Snakes in my yard
May 8, 2009 6:38 AM   Subscribe

What kind of snake is living in my yard (pic 1, pic 2)? I found it in my crawlspace and got it to the yard a few weeks ago and then found it again by our patio and am worried that our toddler will come across it and try to play with it.
posted by GrumpyMonkey to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What is the shape of its head? I believe most of the poisonous snakes in our area are pit vipers and have the pit viper shaped head.
posted by pointystick at 6:43 AM on May 8, 2009

Brown snake? They sound harmless but maybe not the best playmate for a toddler...
posted by JoanArkham at 6:43 AM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding JoanArkham, though darned if it doesn't look more like a Florida brown snake than regular old brown snake, even though the Florida brown snakes supposedly don't make as far north as Decatur. Some snake species vary a lot age and individual. I'd send a picture and a politely worded question to a herpetologist at a nearby university and/or a naturalist at a local nature center/environmental group, just for kicks. It doesn't look like any of the poisonous possibilities, but nonpoisonous snakes can bite and such wounds can obviously get infected.
posted by mollweide at 6:53 AM on May 8, 2009

I don't see where you're from, mollweide says Decatur, dunno where he/she got that.

I'm not sure what it is, unfortunately my snake-ID skills are limited to appalachia, but I'll tell you a couple tricks for determining poison-ness in the US.

In the US (not the world!) all native poisonous snakes have slit eyes instead of round eyes. That's a pretty easy litmus test you can check from several feet away. Second, if you handle the creature, and find his vent (that's his combination bodily function and sex organ hole), you'll notice that the scales before it (closer to his head) are 1 solid scale all the way across the snake. Past the vent, they become 2 scales. If they don't become 2 scales, then it's poison. Again true for all poison snakes in the US, and perhaps the world.

Shape of the head can tell you a little bit, but I wouldn't go on it by default. A hognose snake has a similar head structure to an eastern diamondback rattler, one is perfectly harmless and the other will give you a very bad day very quickly.
posted by TomMelee at 7:03 AM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Its decidely snake season in Georgia. I live in Atlanta and have found a handful of those guys already this year. I think they are harmless, but if you have a toddler, I would be tempted to either relocate it to park a couple of miles away or the old shovel meets head trick.

I myself leave the ones in the front yard alone and I either remove or have someone kill the ones in the back because I don't want them to hurt my dogs. Most of the ones in my yard are what I would consider babies. I already saw an owl grab one of them. If you are seeing the snake that much, maybe something will eat him.
posted by stormygrey at 7:11 AM on May 8, 2009

Most likely a brown snake. Extremely harmless; eats slugs and earthworms.

TomMelee's answer is full of fail for the following reasons:
  • Coral snakes have round pupils and are crazy dangerous.
  • Lyre snakes and night snakes have slit pupils and while venomous, their venom is too weak to be dangerous to human beings.
  • Rosy boas and rubber boas have slit pupils and are totally harmless.
  • There is at least one species of nonvenomous snake in North America that has single scutes past the cloaca, IIRC; I will go look that up right now. But frankly, if you're checking ventral scales to determine if a snake is dangerous, you're already too damn close.
  • You cannot go by the shape of the head! A threatened water snake will flatten its head and body; its head will look awfully triangular in those circumstances. And coral snakes have cylindrical heads that do not differentiate from the rest of the body.
By all means follow his advice if you want to misidentify a harmless snake as dangerous, or vice-versa.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:19 AM on May 8, 2009

That is a brown snake. Not dangerous. They can bite though... So if your kid got a hold if it, it could result in a bite. But it wouldn't be fatal or even terribly painful (bee sting).
posted by zpousman at 7:27 AM on May 8, 2009

I am something of an amateur herpetologist and live not too far from you in GA, so I think I can help out some. First of all, TomMelee is mostly right about his description of poisonous snakes in GA as having slit pupils except that coral snakes have round pupils; however, you are too far north for coral snakes and that looks nothing like a coral snake so that can be ruled out. All of the other venomous snakes in GA are pit vipers, which in your area means rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins (AKA cottonmouths). All of them are heavy-bodied and have a distinctive spade-shaped head as well as heat-sensing pits between the nostril and eye (although you shouldn't get close enough to see those unless you know what you are doing). The coloration is also all wrong for any of those, so I am confident that your snake is harmless. As to what it is, the scale is a little hard to tell from those photos, but a brown snake is a definite possibility if it is less than a foot long (most of the ones I have seen are 6-8 inches). Another possibility is one of the many color variations of Eastern Garter Snake; very common throughout the state. The site that JoanArkham and I linked to (main snake page here) is a great resource for this sort of thing. One of the guys behind it wrote the book on snakes of the Southeast (I have a copy); I have a friend who used to work at the Savannah River Ecology Lab with him and who says he really knows his stuff.
posted by TedW at 7:29 AM on May 8, 2009

Please don't kill it. The chances of your toddler being able to catch it are so small. Either you are outside with him(right?) or the snake will be chased off by the lumbering, clumsy creature coming towards it. I spent a lot of my childhood trying to catch these things and was frequently unsuccessful, and I'm talking an 8 year old with the stealth skills of a hunter/warrior.
posted by Jazz Hands at 7:33 AM on May 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Dude, come on. My bad about the coral snakes. Pretty sure it was pretty clear it wasn't a coral snake, and for that matter there are no known recorded deaths, bites account for less than 1% of all snakebites in the US, and almost every bite is to someone who was handling them intentionally, vis-a-vis the tool on youtube.

Further, I said all poisonous snakes in the US have slits, I didn't say that all snakes with slits are poisonous. Of course, black snakes have a weak venom and it'll only hurt you when you're allergic to it, and they've got round pupils instead of slits, so there's another error for you. It's a pretty commonly used trait when talking to non-snake folks to say, at least on the eastern seaboard, "if it's got slits leave it alone."

If I'm wrong about the scutes, my bad, I learnt that from a herpetologist back home. Maybe it's only in our area then, but obviously you're right about not handling them. Didn't realize I encouraged that.

So you're right dude, my bad for telling him to leave them alone if they have slits, I mean it's not like a copperhead looks like a water snake to the uninitiated.

I was with TedW, the second pic looks a lot like a garter to me, but I've never seen one that much in red-brown phase before.
posted by TomMelee at 7:42 AM on May 8, 2009

Just another note, these guys really dig on leaf litter, mulch, etc. I would make a nice swath of flat and barren around your patio, that would perhaps buffer the snake from the child and the other way around.

I have accidently picked them up twice either shoveling mulch or picking up a pile of leaves. I very rarley encounter them when in a clipped lawn or on the sidewalk, so its not a matter of your child catching it, they just tend to hangout where things she may pick up are.

There is one living in my stacked stone retaining wall right now. We scare the crap out of each other every now and then when I try to get in there and weed or remulch.
posted by stormygrey at 7:53 AM on May 8, 2009

This is an unusually colored garter snake. The dorsal stripe, black spots and keeled scales give it away. Completely harmless. My guess is that this snake is Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, but if you specify where you live, it will be easier to pinpoint the subspecies.
posted by Crotalus at 8:23 AM on May 8, 2009

Or not. What the hell do I know?
posted by Crotalus at 8:26 AM on May 8, 2009

It looks like a garter snake, probably one of the checkered garter snake subspecies. I used to have one as a pet. Judging from my own experiences, in the unlikely event that your toddler is able to catch it, a bite is very unlikely. Much more likely, however, is a handful of snake feces, smelly liquid (secreted as a defense mechanism), and quite possibly barf.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:01 AM on May 8, 2009

Oh, and when I say I had one as a pet, what I mean is, I had one that looked exactly like your pictures as a pet (I also had a "regular style" striped garter snake, who was more squirmy and poopy but a bit less barfy, for whatever that's worth).
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:07 AM on May 8, 2009

Can I make a suggestion that's only slightly to the left of the topic? I grew up in snakey rural Texas and was a very curious kid. My parents were (rightly) concerned that I would try to make friends with a rattlesnake if I came across one, so they told me from a very early age that "We don't like snakes."

I believed them. And while they kept me safe, they also instilled a phobia that I still suffer to this day.

So try to teach your kid to be interested and respectful -- but not afraid -- from a safe distance. He/she will grow up much happier for it.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:53 AM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is it my understanding, then, that you've had it with these monkey-fighting snakes in your Monday to Friday yard?

(apologies. I'd assumed there'd be a reference already)
posted by indiebass at 11:21 AM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Definitely looks like a brown snake. Please do not kill it, it's harmless.

Maybe just tell your toddler that snakes are very afraid of people and he will scare it if he gets too close. If he wants to see the snake again (and what kid wouldn't?), he'll probably do the exaggerated, tiptoe walk that little kids think means they are sneaky, and the snake can easily slip away before he gets too close anyway.
posted by misha at 12:11 PM on May 8, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks all.
No plans to relocate or kill it, I am not that worried about it. It was just more of a "man, it seems to be hanging around a lot" and when you approach it, it just sits there and does not "run" away - which is why the toddler actually got pretty close to it and would have grabbed it had I been further away. The boy loves him some animals...
Now it did scare the crap out of me when I first came across it in the crawl space and I was tempted to just whack it on the head then but it was more fun to show it to the kids alive.
posted by GrumpyMonkey at 12:59 PM on May 8, 2009

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