We’re lucky here in the South. Compared to other parts of the world, and even the country, we don’t have much to worry about when it comes to the critters in our backyards. Out west they have scorpions, tarantulas, and a handful of rattlesnake species, most of which aren’t considered deadly (except the rattlers of course). In other parts of the globe there’s the ever present danger of large predators like lions or crocodiles and countless species of very toxic snakes and even herding mammals. If you really think about it, we’ve got it good here on the coast.
In our area we have 38 species of snake but only 6 species are considered dangerous. Now it’s important to realize that whether a snake you come across is dangerous or not these animals are still an important building block in the ecosystem. And despite the stigma snakes get they really do a lot of good as a vital part of nature. When it comes to rodent and pest control they’re the best at what they do, keeping rodent populations down so that we’re not overrun with vermin. We even have a few species that specialize in eating other snakes!
Since this is the homesteading issue it seemed like the perfect time to talk about some species that are commonly seen in rural areas and farms. These are species that I’ve found to be “regulars” on the property and in the chicken coop.
Yellow Rat Snakes aka Chicken Snakes– These are easily one of the most common species we have in the area and they don’t call them Chicken Snakes for nothing! If you’ve ever noticed that eggs seem to be disappearing, there’s a good chance that these large snakes are the culprit. Yellow Rat Snakes are one of the largest species we have in the area with individuals reach lengths of 3 feet all the way up to 6 feet with some individuals! Every year, like clockwork, we find yellow rats in our chicken coop raiding the egg boxes. In addition to stealing the goods from your hens, these snakes eat rodents and birds regularly. This species is great a climbing which allows them to sneak into the lay boxes and get an easy meal. Yellow Rat Snakes usually aren’t very defensive with the exception of younger, smaller individuals but they don’t hesitate to release a musk that will really make you think twice about messing with them again.
Black Racers– The next species on this list is the Black Racer. When you hear someone talk about seeing a “black snake” this is the species they’re talking about since we don’t have Black Rat Snakes in our area. Racers are usually a species you’ll only notice as they’re speeding off in the other direction! They’re a very quick, high strung species that typically runs as soon as they’re spotted. However, if they’re cornered racers don’t hesitate to bite and are infamous for being bitey and unfriendly. Adults reach lengths of 3 or 4 feet but can sometimes reach 5 feet. Racers are one of the most adaptable species, able to survive in just about any habitat in the area and eating just about anything that’s smaller than them or that they can over-power. Their diet is extensive, eating frogs, lizards, small mammals, birds, and other snakes including other racers!
Corn Snakes– Corn Snakes are one of a handful of species native to the coast that get misidentified as one of the venomous species. Resembling a Copperhead, Corn Snakes are a relative to the Yellow Rat Snake but don’t normally get as big. Adults typically stay around 3 feet or so and eat on a diet of rodents, birds, and lizards. Corns are personally one of my favorite species because of their colors and ease of care. Okatie and Jasper county in South Carolina is somewhat famous for the population of bright orange corns native to the area. You can see why they get confused with copperheads due to the color and pattern being a little similar, even though build-wise, corns are much more slender in profile.
Eastern Hognose Snakes– Ironically one of the most intimidating but also innocuous snakes you’re likely to come across is the Eastern Hognose. We have two native species of Hognose, the Eastern and the Southern, but the Eastern is far more common. What a lot of people don’t know is that Hognoses are, in fact, a rear-fanged venomous species! The catch is they very rarely bite and their specialized diet of toads makes them basically harmless to people. This species in particular is interesting because they can do things other native snakes can’t. When threatened, this species will either play dead (you’d give them an oscar is you saw it) or they spread their “hood”, hiss, and false strike (strike with their mouth closed). It’s an impressive production for a snake that has nothing to back it up! They usually stay under 3 feet in size but come in a variety of colors that include jet black, some have patterns with a lot of orange and some have more yellow.
Copperheads– I had to include the infamous Copperhead to this list! Of the 6 venomous species we have here, this species is the most common. Copperheads are a highly adaptable species that seem to do just fine in urban and rural environments. Adults stay around 3 feet in length but are a little stockier than other species like Corn Snakes or Racers. Their diet consists of lizards, rodents, birds, and other snakes on occasion. In their natural, wooded habitat this species is the master of camouflage having the ability to disappear in plain sight into the leaf litter. A Copperhead bite rarely causes deaths but still requires medical attention as soon as possible! You’ll often see these pit-vipers at dusk or after dark when the heat of the day has passed as they look for food or mates.
Snakes need to be respected. If you see one on your property or around your yard, the best course of action is to leave it alone. Most of the time once they realize you’re on to them they make tracks to somewhere safe. Keep in mind too, a majority of snakebites happen when someone is trying to kill the snake! Regardless of the species, snakes are all necessary for the environment and do more good than people realize. Having a few on your farm isn’t a bad thing since they’re helping to keep your feed and crop pest free!
By Justin Smith