Snakes alive! If you’re planning a hiking adventure in the mountains of Blue Ridge, Georgia just remember that these guys are getting ready for their winter naps, which many experts say is a time when they are very likely to bite! Read on for some tips and info regarding venomous snakes of the lower Appalachian mountains.
Locals of the towns of Blue Ridge, Blairsville, or Ellijay, or those who have spent any time hiking the many mountain trails can tell you that snakes are abundant! The good news is, most of them are not venomous. According to Fish and Wildlife, for this particular area, only two are a real concern.
The long and short of it, these guys will bite you! It will hurt like the devil, but you’ll probably be okay….
Copperheads are very quick to bite, and give no warning that they are about to strike. They are ranked number one in North America for venomous snake bites, but their venom is also the least toxic, with fatalities very rare. Even so, copperhead bites can be extremely painful and dangerous. If bitten, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Agkistrodon contortrix or the North American copperhead is from the pit viper family and gets its name from their coppery colored heads. They use heat sensory perception to identify both prey and threats to their immediate environment. Think nature’s own heat seeking missiles.
The copperhead is considered a medium sized snake. Though they’ve been known to reach lengths of 4 plus feet, most are 3 feet or less. The base color of the copperhead is typically light brown or gray, but this can vary. Some may even be shades of orange or pink, and even in rare instances, black. They can be identified by dark brown hourglass markings that are wider on the sides of their body and more narrow on their backs.
Where Copperheads Are Typically Found
Copperheads can turn up almost anywhere, but more commonly in wooded areas. Hikers should be especially watchful. They generally love rocks, logs, and piles of leaves. These snakes are said to avoid open areas, but as many Blue Ridge locals will tell you, these guy frequent turn up in lawns and garden beds.
Like most snakes, copperheads hibernate during the winter, and are active in early spring through late fall. During the summer, they are usually nocturnal, sleeping during the day and more active at night.
Although seldom fatal, if bitten by a copperhead you should seek immediate treatment. The bite is particularly dangerous to children, the elderly, or those with autoimmune disorders.
Symptoms of a copperhead bite include:
- pain at bite area
- Skin discoloration
- lowered blood pressure
- General malaise or weakness
The timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is native to the lower Appalachia, but their numbers are said to be declining. According to some experts, the population is expected to decline by ten percent or more over the next twenty years. Some northeastern states have even classified them as an endangered species.
Here in the lower Appalachia, their numbers are also decreasing, but there are still enough of them around that they are a real concern, especially to anyone spending time in the woods.
The timber rattlesnake hibernates during winter but can be active from late spring to the onset of cold weather.
Where Timber Rattlesnakes Are Typically Found
Unlike the copperhead, the timber rattler is seldom found outside of forests and woodlands, and generally try to avoid populated or open areas. They love heavily wooded areas, especially ones with lots of rocks or near running bodies of water.
Before striking, the timber rattlesnake will often shake its rattlers, so keep your ears open! If you hear a distinct rattling, buzzing sound as it could be a warning that one is nearby and preparing to strike.
Timber rattlesnakes typically range from 3-5 feet in length though in rare cases, can sometimes grow to a length of 6 feet. They have heavy bodies with colors ranging from different shades of yellow, pink, gray, brown or even sometimes black. They can be identified by black bands featuring chevron shapes, and of course the rattlers on the ends of their tails. When a rattlesnake sheds its skin, it grows a new band of rattlers.
Striking distance for the timber rattlesnake is about ½ the length of their body. So keep that in mind if you happen to cross the path of one, and make sure and stay beyond their reach.
The venom of a Timber rattlesnake is extremely dangerous and if bitten, you should seek treatment at once. One reason their bite is so potent is because they have the ability to discharge a very large amount of venom with a single bite.
Symptoms of a timber rattlesnake bite can include:
- Vomiting or nausea
- Weakness and dizziness
- Excess salivation
- Blurred vision
- Numbness of the limbs or face
- Breathing difficulties
Two other types of venomous snakes have been sighted in the lower Appalachia, but are considered to be extremely rare. These are the cottonmouth and the pygmy rattlesnake.
Avoiding Snake Bites
One of the best ways to keep yourself safe from snake bites is to make as much noise as possible when hiking or walking in forested areas. Seems like common sense, but it often works. Use particular caution around rock outcroppings or deadfalls of wood and leaves.
Wear heavy boots (the taller, the better) and loose fitting pants of a heavy fabric like denim or canvas. Especially denim! In a recent study at Loma Linda University in California, it was found that snakes biting through denim suffered up to a 66% reduction in discharge of venom.
So a word of caution to all you hikers and backpackers planning to visit the Blue Ridge mountains, toss our those hiking shorts and pull on a pair of jeans!
What To Do If You Are Bitten
Get away from the snake, as it might be getting ready to strike you again. That is the first thing you want to do!
Next you’d probably want to call 911 if you are not completely sure that the snake that bit you was non-venomous. If you’re deep in the woods where an ambulance can’t reach, get back to civilization as quickly as possible.
There are a number of steps and first aid treatments that should come next. Mayo Clinic offers some great step by step instructions on first aid treatment for venomous snake bites. Be sure to check them out, as it could save your life.
Some other great resources for snake bite treatment: