One Woman’s Snake Story
It’s spring! Birds are twittering, flowers are blooming, bees are buzzing and the snakes are crawling…oh, goody! One sight of the no-leggeds can send many folks into a tizzy, some more than usual. Where I live, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, my late husband used to tell the neighbors that I could get three screams per swat with the sharpened hoe we kept down by the barn on the occasion one of them would rear its head.
There are “good” snakes and “bad” snakes. The little garden variety eat mosquitoes and flies and cause little harm. They live in rocky crevasses down by the creek and only come out to sun themselves and tease the cats and dogs. I ignore them after giving their coloring a careful look to identify them and let them alone. We also have bull snakes, which can get to a very respectable size and try to bluff their way in to making you very afraid, and think they are a rattle snake. They coil up, puff themselves up, and hiss and strike like they are “ gangstas” on the block, but they are merely imitators. We do have, though, both prairie and timber rattlers here in the hills, though at this altitude the prairie variety, smaller and more aggressive, are rare. Often they will be found accidentally rolled into baled hay, and can make for a very unpleasant surprise when feeding horses at 5:30 in the morning.
Different Snakes for Different Areas
In some parts of the world, almost no snake is a good snake. Australia, for example, is home to a large variety of poisonous snakes and in the general snake population there, almost all species there have some degree of being poisonous. The United States has many poisonous varieties of snakes and vipers depending on location: coral snakes, copperheads, water moccasins, rattlesnakes in several varieties, pit vipers, plus, in the desert, gila monsters which are not snakes but live like they do. Unless you live in northernmost Alaska, all states have some form of snakes, and most people would rather not share their living space with them.
Tips to Discourage Snakes
Many steps can be taken to discourage snakes from feeling welcome in your home. Removing or relocating wood piles away from the house, even though it can be inconvenient, is a big help, and wood piles also harbor mice, rats and spiders…another good reason to move them. Clearing debris such as broken branches, dead grass and leaf litter away from foundations is necessary. Inspect all vents, check screens and cracks in the foundation, and seal them with weatherproof, waterproof caulk. Snakes can flatten themselves to a very small mass, so remembering that will encourage a liberal application of caulk to any cracks. Also check openings for gas and water pipes and electrical outlets, even if they are up high, as some snakes can climb to great height using vines or overhangs, and have even been seen slithering across electric lines toward homes. It is highly unusual, but not unheard-of, to find snakes in the toilet or the bath tub, or curled up in cupboards or behind the refrigerator. This is the domino effect. Homes with a rodent infestation can attract hungry snakes that feed on them, so there are two pests to dispose of in one location.
I love nature, too, and all creatures have a purpose and a right to life…just not in my underwear drawer. In the cowboy days, it was rumored that a sure way to deter snakes was to surround your camp or bedroll with a horsehair rope. The old timers said snakes would not cross horsehair. I do not know if this is true, but doubt I would have a horsehair rope long enough to surround my whole house., so must rely on other methods.
When Snakes Bite
In dry years, snakes are attracted to water, and may leave the safety of their rocky, remote places, as they need to drink, too. Check bird baths and sprinkler systems during hot days, and remember most snakes come out at night. In snake country, always keep your ears open for the telltale rattle warning you to stay away. As reptiles are cold-blooded, they can often be found at night seeking the warmth of the edge of the highway after the sun goes down, so beware late night walks down the road with your pet, or exercising to walk off dinner. Rock climbers are often bitten when climbing in rocky areas, reaching for a hand-hold above their heads and grabbing a snake sunning itself on a rock ledge. Remember, if you are bitten, get help quickly, try to capture the offender, even if you have to kill it, or at least get a picture or a very good description of the snake to tell the medical personnel that will treat you. Get a good look at the snake’s head if possible. Poisonous snakes have a triangle shaped head with a blunted nose. Do not try to treat snakebite yourself, or try”sucking out the poison” like you saw in old cowboy movies…you may spread the poison to your mouth if you have any broken skin there, or risk infection. Seek professional help, and anti-venin shots…and sincere apologies to John Wayne.