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Is it illegal to kill a snake?
by Carol Reese

Although many people may not be aware of this, the fact is that in many states it IS illegal to kill a snake. So you may want to think twice before you grab that shovel!

Alabama : Arkansas : Carolinas : Georgia : Kentucky : Louisiana : Mississippi : Oklahoma : Tennessee : Virginia


According the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources most snakes in Alabama are not covered under any regulation. However:

It shall be unlawful to take, capture, kill, or attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, sell, trade for anything of monetary value, or offer to sell or trade for anything of monetary value, the following nongame herp species (or any parts or reproductive products of such species) without a scientific collection permit or written permit from the Commissioner, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which shall specifically state what the permittee may do with regard to following species: (220-2-.96)

Eastern Indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) 3

Black Pine Snake
Eastern Coachwhip Snake
Eastern Indigo Snake
Florida Pine Snake
Gulf Salt Marsh Snake
Southern Hognose Snake

From the Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences:

“There is one Alabama snake on the endangered species list. The eastern indigo snake is the longest native snake in the United States and uses the burrows of gopher tortoises and armadillos to lay its eggs. It is punishable by law to capture or kill this animal. They are rare, so if you see one, you should notify a conservation officer or wildlife biologist at the Alabama Cooperative Extension or the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.”

All of these protected species are non-venomous and harmless. Regardless, you are within your rights to defend yourself against any animal that is actually attacking you and potentially causing harm to you.


From the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission:

All native snakes, including venomous snakes, are protected by law and are illegal to kill unless they ‘pose reasonable threat or endangerment to persons or property’ on your private property, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife code. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission enforces regulations that prohibit killing nongame species, including snakes, except under limited circumstances.

Evidence indicates some snake species are declining due to habitat destruction and human activities. The Arkansas Wildlife Action Plan (wildlifearkansas.com) identifies seven snake ‘species of concern’ because of declining numbers, including two venomous species, the western diamondback rattlesnake and the Texas coral snake.

Source: Herps of Arkansas, "Herps of Arkansas." Last modified June 26, 2012. Accessed September 12, 2012. herpsofarkansas.com


Eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) 4

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) 5

Loss of habitat and declining numbers landed two venomous snake species on N.C.’s endangered species list in 2001. Two additional venomous and four nonvenomous species are classified as N.C. “species of Special Concern” for the same reasons. These designations make it illegal to collect the snakes without a permit. Killing them is allowed only when they pose a clear and imminent threat to health and safety. All plants and animals are protected within the boundaries of national and state parks, as well as in some other nature preserves and sanctuaries.

Eight of the North Carolina’s 37 snake species receive protection under the state’s endangered wildlife law:

• Eastern diamondback rattlesnake
• Eastern coral snake

Special Concern:
• Timber rattlesnake
• Pigmy rattlesnake
• Southern hognose snake
• Pine snake
• Carolina water snake
• Outer Banks kingsnake

Source: Braswell, Alvin. "NC Snake FAQ." . North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences , n.d. Web. sites.naturalsciences.org

In South Carolina, killing, harming, or harassing any mammal, bird, reptile, or amphibian, except by permit issued by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for designated Game Management Areas is unlawful (Title 51 – Parks, Recreation and Tourism, Chap. 3, State Parks, Sec. 51-3-145 (B)).


Despite the relatively low level of danger posed by venomous snakes many people consider their fear justification for killing snakes. In Georgia it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail to possess or kill many of nongame wildlife species, including non-venomous snakes (O.C.G.A. §27-1-28).

Southern hognose snake (Heterodon simus) 3

The southern hognose snake and eastern indigo snake have additional legal protection as imperiled species.

Source: Lavender, Rick. Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Accessed September 12, 2012. georgiawildlife.com

Keeping native non-venomous snakes as pets also is illegal without the proper permits (call the DNR Special Permits Office at 770-761-3044 for info on obtaining exhibition permits for educational purposes). Venomous snakes, although beneficial, are not protected since they may pose a threat to humans. Be sure you know which 6 of the 41 species of snakes in Georgia are venomous. If possible, simply leave venomous snakes alone; you don’t need to kill them just because it’s legal.

Source: May, Linda. GA Dept. of Natural Resources – Wildlife Resources Division, "Snakes of Georga." Accessed September 12, 2012. georgiawildlife.org (PDF)


Copperbelly water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta) 3

It is illegal to harm or possess the copperbelly water snake in Kentucky. Populations are protected by the Habitat Conservation Agreement. This agreement is between Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois and helps to protect this snake’s remaining habitat. This agreement has prevented the need to add the copperbelly water snake to the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

Source: A.W.A.K.E. All Wild About Kentucky's Environment, kentuckyawake.org.

Most snakes in Kentucky are not protected by state law. You should obtain a collecting permit from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources before attempting to catch and keep a snake. Some snakes are quite rare (Kirtland’s snake, copperbelly water snake, northern pine snake, and scarlet snake) and are being reviewed for the federal government’s endangered and threatened wildlife list. The state lists several other species as endangered, threatened, or rare. These include the eastern coachwhip, green water snake, broad-banded water snake, pygmy rattlesnake, western and eastern ribbon snake, western mud snake, and scarlet king snake.

Source: Barnes, Thomas G. University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, "Snakes: Information for Kentucky Homeowners." ca.uky.edu.



According to Jeff Boundy, Herpetologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries:
"Anyone killing a snake in Louisiana must possess a basic fishing license. No species are protected."

You must have a basic fishing license to collect and/or possess native reptiles & amphibians in Louisiana. Natural habitats such as stumps or logs may not be destroyed while searching for animals. Removal of nesting or nest-tending animals is prohibited. Cost is $9.50 annually for residents. For non-residents it is $5 for one day, $15 for 4 days or $60 annually. (Class 1 violation)

Source: "Louisiana State Laws for Reptiles & Amphibians." The Louisiana Gulf Coast Herpetological Society, n.d. Web. lgchs.org (PDF)


According to Rick Hamrick, Small Game Program Leader for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks:

"Venomous [snakes] are not illegal to kill when posing an imminent threat. Non-Venomous [snakes] are not illegal to kill as long as it is on your own property and/or you possess a small game hunting license."

From Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks

Public Notice 3201:

Any resident who takes or possesses nongame wildlife must hold a valid Resident Small Game Hunting/Freshwater Fishing License.

(a) However, a person who does not hold a valid Resident Small Game Hunting/Freshwater Fishing License may kill a venomous snake if that snake presents a reasonable danger to human life, or may kill a nonvenomous snake on lands in which the record title is vested in such person or on lands which contain the principal residence of such person. A snake or the parts of a snake killed under such circumstances by a person who does not hold a valid Resident Small Game Hunting/Freshwater Fishing License must be disposed of or left to decompose naturally and it or its parts may not enter commercial trade nor be retained in possession.

Rainbow snake (Farancia erytrogramma) 3

But, it is illegal when in violation of the Endangered Species Act:

The following endangered species are ... protected: black bear, Florida panther, gray bat, Indiana bat, all sea turtles, gopher tortoise, sawback turtles (black-knobbed, ringed, yellow-blotched), black pine snake, eastern indigo snake, rainbow snake and the southern hognose snake.

Source: "General Hunting Regulations & Requirements." Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, n.d. Web. mdwfp.com

Penalties for violating provisions of the Nongame and Endangered Species Act include fines between $2000 and $5000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year.

Source: "Endangered Species of Mississippi." . Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, n.d. Web. museum.mdwfp.com (PDF).


It shall be unlawful to engage in any commercial activities involving any species or subspecies, if more than one exists, of reptiles or amphibians collected from the wild that are indigenous to or whose range extends into the State of Oklahoma, except for provisions for rattlesnakes, ...

Any person while in the act of taking or attempting to take reptiles and amphibians or possessing reptiles or amphibians must first possess:

(A) A resident or nonresident hunting license, unless otherwise exempt, for land dwelling reptiles or amphibians…

(B) A resident or nonresident fishing license, unless otherwise exempt, for water dwelling reptiles or amphibians…

Nothing … shall prohibit the control of reptiles other than those listed as endangered or threatened, by landowners, lessees, or occupants of such land when such reptiles are creating a nuisance.

Source: Oklahoma Secretary of State, oar.state.ok.us.

Any person hunting, pursuing, trapping, harassing, catching, killing, taking, or attempting to take in any manner any species of rattlesnake during an organized rattlesnake hunting event or festival must have a rattlesnake permit, unless exempt.

Persons with a valid hunting license are exempt from the rattlesnake permit. Permits are available online at wildlifedepartment.com, by calling (405) 521-3852, or on-site at selected rattlesnake round-up festivals.

The following reptiles are legal to harvest from March 1 – June 30, only with no daily limit: prairie rattlesnake, western diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake and massasauga.

There is a statewide closed season on the following reptiles: Texas horned lizard, desert side-blotched lizard, checkered whiptail, American alligator, western chicken turtle, map turtle, wandering garter snake, gulf crayfish snake, alligator snapping turtle, earless lizard and roundtail horned lizard. All other reptiles, excluding rattlesnakes, have a year-round season. The limit is six (6) per day or in possession for each species.

Source: Oklahoma Hunting, The Official Oklahoma Hunting Guide, "Reptile & Amphibian." eregulations.com


In Tennessee, it is illegal to harm, kill, remove from the wild, or possess native snakes taken from the wild without the proper permits.

Please help the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) to protect our native snakes. Do not remove snakes from the wild or release snakes that have been captive into the wild.

Source: Tennessee Herpetological Society, "Snakes of Tennessee." tennsnakes.org


Under Virginia law, snakes are classified as a non-game species and are afforded protection under non-game regulations. While killing snakes is not a permitted activity, they can be taken (along with certain other species of wildlife) when classified as a "Nuisance species" (29.1-100); when found committing or about to commit depredation upon agricultural or property damage, or when concentrated in numbers and manners to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance. For example, if a blacksnake is found in your chicken coop, you have the legal right to kill it; or if a copperhead is found in your garage, you have the legal right to kill it. Basically what this means is that, for example, if a snake crawls into a chicken coop or into someone’s house, the individual is allowed to take some action to protect livestock or family.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), along with many other governmental, nongovernmental agencies and private citizens, has worked diligently to dispel the belief that "the only good snake is a dead snake." Snakes play a valuable role in nature and help control insects and rodents that damage crops and carry diseases harmful to humans. Millions of dollars in crop damage is avoided every year as a result of the free pest control service that many snakes provide. In order to help citizens better understand the ecological value of snakes and identify snakes in their areas, the Department has developed "A Guide to the Snakes of Virginia". This publication covers many interesting facts regarding Virginia's snakes including their contributions to the ecosystem. This publication is available for purchase at huntfishva.com.

Canebrake Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) 3

Source: VA Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, "Snakes Alive! Leave Snakes Alone." Last modified 6/21/12. dgif.virginia.gov

Note: There are 30 species of snakes found in Virginia, but the canebrake rattlesnake is the only snake listed by the DGIF as endangered or threatened in the Commonwealth.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, "Virginia's Wildlife Species Profile." dgif.virginia.gov (PDF)




Note: State-by-State Gardening and its staff are neither lawyers nor members of any state department of wildlife. The information in this article is provided as the information we collected at the time of writing. Local laws and regulations are subject to change without notice. Consult your local department of wildlife for the most up-to-date regulations regarding snakes and other wildlife in your area.


A Wake-Up Call
I felt a sting above my ankle when I stopped to snip some blackberry stems blocking the path. I leaned down to see if there was a wasp still attached to my sock and saw instead the distinctive triangular head of a poisonous snake. It was a gorgeous orange and tan copperhead, and its head was drawn tightly back to pop me again. I stepped away — not frightened, just incredulous. At least, I thought, it was just a copperhead.

Read about Carol Reese's close encounter with a copperhed snake.

Photo Credits:
3 - Photo in Public Domain

4 - Photo by Norman Benton
5 - Photo by Edward J Wozniak D.V.M. Ph. D, in Public Domain

Expanded from an article by Carol Reese that ran in a print edition of State-by-State Gardening September 2012.


Posted September 2012


Carol Reese is an Ornamental Horticulture Specialist at Western District University of Tennessee Extension Service.



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