More people are out enjoying the coastal North Carolina outdoors this time of year, but state wildlife officials advise that the warm weather also means you can expect to see more snakes.
Wildlife diversity biologists at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission ask that if you see a snake, don’t be alarmed or try to kill it. Just give it plenty of room, and if it happens to be a pine snake or rattlesnake, let officials know about it.
“Snakes are an important part of the ecosystem and help control the rodent, slug and insect populations,” Jeff Hall, reptile conservation biologist with the Wildlife Commission, said in a statement. “There are many ways we can coexist with snakes, which is important because of 38 of North Carolina’s native snake species, ten are listed endangered, threatened or of special concern.”
The commission said the northern pine snake is a native threatened snake species. Agency biologists want to know more about their distribution and are asking the public to report sightings. The nonvenomous snake 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, the commission said. They prefer open areas within pine-oak forests with well-drained, sandy soil.
“We are partnering with several organization and agencies to conduct surveys in the areas where pine snakes have either been seen or areas with potentially good habitat,” stated Gabrielle Graeter, conservation biologist with the Wildlife Commission. “It’s difficult to conserve a species when we don’t even know all the places it occurs. 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.”
How to report
People who see a pine snake in the wild are asked to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a photo, which is required, date and time the snake was observed and location, GPS coordinates preferred. Keep in mind that some species have similar patterns, especially juvenile rat snakes and racers. The public can also download the HerpMapper mobile app 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 North Carolina, three are rattlesnakes: the timber, the pigmy and the eastern diamondback. Each one is in decline and protected by the North Carolina Endangered Species Act. Persecution by humans and habitat destruction are the main culprits. If anyone spots a rattler, they are urged to send an email to email@example.com with a photo, required, date and time the snake was observed and location, GPS coordinates preferred, or they can log their sighting on the HerpMapper mobile app.
If you see a snake in your yard and would prefer it to reside elsewhere, you can safely encourage it to leave by gently spraying it with a garden hose. 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.
Most snakes will leave people alone if they aren’t bothered and are provided an escape route. Watching for snakes and giving them a wide berth are effective habits for co-existing with snakes safely.
Questions about human-wildlife interactions can be directed to the agency’s NC Wildlife Helpline 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, at 866-318-2401 or by email, HWI@ncwildlife.org.