Summer is a time when many people spend a lot of time outdoors. It’s also a time when people are more likely to see snakes.


The creatures are common in Aiken County, so don’t be surprised if you spot one of the reptiles while on a picnic, working in your yard or fishing in a creek or lake.


The S.C. Department of Natural Resources recently issued a press release saying, “It’s summertime and the snakes are crawling.”


Some of the types of snakes that local residents might encounter are corn snakes, Eastern kingsnakes and rat snakes


“There certainly are more nonvenomous snakes than there are venomous snakes in Aiken County,” said Deborah McMurtrie, director of student programs at USC Aiken’s Ruth Patrick Science Education Center.


Part of McMurtrie’s job is teaching schoolchildren who visit the Center about snakes and other animals.


“Sometimes the kids who come here think any snake is a bad snake,” McMurtrie said. “They are afraid of snakes, and they think you should kill them if you see them. But that is not the case, and it’s something we want to educate people about.


“Snakes fulfill an important function,” McMurtrie continued. “One thing many of them do is eat rodents. If you have a snake in your yard and you kill it, you might find that you have a rodent problem because the food source will be there and the snake will not, so the rodents will multiply. For pest control, snakes are very helpful.”


Some children who visit the Ruth Patrick Center are worried that snakes will chase them, but that’s not true, according to McMurtrie.


“Snakes would prefer to be as far away from you as possible,” she said. “Snakes don’t have anything to gain by chasing a person. They’re not looking at the person as food, and they’re not hateful creatures in any way. We try to educate children and their parents that when they see a snake in the yard, more than likely it’s not going to be aggressive. If they leave it alone, it will leave them alone.”


McMurtrie advises the children she teaches not to pick up snakes in the wild.


“For someone one who handles snakes and knows what they’re doing, it’s a little bit different,” McMurtrie said. “But as far as the children are concerned, I recommend that they not pick up snakes. I also tell them not to try to hurt them, but to just leave them alone. Respect them and enjoy observing them from a distance.”


According to the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, there are 42 species of snakes in South Carolina and Georgia and only six of them are venomous. The venomous snakes are the copperhead, water moccasin (also known as the cottonmouth), Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, canebreak or timber rattlesnake, pigmy rattlesnake and coral snake. The Laboratory’s information about snakes can be found online at http://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/index.htm.


The Department of Natural Resources provides information about snakes online at www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/snakes/index.html.


Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013.