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Raymond Worthy was cautious before he stepped down to the water’s edge to fish at Toisnot Reservoir. With a fishing pole, bait and hoe in his hand, Worthy beat the grass around him. He knows it’s that time of year where snakes are out and about.
“There are some big ones out here,” he said. “Some as big as my arm.”
Others who were there that day spotted several brown water snakes basking on the rocks.
“It’s not going to make me stop coming here and enjoying nature,” said Kevin Casillas. “I haven’t heard of anyone being bitten, but it is just interesting that we have so many right here in this park.”
Wildlife officials say those types of snakes are harmless. But they are one of more than 20 snake species in Wilson County.
The most common snakes in the greater Wilson area include the black racer and rat snake, both of which are nonvenomous.
The black racer is known for its speed. The snakes are active only during the daytime and live in a variety of habitats but are often in open areas where they can bask in the sun. The rat snake is larger and may be patterned, officials said.
“They move differently,” said Jeff Hall, herpetologist for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “They aren’t fast. They’re very good climbers.”
The Northern brown snake is also common and often eats slugs, earthworms and snails. Those snakes live under logs and rocks and also like flowerbeds.
‘CAUGHT OFF GUARD’
Hall said while people might think they are seeing more snakes than usual for the season, that’s not the case.
“Generally, people are spending more time outside,” Hall said, adding that several cooler days in June could have caused a greater chance of encountering more snakes.
“It’s possible they were doing a little bit more basking in the sun during that period,” he said. “Or human patterns just change. We are more willing to be outside when it’s comfortable.”
Officials say when a person encounters a snake, both are typically caught off guard. It’s best to leave the snake alone and give it plenty of space.
“Snakes do not regard humans as prey,” according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “A snake is more likely to seek escape when confronted, rather than attack.”
If snakes are disturbed or put in a situation without an escape route, wildlife officials say they will bite or lunge forward to defend themselves.
“In general, if left alone, snakes pose no threat to humans or pets,” according to the commission.
Peak snake activity occurs between mid-March to mid-October, officials say.
“That’s when they’re active,” Hall said.
In May and June, people can encounter snakes mostly during the daytime and evening hours, he said. In July and August there can be a lot of nocturnal activity for snakes.
North Carolina has 37 types of snakes, six of which — including the copperhead — are venomous.
Hall said copperheads are the most common venomous snakes and can be found all across the state. Copperheads do well in a variety of habitats including urban areas, but they also like wooded areas and creeks.
Hall said there are many ways to prevent an encounter with snakes. He advises people not to put their arms or feet anywhere they can’t see. If you’re out at night, make sure you have a flashlight and wear closed-toe shoes.
Hall said when people are bitten by snakes, it’s usually because someone might have stepped on one or tried to kill it.
“It’s a reactive situation,” he said. “They are not seeking us out.”
He said the commission’s job is to minimize those encounters. He said it’s best to pay attention and be observant of your surroundings.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission says snakes seek areas with thick cover where rodents and other prey species are likely to be. That’s why it’s important for people to keep their bushes and plants trimmed around their homes.
Whether you’re doing yard work or in your garden, just know there is a possibility of seeing a snake, officials say. Watching where you step or where you place your hands can minimize the chance of disturbing one.
Hall said snakes often get a bad rap. But they are vital to the ecological system as a whole.
“They’re fascinating,” he said. “They are part of our natural heritage, and I think that has value all of its own.”
Times staff writer Drew C. Wilson contributed to this report.