— This article by Jerry Cates, first published on 23 March 2010, was last revised on 23 October 2012. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 11:03(19).
Let’s assume you have been troubled by snakes, in your neighborhood, around or inside your home, or in your yard in the past. Using the information I have posted on various pages of this website, and that have been posted elsewhere, you have done everything humanly possible to completely “snake-proof” your home and yard. Furthermore, as part of that process, rather than using snake repellents, you employ habitat modification techniques, including the use of products that create an environment that doesn’t nurture or attract snakes.
That’s the end of your frightening experiences with snakes, right? Well, maybe, but probably not. It is true you can reduce the risk to a practical zero, but it is just about impossible to bring that risk to an absolute, mathematical zero, for several reasons.
Chief among these reasons is the fact that snake exclusion is not an event but a process…
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Snakes, both venomous and non-venomous, often take up residence in the attics, basements, walls, and other portions of residential and commercial structures. Many home or business owners are equipped to properly perform a serpent removal and exclusion project at their homes or businesses, but some are not. You may be be so equipped. If, however, you don’t have the time or interest needed to (1) study the technical issues involved, (2) tackle the necessary mechanical habitat modifications, (3) obtain and properly use the protective gear needed to avoid injury from the snake and its associated disease-causing organisms, (4) inspect for, find, and then seal all the ingress/egress ports in your home’s or business’s exterior, (5) clean up, disinfect, and remove the contaminants left behind by the snake, and (6) do all this within a reasonable time, you should consider hiring a wildlife specialist with expertise in reptile biology, removal, disinfecting and control. To find a qualified wildlife specialist in your local area (anywhere in North America), call Jerry RIGHT NOW at 512-331-1111.
Snake exclusion is a never-ending process: you must still maintain the level of snake exclusion you’ve already achieved–treating for rodents, using habitat modifiers to create an environment that doesn’t attract or nurture serpents and other reptiles, sealing new voids as they are found, keeping the grass mowed, and inspecting and correcting for snake harborage areas that might pop up over time. Failing that, all those conditions that once attracted and nurtured snakes will return, and–Voila!–so will the snakes.
But even with an excellent snake exclusion program, maintained extraordinarily well, you may still see a snake from time to time. Sometimes, in fact, that snake may be a dangerous species, such as a rattlesnake, copperhead, or coral snake that entered your yard from an underground passageway that you didn’t know existed. Sometimes that passageway is in the middle of your yard, or in a thick section of lush landscaping, or even under a concrete or wooden deck.
But here’s something that may shock you. Sometimes that surprise snake may show up in the interior of your home, even after you have done all you can reasonably do to seal your home against rodents and snakes. When that happens, did your sealing project fail? Not necessarily. The typical sewer system provides a perfect hibernacula in which snakes can comfortably live and forage. When chasing prey — such as a mouse, or even a large cockroach — what do you suppose happens if the prey jumps into the p-trap (i.e., the sewer connection) of one of your commodes to evade capture? Right! The snake often jumps right in there too.
Now guess where that snake pops up next… If you guessed your bathroom, you’re right. I receive an average of fifteen calls every year from homeowners and business owners all over the U.S. who have just discovered a snake (sometimes large, sometimes small) in one of their bathrooms. Sometimes the snake is found coiled around the interior of the commode, its eyes peering upward, probably as shocked as the human who lifted the commode lid…
The lesson here is this: be prepared for a snake encounter, all the time. Even after you have done all you can do to snake-proof your home and yard.
The best way to be prepared is to learn more about snakes, with a view toward being able to identify the venomous snakes from those that are not dangerous. I’ll try to help you gain that knowledge by posting information on the various species found in North America, but my postings cannot compete with the valuable resources of a good book on North American snakes. Lots of such books are available and new ones are coming out, all the time. Search for such books at your favorite bookseller, buy several, and peruse them when you can.
The more you learn, the better, for you, your peace of mind, for the hopefully rare situations where you recognize a dangerous snake and take appropriate measures to protect yourself and others, and–last but definitely not least–for the sake of the non-venomous snakes you may someday choose to allow to live because, with your knowledge about serpents, you know they do not pose a risk to you or your family.
Is it important to be nice to the non-venomous snakes around you? Absolutely, for reasons that are not obvious to most of us. Let me give you two really good reasons: First, the “good” snakes in our environment are the first line of defense against rats and mice in our neighborhoods, and when those snakes are removed the populations of rats and mice soar, spreading disease, contaminating and consuming our foodstuffs, and damaging our homes and articles of clothing and furnishings. Second, and this is just as important, these good snakes make it a lot harder for the bad ones, the dangerous copperheads, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes and coral snakes to survive; many of them successfully stalk and kill the dangerous snakes. So, when you see a non-venomous snake, instead of killing it, salute and honor it. Give it life, and celebrate its existence.
Related Links on BugsInTheNews:
- North American Snake Markings & Coloration Guide.
- Ophidian Dentition — Snake Teeth & Fangs — Morphology & Specialization
- Snake Anatomy, Physiology, and Taxonomy.
- Snake Exclusion — How to Snake-proof your Yard and Home.
- Snake Repellents — How, and How Well, do They Work?
- Snakebite First Aid.
- Snakes, Rodents, & Droughts.
- Cottonmouths & Copperheads in Travis and Harris Counties, Texas — June to August, 2010
- Western Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma, Troost 1836); Tammy D., Santa Fe, TX — 28 Aug 2011
- Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox, Baird & Girard, 1853), Cedar Creek, TX — 22 Oct 2010
References to Scientific Articles, Books, and Papers:
- Arikan, Hüseyin et al. 2008. Electrophoretic characterisation of the venom samples obtained from various Anatolian snakes(Serpentes: Colubridae, Viperidae, Elapidae). N.W. J. Zool. Vol. 4, No. 1, pp.16-28.
- Birchard, Geoffrey F., et al., 1984. Foetal-Maternal Blood Respiratory Properties of an Ovoviviparous Snake; the Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus. J. exp. Biol. 108, 247-25
- Chao, Betty H., et al. 1989. Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus platelet aggregation inhibitor: A potent inhibitor of platelet activation. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA Vol. 86, pp. 8050-8054
- Chippaux, J. P., et al. 1991. Snake Venom Variability: Methods of study, results, and Interpretation. Toxicon Vol. 29, No. I I , pp. 1279-1303.
- Conant, Roger, and Joseph T. Collins, 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians — Eastern/Central North America, Third Ed. Peterson Field Guides. Houghton Mifflin Co.
- Cundall, David. 2009. Viper Fangs: Functional Limitations of Extreme Teeth. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 82(1):63–79.
- Deufel, Alexandra, and David Cundall. 2004.Functional plasticity of the venom delivery system in snakes with a focus on the poststrike prey release behavior. Zoologischer Anzeiger 245 (2006) 249–267
- Grachevca, Elena, et al., 2010. Molecular Basis for Infrared Detection by Snakes. Nature, 15 April 2010.
- Greene, Harry W., 1997. Snakes: the Evolution of Mystery in Nature. University of California Press.
- Schulz, Klaus-Dieter, 1996. A Monograph of the Colubrid Snakes of the Genus Elaphe Fitzinger. Koeltz Scientific Books.
- Tennant, Alan,1998. A Field Guide to Texas Snakes, Second Ed. Gulf Publishing.
- Weinstein, Scott A., et al. 1994.Reptile Venom Glands — Form, Function, and Future. Handbook of Venoms and Toxins of Reptiles. CRC Press.
- Werler, John E., and James R. Dixon, 2000. Texas Snakes. University of Texas Press.
- World Health Organization. 2002. Management of Snakebite and Research. WHO SEA-RES-2.
- Zaidan, Frederick III, 2002. Variation in cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma) resting metabolic rates. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A 134 (2003) 511–523
- Zamudio, Kelly R., et al., 2000. Fang tip spread, puncture distance, and suction for snake bite. Toxicon 38 (2000) 723 – 728
— Questions? Corrections? Comments? BUG ME RIGHT NOW! Telephone Jerry directly at 512-331-1111, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also register, log in, and leave a detailed comment in the space provided below.