Ophidiophobia, or fear of snakes, affects nearly a third of all adults and is considered the second most common phobia in the world – just behind spiders.
For many people, even the thought of a snake lurking nearby is enough to send chills down their spines. But for all of the fears and superstitions surrounding the reptiles, snakes play an important part in the environment and if left alone, do much good for the local ecology.
According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR,) there are 38 different species of snakes which call SC home. Of those 38, only six are venomous. The most commonly encountered snakes are black racers, brown snakes, corn snakes, Eastern garters, Eastern kings, rough greens, rat snakes and water snakes — none of which are poisonous.
Most snakes are not only harmless to humans, but also perform an essential task, they help keep rodent and other pest populations in check. Having a rat snake or a racer hanging around you house or barn isn’t a bad thing — especially if you have a garden or an older home prone to mice. But still, the sight of one slithering around is enough for many people to either shriek like a little girl or grab a shovel and chop off its head, despite the good it may be doing.
Many snakes are killed after being misidentified as one of their venomous cousins. Because of their coloring and markings, brown snakes and corn snakes are often mistaken for copperheads and unjustly put to death. Common (non-venomous) water snakes are often taken as cottonmouths or “water moccasins” in the Upstate, when actually the latter is quite uncommon for the area.
In fact, out of the six poisonous snake species that reside in the state, only three hang out in the upstate with any sort of regularity: the copperhead, the pigmy rattlesnake and the timber rattlesnake.
Of the others, well, the SCDNR states that the coral snake’s territory pretty much halts around the midlands and the Eastern diamondback’s range is even more limited, reaching just beyond coastal areas.
Most snake encounters pose little risk to people, and the SCDNR advocates a “live and let live” policy when it comes to nonvenomous snakes found outdoors. If found indoors, stay calm.
Remember that snakes in houses may be there accidentally. Such trapped snakes want out as much as you want them out. If they’re there purposely — it’s to find prey or shelter, not to terrorize you. Some snakes may hibernate in cellars or crawl spaces of older houses. If you find a shed snake skin, it usually indicates that a snake has been living in the house for a while.
If you suspect there is a snake in your house, the SCDNR advises that, when attempting to trap one, they generally prefer warmth and darkness. A heating pad or a pile of burlap on a basement floor may attract the unwanted visitor, which can then be safely removed.
If you see the snake but are uncomfortable handling it, open a nearby door and try to use a broom or a mop to gently shoo the snake back outside. If the snake can’t be herded and it’s small or coiled up, an empty pail or wastebasket placed over it with a weighted lid can trap the snake until an experienced handler arrives.
Indoors or out, if the snake is venomous, do not approach it. Instead, call a local animal control official for assistance.