How to go herping for snakes in SC?

I herp mainly in South Carolina, USA. I’ve only gone twice and have been fairly successful, I found 3 blue-tailed skinks under a rock the first time and the second time I found 3 or 4 salamanders and an Eastern Worm Snake. I flip logs, fallen branches, and rocks, usually around 2 hours before sunset.

A few things I want to know is what time is best to find snakes? How do I find them? What temps are best? What is the ideal weather? What do I do when I find one? What is it like after rain?

When I found my first snake it was a surprise and me and my dad tried to catch it but it was so fast and we didn’t know what to do. I can identify all the venomous snakes but I’m still working on the rest, so we were also nervous about grabbing a snake we don’t know. I can now identify Eastern Worm Snakes from the other similar snakes, but the rest are still a work in progress. And I know zero species of the amphibians. I don’t touch them anyways. I’m mostly looking for snakes.

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Do note that I’m not a herpetologist, but I would never suggest chasing after a snake if it’s running away from you unless it was a small species like the worm snake you mentioned (I actually just found one yesterday that I had to relocate so the dogs wouldn’t find it). https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/214864194 In the past I’ve had to cut out large snakes from grass seed netting; racers hiss and snap and usually try to bite me, corn snakes just wait patiently (which makes sense considering they’re the most common type of pet snake). if it’s not running away from you that means it feels safe around you (to some extent) if it’s running away that means it feels threatened and may bite defensively. In general, If you are calm and relaxed, the snake will be too. Smaller snakes are generally too small to hurt you and tend to calm down in a warm hand.

I don’t actively look for snakes and even when I do I don’t find anything so I don’t think I can give much advice that you don’t already know. Snakes tend to like hiding under large flat objects like corrugated sheet metal, plywood, loose sidewalk pavers, etc. You might be able to find some warming up in the sun after a cold morning. I remember somewhere on the forum, someone was talking about playing one of those shooter games where there was corrugated metal scattered on the ground and having this strong urge to lift them up to try to find some snakes!

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There is an active Herp group in SC - consider joining them and going on the planned trips. They’re on facebook too.
https://scparc.org/
https://www.facebook.com/scparc?mibextid=ZbWKwL

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I’m really an insect guy not a herper, but I do know 2 important tips:

1: Check the local laws, some places have regulations on even the act of looking for herps, and handling them or flipping cover objects is restricted in many places

2: Always pull rocks and logs toward you so that if a snake strikes out from under the rock it strikes away from you, and don’t put your face too close until you can see what is under the rock (also beware of heavy rocks on slopes that can roll into you when disturbed)

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Oh thank you! I use their website to identify herps but I didn’t know they go out herping! How can I join? I can’t find anything about events other than the annual meeting

Looks like you can sign up from either the website or Facebook - i’m not a member, so i really dont have details. I’d suggest signing up and asking. Good luck

Okay, thank you! I will contact them!!

Interesting question with interesting answers. It’s been years since I’ve actively herped anywhere (I tell people that if they want to be sure not to see a snake, hang out with me), but all the suggestions made sound good. In any area where there are venomous snakes, I would repeat the advice given: Lift the object TOWARD you. And a personal observation that others have refuted: When I was actively helping, I had more success looking under mandmade objects (boards, old carpeting, etc.) than under natural objects.

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I should point out that even if there are no venomous snakes, pulling objects toward you is still advisable since nonvenomous snakes and other animals can still bite, and their bites still require medical treatment (animal bites are an infection risk). There are also other things like wasps that you probably don’t want having a direct line to your face.

While on the topic of rocks, also be careful putting them back not to squish an animal that was under them.

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Yes! I always lift debris towards myself for that reason. Often it’s also easier to pull it up. And we always usher any critters away from underneath before we put it back to avoid crushing them. Also we always check for hornets, if we see one we leave the area. We didn’t see one the other day and my dad got stung (luckily it was only one and before he lifted the logs) but it wasn’t bad so we just moved to a different area.

As for nonvenomous bites, are there any other risks? We are both up to date on Tetanus shots and bring a first aid kit (anitbacterial cream and bandaids). If we get bitten we’ll apply the cream, put a bandaid on, and clean it once we get home. I’ve handled many snakes but only a few wild ones in my backyard (Dekay’s) that haven’t tried to bite. Are there any diseases we could be at risk of if we get bitten?

Handling reptiles in general carries a salmonella risk.

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I generally don’t do much flipping in any longer, after realizing how disruptive it can be even if done carefully and conscientiously. I’m not throwing any shade on anyone who does it properly because I certainly have done a fair amount myself, just explaining where I am now on my personal naturalist journey. But yes, it’s best to pull cover toward yourself, especially if there are venomous snakes in the area.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been bitten by and musked on many times by most non-venomous snake species in California and don’t remember ever getting an infection or serious gastrointestinal issues afterwards. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but it hasn’t been my experience. I definitely recommend washing the area well as soon as you can, just in case. Snake bites also bleed quite a bit, I suspect they have an anticoagulant in their saliva.

Best of luck, @HoneyandBee!

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I’m not a doctor, but as I understand it the issue is not snakes transmitting their diseases to people, but the fact that an animal’s mouth is good habitat for bacteria, combined with the fact that they can pick up bacteria from their prey, which include animals that do transmit disease (rodents, birds, bats, etc) so general wound infection risk is higher with bites than other injuries. I have always heard that you should see a doctor for any vertebrate bite wound.

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I wouldn’t worry too much about most reptile bites. I’ve been bitten by reptiles literally hundreds of times, and those bites tend to heal quite cleanly and easily. I’ve never had medical treatment for any of them, and none have scarred (and I’ve got quite a few scars). Most reptile jaws that you will encounter aren’t particularly strong in comparison to other organisms, so they don’t generate much crushing force preventing more serious injury. Snake jaws in particular are for holding prey in place, not chewing. The bacteria in reptile mouths are often not particularly pathogenic for mammals. Mammal bites are much worse and much more likely to cause an infection.

Reptile poop also isn’t that bad (healthwise) in comparison to mammal poop. I’ve had snake poop get in my mouth (from a distance, I wasn’t being particularly stupid…) and it didn’t cause any issues.

One tip for non-venomous snake bites is to not freak out and pull away quickly (or try to pull the snake away) if the snake remains biting. Snake teeth, though small, are often quite sharp, and pulling on the snake or pulling away increases the force on the teeth and will cause more slicing. Staying calm and removing the snake carefully will cause less damage. Some snakes do have anticoagulants in their saliva (I have heard), but I don’t think this would have any medically significant impact. Blood mixed with sweat often makes a wound look a lot worse than it is.

In short, if you have to get bitten by something, a reptile is actually a good choice! If you wash with soap and keep it clean, it should heal fine.

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Thank you for this detailed response!! This is super helpful. Although I must ask, how did you get snake poop in your mouth from a distance??

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More common way - snakes often poop/musk as a defense mechanism and then flail their body/tail wildly to spread/fling it around.

Once a snake someone next to me was working on had explosive diarrhea (they were palpating it for eggs and it curled up and squeezed itself)- sprayed a few feet into my mouth while I was doing something else - unlucky.

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I don’t know your state’s laws at all so check and see what is or isn’t legal there.

But hiking/driving in remote areas around dusk can be very productive. Go walk along dikes during/shortly after sundown. Go drive a backroad early in the morning or late at night. Hike along a prairie trail at sunup or sundown. If you’re up for it, you might kayak or canoe along riverbanks with lots of emergent plants (for Nerodia and Liodytes particularly).

I don’t flip much–I do some. But I expect it’s more disruptive in drier areas than wetter ones just because you screw up the moisture seal and well, in dry areas moist microhabitat is at a premium. I am entirely willing to flip stuff like old car hoods and large plywood sheets that aren’t solidly stuck to the ground though.

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Thank you for the advice! It is legal here from what I’ve seen and know of several Herpers in the state (not personally). And luckily it’s super humid here, especially during summer. But I will avoid flipping buried objects and dryer areas!

Ohh that makes sense! It must’ve been gross, but still a cool experience.