If you live in the Coastal Plains Area of
the United States, or anywhere in the continental U.S. for that
matter, you may have had the occasion to see snakes on your property.
For enthusiasts, like myself, that is a good thing, but such an
encounter can cause considerable anxiety in the layperson. Snakes are
common animals in the U.S. and they have adapted to live in most
environments, natural and man-made. Many snakes actually thrive
amidst human activity despite occasional encounters and other
hazards. This is especially true in agricultural areas where shelter
is created and prey items are abundant. However, some snakes can
thrive in light urban and suburban environments.
Black Rat Snake climbing on a back door in Wake County, NC
Photo by Gary Vacek
There are several factors that
determine how adaptable a snake will be to human dominated
environments, but generally speaking, size, prey, disposition
and sheltering requirements are the most important. Snakes that
are of moderate to small size, can eat a variety of prey, are
generally mild tempered and/or slightly timid and can make good
use of man- made shelters or those that have no particular
loyalty to a home range will do well in even heavily
residential areas. In the Coastal Plains, most of the snakes
that fit this description are not dangerous, but there are a
couple of snakes that are of concern. Copperheads and Coral
Snakes both seem to do particularly well in populated
areas. Coral Snakes can actually be more abundant in
residential areas than in wooded ones. Fortunately, Coral
Snakes are generally not inclined to bite, even if handled, and
usually shun all contact with animals larger than themselves.
They spend most of their time underground, surfacing only
rarely to escape flooding or to find a new home. Copperheads,
are also generally mild mannered snakes, but will move during
any time of the day or night and under all sorts of conditions.
Although they will bite quite readily if alarmed, they tend to
not get alarmed, even if approached. I have found
Copperheads in places where people walk their dogs, or stroll
about at night and there are few if any incidents. In fact,
many people step within only a couple of feet of them and are
never the wiser.
Regardless of how unlikely
snakebite may be, many people are uncomfortable with the idea
of potentially dangerous snakes wandering into their yards.
There are concerns for pets and children and many folks are
scared of them. I have been asked on numerous occasions to remove
all the snakes from a yard, and have been offered payment for such
Despite how inviting it is to get paid to collect
snakes, I have always declined simply because it is impossible to
accomplish what is being requested. Sure, if there happened to be a
snake sheltering in the garage or under some debris laying about the
property, I could remove it. But, the property owner wants me to
ensure that none will turn up again. So, here is some good advice:
you CANNOT completely rid your yard of snakes. Do not waste your
money paying someone to eliminate them because it CANNOT be done!
Most of the time the snake does not even live in the yard, the yard
is just a portion of the snake's home range or simply a place that
some snakes will pass through while wandering. This is especially
true for wooded lots or areas where good habitat is nearby.
If you live in an area that can support
snakes (which could feasibly be anywhere), it would be prudent to get
a reference so that you can identify any snakes that you
encounter.This website is intended to be such a reference, but there
are several good books also. It is always wise to know what lives in
the area. The purpose of this, however, should be to be prepared, not
to determine which snakes you should go out of your way to kill.
Though killing the snake may seem like your civic duty, remember that
virtually all snakebites occur when the victim knowingly approaches
the snake, often to kill it. Purely accidental bites are extremely
uncommon and snakes DO NOT CHASE PEOPLE, PEOPLE CHASE SNAKES! Also,
be advised that discharging a firearm in a neighborhood could cause
you more trouble than the snake could ever cause. So, here is another
piece of obvious advice: if you see a snake, stay away from it.
Patti works to remove a magnificent Rat
Snake from her yard in Brantley County, GA
Photo By Jack Sandow
So, now that you know what not to do,
here is what you CAN do. The best thing is to be comfortable
with the idea that the snakes are there and that they are only
dangerous if you are not careful or are irresponsible. Simply
be cautious. Use a light when walking about in the dark and
watch where you put your hands and feet and keep an eye on your
children. If you still want some insurance against snakes
trespassing on your property there are some measures that will
help, but nothing is failsafe. The best defense against snakes
invading your property is a physical barrier. You can minimize
the chance of a snake staying on the property by keeping
possible sheltering objects picked up and by keeping rodents
under control. But the best way to keep them out is with a
fence. I recommend using ¼ inch hardware cloth, buried 6-8
inches below ground and extending up to about 3-4 feet high.
Some larger snakes can climb over this, but the dangerous ones
don't typically climb at all and are usually too short to
easily negotiate the barrier. This kind of fence will keep many
things out, but you should still be careful and you should
still be familiar with what lives in the area.
Despite how frequent snake encounters
seem, they are really not frequent at all, only memorable.
Being knowledgeable, cautious and prepared will make snakes of
little concern. Learn what you must and take the appropriate
steps to secure your and your family's safety; even that only
means to watch your step.