No quick fixes for snakes; reptiles motivated by food, water|COUNTY EXTENSION DIRECTOR

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 26, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the unusually large number of calls coming into the Extension office concerning homeowners’ problems with raccoons. Since that column was printed, additional individuals have come forth relating their ’coon tales. I’ve appreciated those interesting stories. This week, I feel compelled to address another problem reported this summer on a greater-than-average frequency. Snakes! 

There are numbers of theories why our snake calls are up this season. Perhaps it has to do with the flooding this spring, excessive rainfall last month, or perhaps it has just been a good year for snakes. Who knows? 

We have reports of individuals being bitten by venomous snakes this summer. Just last week, a person in town had a snake in her garage, and a Ballground resident had one inside her mobile home. Typically, individuals who encounter snakes around or in homes are generally surprised, frightened, and they certainly want to prevent others.

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While it seems our culture is accustomed to quick fixes for solving all sorts of problems, there is really not one for preventing snakes around the house. I often am asked, “Isn’t there something I can put out or spray that will keep them out of my house or yard?” In those cases, the homeowners often want someone’s assurance home remedies like sulfur, moth balls, lime or others will help. 

The truth is repellents are questionable for keeping snakes away. Technically, no repellents are currently registered for snake control, according to one of our Extension Service brochures. No fumigants or toxicants are federally registered for snake control either. Scientists have checked out several home remedies for repelling rat snakes and none prevented the snakes from crossing them, not even musk from a king snake — the snake that eats other snakes.

I can honestly say I haven’t met a snake yet that gave two hoots about much other than food and shelter and those are the things that draw snakes to home sites. Reducing those elements will do more to deter snakes than anything else.

Rodents are the primary food source that attracts snakes to yards and rodents are also attracted by food and shelter. Bird feeders close to the house supply a ready seed source for mice, chipmunks and squirrels. Moving bird feeders away from buildings and not feeding during the late summer (when birds have plenty of natural food available) can deter rodents from yards.

For snakes that feed on frogs, like garter snakes, yard ponds may attract snakes because frogs use the pond to feed and breed. Generally speaking, if you provide a ready food supply, wildlife has a way of finding it.

Reducing shelter can mean keeping firewood well away from buildings and keeping clutter to an absolute minimum.  Keep those junk piles a good distance away from the home and keep garages clutter free, particularly on the garage floor. Sealing up places where snakes can enter buildings is a no-brainer.

Keep in mind that snakes are an important part of our natural world and they actually provide some benefits. Most of us just don’t want to share our homes or lawns with them.

John C. Coccaro is county Extension director. Write to him at 1100-C Grove St., Vicksburg, MS 39180 or call 601-636-5442. E-mail him at