Help protect the kingsnakes in Georgia
by Sue Allen
August 07, 2014 09:43 PM | 1499 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The emphasis of this article is on kingsnakes and copperheads…there are fewer kingsnakes and more Copperheads according to the journal Herpetologica founded in March 2014. There were 377 traps deployed in several habitats, in which 299 kingsnakes and 2,012 copperheads were captured, indicating a decline in the kingsnake population and an increase in the population of copperheads. The causes of these declines are unknown but habitat loss, imported fire ants or diseases are potential causes.

The non-venomous Eastern Kingsnake is more than five feet long, and has shiny-black, smooth-scaled skin with white or yellow chain-linked bands that cross the back and connect along the sides and has a short stout head and small beady eyes. In our region, (Piedmont) their habitat includes hardwoods, pine forests, farmlands and suburban areas. They are strongly terrestrial, but inhabit areas close to water such as stream banks. They are frequently found under boards, tin or other cover objects. It is also active only during the day, but in our region is most active in the morning during the summer. They constrict their prey, eating small mammals, lizards, snakes, birds and frogs. This snake is resistant to pit-vipers and will readily consume copperheads, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes. They mate in the spring, and females lay three to 24 eggs under debris or in rotting logs in early summer. Eggs hatch from August to September.

The non-venomous Mole Kingsnake grows to 30 - 40 inches in size, has smooth scales and usually has a light/dark brown to reddish body with a row of reddish brown elliptical spots down the entire length of the dorsum.

In our region, this snake is most often found in open habitats such as fields, cultivated lands, thickets, and edge habitats or hiding under boards or other debris or crossing roads on warm evenings. They consume a variety of prey including small mammals, lizards, birds, and other snakes. Mating takes place in late spring to early summer and they lay up to 17 eggs underground in early to mid-summer. The eggs hatch in late summer to early fall.

The venomous Copperhead grows to 24 - 40 inches. It is a heavy-bodied snake with a large, triangular head and elliptical pupil (cat eyes). The body is tan to brown with darker hourglass-shaped crossbands down the length of the body. The head is solid brown, with two tiny dots in the center of the top of the head. Juveniles resemble adults but have a bright yellow tail tip. As pit-vipers, they have facial pits that sense heat and are used to detect prey and predators. This snake is the only species with hourglass-shaped crossbands (all other species have blotches that are circular, square, or are widest down the center of the back).

They are found in forested areas throughout most of Georgia, but their habitat preferences change across our region. Copperheads are quite tolerant of habitat alteration and remain common in suburban areas of many large cities.

They can be found during the day or night, but forage primarily after dark during the hotter parts of summer. In our region, they are frequently observed crossing roads on warm nights. They mate in the spring, at which time males move long distances in search of females. Females fully incubate their eggs internally before giving live birth to seven to 10 offspring in the late summer. The young have bright yellow tail tips that they wiggle to attract prey such as frogs and lizards. Because they are common in forested habitats and are well-camouflaged, copperheads are responsible for the majority of the snakebites in the Southeast each year. Copperhead venom is not very potent and deaths from copperhead bites are rare. But beware: juveniles do not know how to control their venom and will release all of it in you. Most snake bites occur when someone tries to kill or harass a snake, so the best way to avoid a bite is to leave any snake you find alone.

It is very important for you to learn how to identify the snakes in our region (Piedmont) by visiting www.srelherp.uga.edu/index.htm to help save our ecosystem. When walking in the woods, take a walking stick with you to pound on the ground. The vibration from the pounding will scare off snakes. It is also important to know when the mating season begins and the birthing takes place, either live or by eggs. There will be lots of snakes out at that time, so you just need to keep aware of your surroundings. Non-venomous snakes are protected in Georgia.

Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the UGA Extension website, www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee ; or contact UGA Extension in Cherokee County, 1130 Bluffs Parkway, Suite G49, Canton, GA, 30114, 770-721-7803. The Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Follow Cherokee County Master Gardeners on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cherokeemastergardeners for gardening tips as well as upcoming seminars.



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