2019: Year of the Snake


It’s the announcement you’ve all been waiting for; what will the North Carolina State Parks system be dedicating its 2019 educational efforts to? You might have gasped in fright or oohed in admiration as you turned to this page, so you already know - it’s the Year of the Snake!

For the next 12 months we will be learning about these most-divisive of creatures. Love em or hate em, snakes are an integral part of the ecosystem. Depending on the species, snakes prey upon a wide range of critters, all the way from crickets and slugs, to rabbits and birds. Some snakes just grab and swallow their victims, others wrap and squeeze. A few venomous types inject venom through hollow fangs into their prey and then wait for the toxins to take effect.

Here in North Carolina there are a whopping 37 different species of snakes. Of these, there are six that are venomous and therefore potentially dangerous to humans. In Burke and McDowell counties, that number is further reduced to just two species; the copperhead and the timber rattlesnake. All other venomous snakes do not occur this far west.

This time of year, snakes are out of sight and out of mind as they hibernate through the winter, at least here in the western part of North Carolina. It is always possible, however, to come across a snake or two during prolonged periods of above average temperatures, especially when it’s sunny.

As reptiles, snakes are cold-blooded, meaning they cannot self-regulate their body temperature. They rely on their environment to keep them warm enough to stay active and go about their lives. At Lake James State Park, the most frequently encountered serpent is the black rat snake (Elaphe obsolete), although, in reality, 16 different species have been recorded here.

Seeing as it’s the dead of winter and the snakes are all tucked away in their beds until spring, we’ve got plenty of time to get our minds and our hearts right about the Year of the Snake. Hopefully, once it’s all said and done, you’ll have found a new appreciation for these fascinating creatures that make our environment so much more interesting.