The Chattahoochee River — a place for friends, fun, paddling and summer sun.
But what mysterious creatures lurk beneath the murky water? What denizens of the deep await, ready to strike the unsuspecting paddleboarder when they least expect it? How can we protect ourselves from the aquatic menace?
The truth is, it’s usually not the animals in the river you need to worry about — it’s the rushing river itself, which is why any activity on the water requires a life jacket, in many cases by law.
Still, assuming you’ve taken the most basic step for keeping yourself safe on the Hooch, you may still find yourself face to face with some of the thousands of critters that call the river system home.
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Spotting wildlife is usually a welcome sight, but there are some dangerous creatures to be aware of — some large, some small, and some really small. These are the top five to look out for.
1. Copperhead snake
Copperheads are found throughout the entire Southeast and all the way up the Eastern seaboard. They are pit vipers, and usually hide in dead leaves and underbrush where they are camouflaged by the dark brown bands which cover the length of their body.
Copperhead bites are not usually fatal, and often don’t even require antivenin. But they can be extremely painful and do require emergency medical care, as the bite can cause damage to body tissues.
2. E. coli
When people talk about the “water quality” levels in the Chattahoochee, they’re talking about E. coli.
E. coli is a rod-shaped bacteria that is found in the gut of warm-blooded animals. The bacteria is found all over nature, and is usually harmless or even beneficial. But some strains can be very dangerous, and high levels of E. coli in the water indicate that it may not be safe to swim in.
E. coli levels usually spike after a rainstorm washes sewage and other waste into the water. Swallowing the river water or getting it into an open wound can make you very sick.
3. Snapping Turtle
Snapping turtles aren’t going to bother you if you don’t bother them, but they can be dangerous if you decide to mess around with one. They’re vulnerable on land, and they know it, so they will be much more defensive if you come across one on a walk.
Their bites can can easily slice off human fingers. The best way to stop that from happening? Leave them alone.
4. Flesh-eating bacteria
The infamous flesh-eating bacteria, which cause a syndrome called necrotizing fasciitis, are found anywhere you find warm water — including in the Chattahoochee.
When the bacteria get in a deep, open wound, they can take up residence and begin circulating around the body. They don’t actually “eat” your flesh, but they do kill it, and the results can be deadly.
It’s a rare disease — fewer than 100 cases are reported per year in the U.S. — but it pays to be cautious. Never swim in the water with an open cut or wound, and immediately wash out any new injuries with freshwater and an antiseptic.
5. Timber rattlesnake
The timber rattlesnake can be found across the entire eastern half of the Unites States. It is a light brown color with dark brown striping and a triangular head.
They can usually be found either hiding among forest debris or sunning themselves on rocks.
Timber rattlesnakes are highly venomous, and their long fangs make their bites particularly painful and severe. Luckily, they are not aggressive animals, and usually will perform their telltale warning rattle for quite some time before trying to bite.
Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE