Wildlife commission offers advice on coexisting with wild snakes

These snake species are native to North Carolina and may be seen spending time outdoors now that warm spring weather is here. (Jeff Hall, Lori Williams photos)

RALEIGH — People spending time outdoors in Carteret County and elsewhere may notice more snakes now that the weather is warming up, and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has advice on how to get along with them.

The WRC issued an advisory Friday saying the warm, spring weather means more snakes will start to show up along trails, in the woods, crossing roads and in yards. WRC wildlife diversity biologists request anyone who sees a snake to not be alarmed, do not kill it and give it plenty of room. Anyone who sees a pine snake or rattlesnake is asked to report it.

About 70% of snake bites occur when people try to kill or handle them, the WRC reports. Some may become aggressive if agitated, but most will leave people alone if they aren’t bothered and are provided an escape route. Watching for snakes and giving them a wide berth is an effective habit for preventing snake bites.

WRC biologist Jeff Hall said residents and visitors can “gently spray a snake with a garden hose to safely encourage it to leave your yard.”

“You can also make your yard less hospitable for snakes by cleaning up clutter such as stick and rock piles, keeping your lawn mowed, closing gaps and holes in your siding and foundation, and sealing openings under doors, windows and around waterpipes,” Mr. Hall continued. “There are many ways we can coexist with snakes.”

According to the WRC, snakes are an important part of the ecosystem and help control the rodent, slug and insect populations. Unfortunately, some of the state’s 38 native species are in decline and are listed as threatened in North Carolina.

One example of a native threatened snake species is the northern pine snake. Agency biologists want to know more about the distribution of the pine snake and are asking the public to report sightings.

The northern pine snake is non-venomous and ranges between 4 and 5 feet long, but can get as large as 7.5 feet. It has a white or tan background color, with dark brown or black markings that begin as solid coloring or messy blotches near the head before gradually becoming distinct, saddle-like blotches toward the tail. It’s mostly found in the sandhills and the southern coastal plain, although there are confirmed reports of pine snakes in Cherokee and Swain counties. They prefer open areas within pine-oak forests with well-drained, sandy soil.

“It’s difficult to conserve a species when we don’t even know all the places it occurs,” WRC conservation biologist Gabrielle Graeter said. “Assistance from citizens in recording and documenting the pine snake will be a huge help. Websites like HerpsofNC.org are great for helping people to identify snake species.”

Anyone who sees a pine snake in the wild is asked to send an email to the WRC at pinesnake@ncwildlife.org with a photo, date and time the snake was observed and location.

The public may also download the HerpMapper mobile app at herpmapper.org and document their observations electronically. The agency partners with the app to track amphibian and reptile species.

Of the six venomous snake species native to the state, three are rattlesnakes –  the timber, the pigmy and the eastern diamondback. Each one is in decline and protected by the N.C. Endangered Species Act. Persecution by humans and habitat destruction are the main culprits.

Anyone who spots a rattlesnake is urged to send an email to the WRC at rattlesnake@ncwildlife.org with a photo, date and time the snake was observed and location. They may also log their sighting on the HerpMapper mobile app.

Questions about human-wildlife interactions can be directed to the WRC’s N.C. Wildlife Helpline from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday by calling 866-318-2401 or by email at HWI@ncwildlife.org.

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