarding snakes
that cannot be overstated is you should look but not touch unless you
know what you are doing. A good way to learn about snakes is with regional
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