By Scott Matthew Quint

     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 just plain

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 services.

   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 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.

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