Snakes Could Benefit from an Image Consultant

For many people, there’s definitely an “ick” factor connected with snakes. Whether you conjure up images from the Harry Potter books or movies like “Snakes on a Plane,” snakes are often the “bad guys” in our culture.

At the Park Authority we want to set the record straight, along with some help from our friends at the Fairfax County Animal Protection Police, and explain why snakes have an undeserved bad reputation.

Copper head

A copperhead snake can be identified by its color and pattern and the shape of its head and eyes.

Let’s start here. In Fairfax County, there is only one species of venomous snake that’s commonly found – the Northern copperhead. And get this right. The Northern copperhead is venomous – not poisonous. Venomous is a term applied to organisms that bite or sting to inject toxins. Something is poisonous if it releases its toxins when you eat it.

Most snakes in Fairfax County are non-venomous and pose no threat to people. Some that you might encounter in your neighborhood or local parks include the Eastern rat snake, Eastern garter snake, Dekay’s brown snake, Northern water snake and Northern ring-necked snake. These critters are important predators in our ecosystems and provide valuable pest control services to the community.

IMG_6302 (002)-common water snake

Water snakes often rest on branches above the water but will drop back into the water if disturbed.

Now, about those venomous snakes.

Animal Protection Police advise that copperheads may be found basking in the sun on trails, in rocky areas and in stream valleys. They are most active between April and October and can be identified by their:

  • Triangular head shape
  • Vertical pupil
  • Hourglass scale pattern that runs the length of their body
  • Copper, light brown or tan color
  • Yellow-tip tails on juveniles

Sadly, the police report that many of our non-venomous snakes are unnecessarily killed each year because they are misidentified as copperheads. If you’re not sure whether a snake is a Northern copperhead or a harmless look-a-like species, visit the Virginia Herpetological Society for some guidance.

According to the Animal Protection Police, you are most likely to encounter snakes:

  • When they are crossing roads
  • When they are moving through your backyard or through other transient habitats
  • During breeding season (spring or fall) when they are moving to look for mates
  • When they are basking near habitat edges (e.g., water bodies, forest lines)

Snakes are not out to get you. Most snake bites occur when snakes are handled or accidentally touched.

The police offer these seven tips to reduce your chances of a snake bite:

  1. If you see a snake, stop and keep a safe distance — give the snake room to move away on its own
  2. Do not try to handle snakes, as they may bite if provoked
  3. When walking or hiking, stay on trails, sidewalks and cleared pathways
  4. Wear boots or closed shoes and long pants when working outdoors or walking in wooded areas
  5. Wear leather gloves when handling brush and debris
  6. Use a flashlight if walking at night in areas where snakes might be present
  7. Keep dogs on leashes and pet cats indoors to reduce chances of them encountering a snake
IMG_6253 (002)-garter snake

Ribbon snake.

If you’re still not crazy about the idea of seeing snakes around your home, the police suggest these three ways to make your home less appealing to snakes:

  • Remove favored habitat near the home, including heavy mulching and large rock used in landscaping, wood and brush piles, debris and high grass. Mow grass and keep it short. Trim trees and shrubs away from your home and garage and clear overhanging vegetation that snakes could climb. Move woodpiles away from the home.
  • Remove favored food sources. Move birdfeeders away from the house or stop feeding altogether. Seed on the ground may attract rodents that snakes prey upon. Clean up any residual spilled seed on the ground to reduce their food source. Make sure to properly store and secure trash bins to avoid attracting rodents that snakes eat. Feed pets indoors. If feeding outside is necessary, be sure to cleanup uneaten food right away.
  • Inspect your home for openings and seal cracks and crevices around the house and foundation. Check outside around water pipes, vents, electrical service entrances, doors and windows for small openings and under sidewalks and porches. A 1/4 inch hole is large enough for some small snakes to enter.

If you find a sick or injured snake, contact the police non-emergency line at 703-691-2131 to be connected with the Animal Protection Police.

If you are bitten by a snake you believe could be venomous, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

For more information on managing wildlife interactions and resolving human-wildlife conflicts, the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline is available toll-free at 855-571-9003, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. This helpline is a collaborative effort between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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