The mild winter has been a boon for folks who enjoy the outdoors, but be warned: the warm weather has lured snakes out of hiding earlier than normal as well.
In our area, the rat snake and the brown snake are fairly common, but so is the copperhead, whose venom, while rarely lethal, can still send you to the hospital for several days. Even the baby copperheads are dangerous.
"The number one reason folks are bit by snakes is that they do something dumb," said David McLeod of Georgia Wildlife Services. "They reach in to something or they step over a log without looking."
McLeod said if you notice mice or rats running around your yard or you have a large population of lizards and toads, then you also have snakes.
"If you have these animals around the house then you might as well put out the welcome mat," he said. "The buffet is there; they're going to show up."
One of the landscaping staples that people in the metro area rely on the most is also a prime hunting ground for snakes.
"Pine straw mulch does great for keeping moisture in, but it also allows insects which are on the snake's menu," said McLeod. The loose pine straw also allows snakes to get up under, so now they're in a sheltered position; they feel safe, they've got food. 'Why would I leave if I've got free room and board?'"
McLeod said that campers especially need to be acutely aware of their surroundings. He advises them to keep the campsites clean, because if discarded food attracts mice or other small animals, it will also attract the snakes that hunt them.
"If you're camping, stick to well marked trails. You're more likely to run into a snake off the beaten path in the brush in the areas where they want to live. They want to be out of the way, because they're afraid of us; they're afraid of getting stepped on by one of us big people."
Surprisingly, even a dead snake can "bite" you if you touch the fangs the wrong way.
"These fangs are much like a loaded hypodermic needle," McLeod said, using an instrument to trace the fangs of a small dead copperhead. "The venom is still on board, and if I were to stick myself with one of these fangs, I could very easily give myself a dose of venom."