‘EEEEK!’ or ‘Cool’?

Slithering Discoveries In and Around the Area

Photos copyright John White-Virginia Herpetological Society

Snakes. You are either on one side of the fence or the other about these creatures. One side of the fence hates them and displays this by standing still in shock – trembling upon site, or screaming as if there is a major catastrophe occurring (personally, I know several individuals that fall on this side). The other side of the fence thinks they are “cool” –  and usually inch a little closer to see them and maybe even touch them (yes, that would be me)! Oh, I do realize that there are a few of you out there who are in between the two stances.

Our area is filled with natural beauty and many of us spend significant time outside enjoying what nature has to offer – hiking, biking, walking, running, camping, fishing, gardening and more. We are all educated on how to protect ourselves from bear and other wildlife, so why not arm yourself with facts about snakes.

Did you know that snakes like to eat rodents (voles, mice, rats). Don’t be surprised if you see Northern Black Racers or  Eastern Ratsnake (some refer to them as black snakes) lurking in barns, sheds or other landscaped areas. These reptiles also like to dine on insects and will patrol gardens and landscape beds in search of their next meal. Yes, snakes also need to hide from their own predators, they are not just the hunters! Animals such as skunks, raccoons, opossums and some birds – like hawks – will dine on these scaly reptiles. Though snakes may startle some people, they really are important to the food chain and overall health of the local ecosystem.

What you need to know:

These two juvenile snakes are often mistaken for the Eastern Copperhead. Copyright John White, Virginia Herpetological Society

Don’t be alarmed if you see a snake. Be able to identify exactly which snakes are venomous and potentially dangerous to humans and know those that are harmless. Understanding how to identify a snake is a good starting point because sometimes people will mistake a juvenile Eastern Ratsnake or juvenile Northern Black Racer for a Copperhead. When these reptiles are young, they exhibit similar markings to a Copperhead (see photos so you can study the difference). Being able to differentiate the two snakes is important.

The rattlesnake is typically seen in upper elevations such as the northern part of Fauquier County and is not prevalent throughout the region. They still may be seen occasionally in other parts of the county. Copperheads, however, are located throughout the entire region. “Although venomous snakes occasionally may pose a risk to one’s personal health and safety, the vast majority of species do not present an imminent danger or threat to us. Yet they have suffered significant losses — primarily due to people’s lack of familiarity with and unfounded fear of them.” (Source: https://pubs.ext.edu)

Although infrequent, snake bites do occur and it is important to know what to do. Seek medical attention as soon as possible, regardless if the snake was poisonous or not.  If possible, identify to medical personnel the type of snake that bit you as this may affect your treatment. If you should be located in a remote area and cannot immediately seek medical assistance, understand what type of treatment you can self-administer. The U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health have a website service with information on treating snake bites (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000031.htm#First%20Aid).

Fauquier County’s poisonous snakes. Top: Eastern Copperhead. Photo Copyright John White – Virginia Herpetological Society. Bottom: Timber Rattlesnake. Photo Copyright John White – Virginia Herpetological Society.

There are many books or guides available that will identify the snakes around this area.  Pick one up that you like. You can also check with Fauquier County’s Virginia Cooperative Education Office, located at 24 Pelham Street, to see if they have any information available (540-341-7950, press #1). Remember, they have a Master Gardener Help Desk there to assist you Monday through Friday and Saturdays (location at the farmer’s market). You may also visit http://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com/ for more information and photos of all the snakes that live in our state. This site has maps associated with the photos to note which ones are in our area.

Our county is a wonderful area to explore the outdoors. Don’t let the fear of the slithering creatures keep you from enjoying our beautiful scenery. Remember these reptiles play an important role. Use any sightings as opportunities to educate and experience science in action with family and friends.

How many venomous snakes live in Fauquier County?

Answer: TWO. Yes two (2) not three (3).  They are the Eastern Copperhead and the Timber Rattlesnake. Many people think eastern cottonmouths – also known as water moccasins- live in this area, but they do not. These poisonous water lovers are located south of the James River, and are not in this region. We do have water snakes, but they are NOT poisonous yet can exhibit aggressive behavior and are often confused with the water moccasin.

How to discourage Snakes in your yard

By removing the ability for a snake to seek cover to hunt or from being hunted, you reduce the chances of snakes appearing where you don’t want them. Remove any Tall weeds or very weedy areas, and Piles of trash or brush. Keep the grass mowed in areas your children or pets play in.

For full listing of helpful tips, visit Virginia Tech’s website https://pubs.ext.vt.edu or contact the Fauquier County Master Gardener help desk 540-341-7950, then press #1

Debbie Eisele
About Debbie Eisele 63 Articles
Debbie Eisele is a freelance writer and the Community Outreach Coordinator for Hero’s Bridge, a nonprofit serving older veterans. She lives in Warrenton with her husband and twin daughters.

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