Snakes of Fairfax County

Snakes of Fairfax County

In Fairfax County, we are
lucky enough to have 18 different species of snake and
only one of them is venomous and that is the Eastern
Copperhead. Our snakes range from 6 feet to quite small,
the largest snake that we have is the Eastern Rat Snake and
one of the smallest is the DeKay Snake. Snakes prefer
many different habitats, some prefer living in the edge of
the water, some prefer meadows, some prefer deep in
the forest and some prefer even right in your own back
yard. Snakes serve as important roles as predator
and prey in our ecosystems and they provide a very valuable
service in our community in terms of pest control. People
are most likely to encounter a snake when a snake is just
kind of crossing their backyards or other transient
habitats, when snakes are crossing roads, when it is
breeding season and snakes are out looking for mates or when
they are basking on edges of habitats such as water bodies
or forest edges. The top 5 snake calls I get will
probably be in no particular order, but certainly we will
start off with the Eastern Rat Snake because of its size and
also that is the snake that really likes to visit your
bird feeders and also even in your bluebird boxes.
Sometimes, when you are working in your garden, you
will bump into some small species, probably the Eastern
Garter Snake which is really pretty, black with some yellow
stripes going down and he is really good at pest control in
your garden. And then you have a real small snake called the
DeKay snake which is a huge benefit because it eats slugs
and we know slugs will definitely do damage to your
garden. Again, probably the Northern Water Snake, we have
a lot of great fishing spots in Fairfax County and usually
they are misidentified as Water Moccasins which do not
get above Richmond, Virginia. Another snake that is really
common that we see in our rock walls is probably the Northern
Ring neck which has a beautiful yellow ring on its
neck. And also, let us finish with another snake that kind
of scares people and that is the Eastern Worm Snake, it
looks just like a worm, it has a got a beautiful pink belly
and he will be in your garden doing insect control. Our only
venomous snake we have here is the Eastern Copperhead and
probably the easiest way to identify a copperhead is by
its large, triangular head, now a lot of non venomous
snakes will spread their heads out when they are scared but
copperheads have a very narrow neck behind their head, they
also have a really unique pattern. Many of our non
venomous species are frequently misidentified as
copperheads due to similarities in their
coloration or species that have cross bands or blotches
on their back, some of the more common species that are
misidentified as copperheads include juvenile Eastern Rat
Snakes which look very different from the adults,
DeKay’s Brown Snakes which are sometimes referred to as
Northern Brown Snakes and also Northern Water Snakes. If
there is a snake within the living quarters of a home or
you find a snake that appears sick or injured, you can
contact Animal Protection Police through the Police non
emergency number, our officers do not remove snakes that are
outside in yards, in attics or are in unfinished basements.
Most snakes snakes do not pose a threat to humans but if you
are bitten by a snake that you believe could be venomous,
seek medical attention immediately. Additionally, the
keeping of venomous snakes is prohibited in Fairfax County.
I would say that the most common areas you are going to
find snakes are in our parks, generally people that run into
snakes are either leaving the trail in the park or else
people who handle snakes. Snakes rely on mimicry and
camouflage and when you are off trail you are not going to
see them and that is when you can run into a negative
situation. Any the other ways, you just do not want to pick
up snakes, you want to give them their space, you want to
respect them, they serve a really important role in the
ecosystem that we are part of. There are a few simple tips
that you can use to stay safe in the outdoors when snakes
may be present. The first is, if you do encounter a snake is
to stop, step back and give it space and it will move on its
own. Never attempt to handle or capture a snake, especially
if you are not sure of the species as any snake may bite
if they are provoked. When walking or hiking it is best
to stay on established trails or pathways that are clear,
you can bring a walking stick with you and make some noise
or tap it to alert snakes to your presence. When recreating
outdoors, it is best to wear long pants and closed toe
shoes such as boots and when working outdoors such as a
garden or especially areas around debris, we recommend
wearing protective gloves. If you are walking at night, in
areas where snakes may be present, we recommend carrying
a flashlight. If you are walking your dogs , we recommend
keeping them on leashes and not letting cats free roam,
this reduces any encounters that your pets may have by
wandering off into natural areas. Snakes live here in
Fairfax County, they live with us and I really think that
once we learn about these important animals and we learn
how to react with them and interact with them then I
think it will serve both of us, humans and snakes better.

Randy Schultz

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