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Don’t kill non-venomous snakes; watch out for the bad ones

snakes at bargain barn

     “Snake Master” Steve Scruggs and his wife look on as kids handle two corn snakes during the Bargain Barn’s snake presentation Saturday.


Steve Scruggs, “the snake master,” entertained, educated and possibly frightened a few at the Bargain Barn Saturday with his collection of rattlers, copperheads and a big nasty cotton-mouth.

Scruggs’ presentation, sponsored by Rocky Boots and the Bargain Barn, Highway 515 in Jasper, drew a packed crowd who heard a mixture of snake facts and practical information on serpents  mixed in with Scrugg’s stories and general views on the outdoors.



Scruggs told the audience how he grew up a farm boy in South Carolina and learned to deal with snakes from his grandfather. When he served in the Air Force during Vietnam, his commanders put his snake skills to use in the jungle nation. “Go get airman Scruggs,” was a pretty regular calling, he said.

Since then, Scruggs has continued researching and studying snakes and now is an in-demand speaker. Scruggs began by informing the audience that it is illegal to kill any non-venomous snake in Georgia. “Georgia is a huge agricultural state. Snakes eat rats and mice.”

Among some of the facts he relayed:

• There are 3,000 species of snakes in the world with more identified on a regular basis. Of these, 450 are venomous.

• In Georgia there are 46 species of snakes and he considers seven venomous. Scruggs said he lists the canebrake rattlesnake (found from Macon and further south) as a different species than the timber rattlesnake (found in the northern part of the state).

• There are 8,000 to 10,000 snake bites reported every year in the United States; about eight of these will prove fatal on  an average year.

Scruggs offered this advice for the youngsters in the crowd, “be a smart child, walk away,” leave the snake alone.

For adults, he pointed out that more men than women are bitten. “Women are smarter. They will run away. Men will say, ‘hand me that stick.’ Then, ‘well, I didn’t know he would do that.’”

Scruggs offered these tips on identifying poisonous snakes. This applies to all venomous snakes in the state, except coral snakes which are not found in north Georgia. 

• Poisonous snakes have “cats eyes” (slits), slanted pupils. Non venomous snakes have round eyes.

• Venomous snakes have triangle shaped heads. Non venomous snakes’ heads resemble your index finger in shape.

• There are also some differences involving lines along a snake’s face, but  you got to be pretty close to spot these.

Scruggs said snakes strike at 250 miles an hour, way too fast to play around. Part of his display involved showing and placing on the floor copperheads, timber and diamondback rattlers, plus the large water moccasin.

The snake master warned emphatically that these poisonous snakes are mean critters. He carefully used special tools to move them and constrain them, telling the audience they can easily bite through a heavy leather glove.

While he encouraged kids to volunteer to hold the non-venomous snakes, he had a red-tape boundary line that no one was to cross when the venomous snakes were out.

He said snakes won’t go out of their way to bite a human as we are too big for food. But they will strike if threatened. 

It is always important to be on the lookout for snakes as bites can be serious business. Even if the venom doesn’t prove fatal, they can cause lost limbs, nasty infections and humongous medical bills. The average cost to treat a snake bite, where venom is released, is $75,000, according to the presentation.

Scruggs recommended three important safeguards: 1. Never put your hands into a space where you can’t see, as there could be a snake holed up there. 2. Always light your path if walking outside at night to prevent stepping on a snake. 3. Wear his sponsors’ Rocky snake boots.

Scruggs said copperheads are by far the most common venomous snake and, not surprisingly, they produce the most snake bite cases seen in emergency rooms. But, on the positive side recent research shows that copperhead venom may play an effective role in breast cancer treatment.

If bitten, Scruggs recommends, first, call 911. Then wrap the bitten body part with an Ace bandage like you would a sprain and to keep the affected body part below the heart.

He said you might get lucky, with 40 percent of bites being “dry bites” where no venom is released.