Every once in a while, when we’re out in our summery yard enjoying birds and flowers, we encounter a snake. We’ve been around snakes for decades and know there are no venomous species in our area but we’re still startled when one slithers away.
Managing a yard to attract a diversity of wildlife sometimes encourages snakes to move in along with birds and butterflies. Usually the snakes that visit yards are non-venomous species merely looking for a place to live and something for dinner. Most common are garter snakes that mostly eat insects. We’ve written about garter snakes on Winding Pathways before. Sometimes we spot tiny brown snakes no bigger than a nightcrawler. They also eat worms and bugs. Once in a while we see a beautifully colored and patterned fox snake. They probably seek tasty white footed mice or maybe a chipmunk. And lots of folks combat the undermining work of chipmunks.
Some backyard snakes can be downright startling. A few years ago, we spotted a husky snake that held its ground. It hissed loudly and was not willing to flee. Although looked threatening, we knew it was just an act. It was a hog nosed snake that sometimes flattens its head like a cobra and hisses when a human approach. It’s a trick that works. Most people quickly back off from this imposing act. This snake loves eating toads and frogs but won’t bite people.
There’s an irony about snakes. Many homeowners simply hate chipmunks. Yet they’ll kill any snake they find. Snakes are one of the best of all chipmunk predators and having a few around keeps the population of the small mammals in check.
Snakes range throughout the continental United States. Most species are non-venomous and even in places where venomous snakes live they generally avoid suburban and urban neighborhoods. It’s good to be cautious but be curious instead of terrified. When a snake is spotted give it plenty of space and try to identify it.
Binoculars that focus closely is a help in observation. And you can keep your distance. Concentrate on the shape of the head and tail, the color(s) and scale patterns and type of habitat. Google a guide to snakes of (name your state) for more information. The snake is likely harmless and fascinating. If it is not, then you might have to have it destroyed.
This is the case in some parts of the country. We have friends who live in the breaks of central Idaho where rattlers periodically come in. So, they are very aware as they move around the garden and yard.
We consider the snakes we occasionally find in our Winding Pathways yard as interesting and welcome as the goldfinches and cardinals that visit our feeders. We’ve even placed a few hollow logs at the edge of the yard so they have a a safe place to hide. They also enjoy a rock wall between our house and a patch of trees.
If we’re not sure what species of snake we’ve discovered we often go to the Internet. Many state universities have Websites that help people identify the snake species that live there. Iowa has a great site. So, does Florida, and an interesting one comes from Nebraska. Many field guide books are also on the market that feature color photos and information about snake species.
Wildlife Specialist Rebecca Christoffel of Iowa State University Extension reminds us that “…snakes eat worms, slugs, bugs and other small animals such as frogs or fish. Snakes don’t do any damage to buildings because they don’t dig their own holes, instead using holes other animals have made.” She has a few simple tips to remove a snake from areas of the yard where homeowners do not want them. If a snake is found in an undesirable place, like a garage or shed, Christoffel said a broom and a trash barrel can easily be used to remove it. Lay the trash barrel on its side, and with a broom (soft plastic bristles or straw), “sweep” the snake into the garbage barrel, gently forcing it down to the bottom of the barrel. The barrel, and snake, can then be taken to another area of the property and the snake released out of harm’s way.” (From ISU website)
Christoffel added, “An alternative solution is to learn to accept having the snakes around and appreciating the valuable ecosystem services they provide,” Christoffel added. “Snakes are excellent rodent and insect control.”
Find a snake in the yard? You may be startled. Remember, be cautious and curious. It’s likely a desirable and beautiful species that helps keep a balance of wildlife. After all, snakes, too, have a place in the eco-system.