Union County

So maybe some snakes really aren’t that bad

Jeffrey Beane says it’s best to just leave black rat snakes alone. They can live 20-30 years and grow up to 8 feet long, but black rat snakes are not venomous.
Jeffrey Beane says it’s best to just leave black rat snakes alone. They can live 20-30 years and grow up to 8 feet long, but black rat snakes are not venomous. COURTESY OF ANDY ANDERSON

If you’ve been seeing more snakes lately, you’re not alone. But it’s no cause for alarm, according to Jeffrey Beane, a herpetologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

I called Beane after seeing a spike in snake photos on social media and reading comments from some people who were clearly freaked out.

It turns out this reaction is one of the things that attracted Beane to study snakes. He said he remembers repeatedly being warned about snakes as a child growing up in Asheboro, and those warnings just made snakes more interesting.

“I was fascinated by other people’s fear of them when I was growing up,” he said.

An adult would tell him to stay out of the weeds because of snakes, which would just entice him to explore.

“I was disappointed when I didn’t see them,” he said.

The photos I showed Beane included one I took of a snake sticking its head out of a bluebird house in my backyard, and one of a particularly agile snake captured by Weddington resident Andy Anderson as it slithered around a door, window and furniture on the porch of his home at The Hunter Farm.

Beane identified both snakes as black rat Snakes and said they are commonly seen in May during the mating season and during warmer months when they are foraging for food. The only poisonous snakes found in Union County are copperheads and the occasional timber rattler, he said.

He estimated that 80-90 percent of the snakes found in Union County are black rat snakes, which can live 20-30 years and grow up to 8 feet long.

When they first hatch, they primarily eat frogs and lizards, he said, and then graduate to mammals and birds as they get older.

And they’re not dangerous or anything to worry about, he said.

“There’s no reason to do anything, really,” he said, if you see black rat snakes around your house.

If you handle one it might bite you, he said, but if you don’t handle one it’s never going to hurt you.

Anderson said he was not bothered by the snake on his porch, and just left it alone.

“Black snakes are a good snake to have around,” Anderson wrote in a message, “but I don't think the barn swallows shared that belief. I see fewer on our porch…Usually we have 4-6 nests on our porch during the mating season.…That means we have anywhere from 15-20 birds flying around. I see only 6 or 7 right now.”

He said he also found a 5-foot black snake curled up in a nesting box when he was gathering eggs laid by his hens.

“The chickens acted as if this were normal,” he wrote. “Snake appeared to be waiting for a hen to lay an egg in the adjacent box. Lazy snake…”

Beane said snakes are pretty resourceful as climbers and foragers, and it’s not unusual to find one in a hollow tree, house, crawl space or barn. It is, however, unusual to find one in a kitchen, as seen in a recent video that’s gone viral.

Closing up entry points can keep them out, but black rat snakes can be resourceful. For example, they can sometimes get around the metal guards bird-lovers buy to keep snakes out of their bird houses, he said.

They are extremely good at climbing vertically, he said, because “their bodies are shaped for climbing.”

The best advice for people who find snakes may be to simply leave them alone.

“To me, snakes are just like any other animals, interesting in their own right,” Beane said.” They’re to be respected, but not feared.”

Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jane? Email her at jbduckwall@gmail.com.