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A rat snake stretched across the ground

AUBURN, Ala. –As the weather gets warmer, snakes and other wildlife will be on the move. Many people will come across a nonvenomous snake at some point. Though they have many good qualities, nonvenomous snakes can still pose a health risk to people.

While they do not have venom, a bite from a nonvenomous snake can cause infections. If left untreated, these infections could cause serious health problems. Knowing basic information about nonvenomous snakes can help reduce your chance of being bitten.

Environment

Snakes are found just about anywhere. Sheds, barns, flower beds, gardens and wood piles are great places for them to hang out. Ironically, the greatest health risk nonvenomous snakes pose to humans has little to do with the snake at all. People trying to get away from nonvenomous snakes when they are frightened is a greater risk for injury that the snake itself.

Dr. Jim Armstrong, an Alabama Extension wildlife specialist, said snakes like to stay in areas where they can find food and feel protected.

“Snakes are most likely to be found in areas that provide cover or shelter for them and their prey,” Armstrong said. “Removing these types of areas from around your house will help reduce, but not eliminate, the possibility of snakes around the home.”

A man walking through tall grass.

When near these types of areas, be alert for snakes so they do not catch you by surprise. As a general rule, Armstrong said if you are in an area where snakes might be present, closed-toe shoes and long pants are a must.

In general snakes are not aggressive, but put in the right situation they can be aggressive.

“Overall, most snakes, regardless of species, are not aggressive. However, any snake, venomous or not, may be aggressive if cornered or picked up,” Armstrong said. “Some species tend to bite more readily than others, but there is great variation even within a species.”

What To Do If Bitten

Nonvenomous snake bites can cause problems because of possible infection. Armstrong said that anytime skin is opened, the risk of infection is there.

“All snakes have teeth so, they all have the potential to break the skin,” Armstrong said. “This introduces infection to the area.”

In the event of a person being bitten, Armstrong said that thoroughly washing the wound is usually enough. However, people should always watch the area for any signs of infection.

“Generally, washing the wound site with soap and water is sufficient,” Armstrong said. “Any wound, regardless of the source, should be monitored.”

Don’t Pick Up Snakes

When a snake comes near a home, a general first reaction is to want to move the snake far away. Armstrong said that this is the main reason people are bitten by nonvenomous snakes.

“Most bites occur when people are handling snakes,” he said. “I recommend leaving them alone if they are not venomous.”

Armstrong wrote a line to remind people about picking up snakes; “some snakes bite, but others don’t. It’s a chance you shouldn’t take. So, in the wild don’t pick ‘em up and you won’t make a big mistake.”

More Information

Find more information about snakes at Alabama Extension online. For further information, contact your county Extension office.

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