A black snake swimming in the lake.

This black snake was swimming near Baldridge Marina recently.

It’s the season for serpents. It’s warm, and most of these reptiles like the water. These summer days, they’re often out and about sunning. However, seeing a snake doesn’t need to send waves of panic.

“There are only six species of venomous snakes in Georgia, and they want to get away from you just as much as you want to get away from them,” said Berkeley Boone, education supervisor with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division. “And if the truth be told, even if you are bitten by one, you have time to get to the hospital to be treated.”

Of the six – water moccasins, also known as cottonmouths; copperheads; Eastern diamondback rattlers; timber rattlesnakes; pygmy rattlers; and Eastern coral snakes – only two are at all common in northeast Georgia.

“Copperheads, that have a distinctive Hershey Kisses pattern on their backs, and timber rattlesnakes that are light gray or yellowish-brown with jagged W-like chevrons on their backs, live in all parts of the state,” he said. “The others are geographically specific and typically don’t make Northeast Georgia their home.”

All but the Eastern coral snake are pit vipers and the treatment for being bitten is the same for all five. “If you are bitten, you have time to get to a hospital to be treated,” he said. “You will have painful swelling and you’ll be sore for a while, but the bite won’t kill you.”

Pit vipers deliver their toxins using their two front fangs that have pockets of venom behind them. They strike fast, and then withdraw. Coral snakes, the colorful red, yellow and black reptiles, have shorter teeth. The venom is pumped into their victim as they move their jaws.

If you are bitten, go to the nearest hospital emergency department to be treated.

As for seeing snakes swimming in Lake Lanier, around the shoreline or swimming around rocks and tree trunks, these can be just about any kind of snake, except cottonmouths because they don’t live around Lake Lanier. Common black rat snakes swimming in the water are much more common than venomous reptiles. Boone said that it’s very unlikely that a snake will hide or get into a boat.

“People tend to, incorrectly, put all snakes into the ‘danger’ category, but the vast majority of them are not harmful,” Boone said. “Snakes can help control the rodent population, but they really aren’t dangerous to humans. The key to staying safe around them is to give them a clear berth, don’t try to aggravate them or pick them up, and just let them go on their way.

“They view humans as big scary beings and just want to get away from us, too.”

Photo: courtesy of Ken Rempert