There are few animals which have such an extreme of love or hate as the snake. While some people embrace snakes as pets, and some have made studying snakes a career, there are others that have a visceral reaction when they see a snake slithering around.
Even if you are fascinated by snakes, it can be disconcerting to find one in or around your home. While snakes can be a help to maintain populations of pests and nuisance wildlife creatures, they can be a problem if they are around your home and family, particularly if the snake is venomous.
Fortunately, once you learn how to get rid of snakes, you can deal with this potential pest quickly and humanely.
According to The National Geographic, there are over 3,000 species of snake found in all areas of the world except Ireland, Iceland, Antarctica, Greenland and New Zealand. Fortunately, you don’t need to familiarize yourself with thousands of snake species, as there are some that are common to North America, which we’ll explore in a little more detail here.
Garter snakes are the most common snake species in North America. Most garter snakes are harmless, but there are some that carry a mild venom. This is not typically harmful to humans, so while a garter snake may startle you, it does not pose a risk to you or your family.
Garter snakes typically remain near water sources, they move around during daytime, scouting for prey including fish, frogs, salamanders and, in some cases, even birds. This species tends to be the first to emerge after spending winter bruminating in tree stumps, logs, rock piles or the spaces under buildings or roads.
Adult garter snakes can be 15 to 36 inches, with females approximately 50 percent larger than the males. They are found from Florida to Canada and throughout the east of the U.S. Garter snakes are typically pale green to yellow with a stripe of yellow, orange or tan.
Rat snakes are quite similar to the garter snake. They also tend to be found near water and trees as they are both skilled at swimming and climbing. Rat snakes can be up to five or six feet long and they can vary greatly in color and pattern. Typically, they have a dark body with light underbelly and chin.
For example, black rat snakes are characteristically black with a hint of white between some of their scales, while yellow rat snakes are yellow, orange or greenish with darker stripes running down the length of their body.
Despite their regal name, kingsnakes are actually a non-venomous, medium sized species. They can grow to up to four feet long and they constrict their typical prey of birds, rodents and lizards.
Since kingsnakes have bands of color along their backs, they can be confused with other species, particularly the venomous coral snake. So, if you’re unsure if you’re dealing with a kingsnake, it is best to err on the side of caution.
Gopher snakes can appear very menacing and may be mistaken for a rattlesnake, but they are non-venomous. They have a loud hiss and vibrate their tails, hence their resemblance to rattlesnakes. However, they take their name from their preferred prey of gophers. They also include foxes and coyotes in their diet.
Gopher snakes tend to prefer areas that are not densely populated with humans. They tend to live in desert areas, rocky bluffs, prairies, thickets and forests. They are often found in the western states and the Midwest, but they may be as far south as West Texas.
Adult gopher snakes can be three to eight feet in length. They are cream to light brown in color and they tend to be active during the daytime. However, they can also be found in underground burrows.
Water snakes are another non-venomous species that can be easily mistaken for a poisonous cousin. In this case, water snakes resemble the water moccasin or cottonmouth. As its name suggests, water snakes tend to be found near bodies of water, where they can easily feed on frogs, toads, fish and salamanders.
Water snakes are typically seen in the eastern and southern U.S. They can reach a length of five feet, but females tend to be longer and heavier than the males. Water snakes are characterized by a rounder, narrower head and slender body. The colors can range from olive green to gray brown.
While this species is non venomous, they will act aggressively if they are approached.
Rattlesnakes are perhaps the most notorious snake species due to their distinctive rattle at the end of their tail. This creates a distinctive sound that can be quite startling.
Despite the sound, rattlesnakes are not typically aggressive and tend to stay away from larger animals and people. They are a member of the pit viper family that includes copperheads and water moccasins. There are over 30 known species of rattlesnakes and they average three to four feet in length. Rattlesnakes are most abundant in Southwest desert areas, but they may also be seen in Southeast swamp areas. They can range in color from brown, black and gray to cream and yellow.
Rattlesnake bites are dangerous and require immediate treatment.
The water moccasin is the venomous water snake in North America, but it is not aggressive and will only bite when threatened. Their favorite prey includes birds, fish, small mammals and other reptiles. They are active all year round and will move about day and night, particularly in summer.
Adult water moccasins can be two to four feet long with body colors of olive green to dark brown or black. They are native to marshes, swamps, ditches and near lakes, streams or ponds. They are seen in southeastern areas from south Virginia to east Texas.
Water moccasin bites are dangerous to humans, so if you are wading around in marshes or swamps, you’ll need to ensure that you have the best snake gaiters on.
The copperhead is another member of the pit viper family, taking its name from its coppery colored head. Unfortunately for humans, copperheads enjoy a widely varied habitat preference, from wooded areas even to suburban settings. They are comfortable in almost any space, providing it has plenty of sunlight and cover. Copperheads are also the variety of snake that is most likely to bite.
Copperheads average up to three feet in length and can be found in northeastern states down to West Texas. You’ll need to have a snake repellent on hand if you have abandoned farm buildings, woodpiles, junkyards or similar areas near your home.
According to the CDC, snake bites can be extremely serious, but because snakes can have such a varied appearance it can be tricky to accurately identify snake species. So, it is important to know the basic differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes.
Generally speaking, venomous snakes have triangular heads, with thin vertical pupils in eyes that are typically green or yellow. On the other hand, non-venomous snakes have rounded pupils and more rounded or spoon shaped heads.
Like most pests, snakes are looking for two things when they come into your property; shelter and food. Generally, snakes will be attracted to your property if they find a source of their favorite prey such as mice, rats, frogs, fish, grasshoppers, moles and small farm animals.
Snakes also want to find shelter where they can rest, breed and hunt. They tend to enjoy dense leaf piles or compost, thick brush or moist areas such as near a leaky faucet or around a pond.
You may also find snakes on your property or around your home if there is a low concentration of predators. So, if there are not very many raccoons or foxes, snakes may feel comfortable moving in.
Identifying that you actually have a snake problem can be tricky, particularly in winter. During the colder months, snakes may nest inside walls as protection, where they can hide for months without you even seeing them.
Fortunately, there are some common signs that can help you to determine if you have a snake in or around your home.
Skins: Many snake varieties shed their skin as they are growing. If you notice dry scaly sheets of skin or a crumpled heap of dried skin near the walls of your home or in small spaces inside your home, there is a good chance that a snake has entered the walls of your home.
Tracks: If you’re looking at how to get rid of snakes in a basement, you should confirm their presence by checking for slither tracks. These are easier to notice in dusty areas or crawl spaces, which can show where a snake may have traveled.
Odors: Snakes have a distinctive, noticeable smell. So, if you encounter an unfamiliar scent, particularly in areas where a snake may be more likely to be seen, it is worth further investigating.
Noises: As with any pest inside your home, snakes can make noises. If there are unexpected noises coming from under the floor, in the walls or in secluded areas of your home, like your basement or attic, it may indicate the presence of a snake.
Lack of Other Pests: This may seem like a strange indicator, but if you have previously noticed mice or other pests from time to time around your home and now they have mysteriously disappeared, a snake may be the reason why.
Snakes tend to prefer cool, dark and damp areas. They are likely to be found in crawl spaces, basements, laundry rooms and utility rooms. If you suspect you may have a snake problem, you should cautiously check these areas or behind items such as boxes or piles of clutter using a long stick.
If you suspect you have snakes in your yard, you’ll need to think about the ideal reptile habitats. Look around your yard for sunny areas where there is lots of vegetation to provide cover, and places that snakes could shelter such as compost heaps, under debris or for snakes under your porch.
Snakes are cold blooded, which means that they rely on chemical reactions within their muscles to move and eat. These chemical reactions impact a snake’s behavior and will affect how it reacts in different seasons.
In spring when the average daytime temperatures are above 60ºF, snakes come out of brumation or hibernation to seek out sunny, warm spots. Most snake activity occurs in the middle of the day, when the temperature is warmer, but if the sun is not particularly strong, snakes seek out more exposed sources of warmth. As the temperatures warm up, there is an increase in snake activity. Spring is mating season, and most young will be born in summer or early fall.
In summer, as the average daytime temperatures reach approximately 80ºF, snakes tend to limit their activity to early morning and late in the evening. This allows them to enjoy heat before and after a cold night without scorching in the midday heat. This means that you’ll need to take care at these times when a snake may have retreated to a shadier area.
Basking snakes are quite easy to spot as they expand their rib cage and lie perpendicular to the sun to maximize sunlight exposure. If there are heavy rains after a heat wave, you are more likely to encounter a snake. If a snake has burrowed for protection against the heat, it will be forced out from the flood waters to search for a dry area.
During fall as the average daytime temperature starts to drop, snakes tend to become sluggish. They are less likely to be able to find prey and may be vulnerable to predators themselves. Many species of snakes will “den up” until spring.
In winter, a snake’s seasonal behavior will depend on your climate. If you live in a snowy, colf area, snakes tend to enter hibernation. However, in warmer climates snakes brumate. This isn’t the deep sleep of hibernation, rather the snake’s metabolism slows as it acclimates to the colder weather and becomes less inclined to feed. If there is an unseasonably warm day, brumating snakes may come out of a den to seek out easily captured prey. This is the time when many people are surprised by snakes. The exception to this behavior is the rattlesnake that may slow in winter, but it is still active.
Threatened species of snakes are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. This means that it is illegal to kill these snake species. Most states regulate hunting snakes and they are designated as non-game animals.
The snake killing laws do vary by state, but there are also federal laws. If you kill a protected species snake, you could face a large fine of up to $50,000 and up to one year in prison, but you do have a right to defend yourself if you are attacked by a venomous or aggressive snake.
There are numerous snakes on the protected list. This includes Lake Erie water snakes, Louisiana pine snakes, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake and several subspecies of garter snakes.
Since it can be tricky to immediately identify the type of snake and you are unlikely to have the list of protected species with you, making it crucial that you know how to get rid of snakes without killing them.
If you are more of a DIY enthusiast and want to learn how to get rid of snakes yourself, there are a number of methods you can use.
The first thing you may be tempted to try is chemical repellents. Unfortunately, there are contradictory opinions about their effectiveness. This does mean that you need to ensure that you choose a reputable product, such as Dr T’s Snake Away or Ortho Snake-b-gon, that is effective against the correct species of snake.
Of course, you will also need to follow the instructions for the specific product carefully. Many chemical repellents contain potentially harmful chemicals that could affect pets and young children. If you do have cats, dogs or young children, chemical repellents may not be the best option for you.
There are a number of home remedies that can help you deal with potential snake issues. Natural substances such as cloves, cinnamon oil, vinegar and sulfur may help to repel snakes away from your property. However, you will need to spread these substances in any place you’ve noticed snake activity or around the perimeter of your property. This can be messy and difficult to accomplish. Additionally, the science to support natural repellents is a little sketchy. While some may be effective, there is no hard science supporting research.
There are store-bought snake traps that are designed to humanely trap a snake and keep it secure. Many traps feature a glue board that traps the snake without causing it any harm. Once the snake is secured, you can take it to a safe location away from your home and release it. To release the snake from this type of trap, you just need to pour a little vegetable oil all over the snake’s body and it will neutralize the glue.
However, this is not a good option if you are not sure if the snake is non venomous. Being trapped may agitate the snake and you don’t want to get bitten as you try to humanely release it, particularly if you’ve taken it far from your home. Snake bites can cause you to faint, so it won’t be safe to drive yourself to medical attention if you’ve been bitten. So, this approach should only be considered if you’re confident that you’re dealing with a non-venomous and non-aggressive species of snake.
If you have a non-venomous snake and don’t have a store-bought trap on hand you can improvise a trap. The first way to do this is to coax the snake into a mosquito or butterfly net.
Place the net in front of the snake and use a long slender object such as a tennis racket to try to move it towards the net. Once the snake is in the net, lift it immediately to prevent it from getting out. You’ll need to make sure the net is large enough and approach the snake quietly and carefully to avoid provoking it. This will only work if the snake interprets the net as a place of safety.
If you’re wary about directly handling a snake, you can use a garbage can and broom. Lay a large garbage can on its side and use the broom to coax the snake into the can. You can then move your garbage can to a place where you can release the snake.
Spraying the snake with a hose does allow you to drench it from a distance and encourage it to move along. However, while it will not harm the snake, it is only a temporary solution. Once the snake and the area dries out, it may return.
If you already have an issue and want to know how to get rid of snakes in your yard naturally, this is not a good option. However, if you want to discourage a snake from your yard, removing possible shelters is a good idea. Look around your yard for sources of snake shelters such as firewood piles, dense brush, coiled hoses and open areas under outbuildings or sheds.
If you do have gaps where a snake may venture under your shed or outbuildings or you want to protect areas of your yard from snake intrusion, consider installing snake proof fencing. This should be flush to the ground and angled outwards up to a height of three feet.
Snakes only tend to come into homes and yards when they need shelter or are in search of food. Therefore, if you can eliminate snake food sources, you can resolve your snake issues. Snakes tend to eat birds, frogs, insects, rodents and fish. If you have these creatures in abundance in your yard, try to reduce their numbers.
The downside with this approach is that it does not provide an immediate fix to the problem. If you’ve eliminated its food source, a snake may eventually take the hint and leave, but you could be waiting a while.
If there are any old burrows or gopher holes on your property, fill them with dirt or gravel to prevent snakes from seeking refuge in them. If you have numerous burrows in your yard, you may need to contact a specialist pest management company who can eradicate any voles, moles or gophers that are contributing to the problem.
Although many of us don’t enjoy mowing grass, particularly if you don’t have a formal lawn or landscaping, cutting your grass short will encourage your unwanted snake guest to leave. Just take care as you cut the grass to ensure that you don’t startle any sheltering snakes.
Snakes do have natural predators that may be welcome in your yard. While you may not want to encourage racoons or foxes into your yard, you can keep turkeys, guinea hens, pigs or even cats that will discourage snakes.
As we discussed earlier, there are numerous protected species of snakes that should not be killed. While there are potential fines for killing a snake, if it is aggressive or venomous, you can protect yourself and kill a snake in your home or yard. There are several methods for killing a snake, but each has its own potential drawbacks.
We’ve already discussed, traps are readily available. While glue traps are more common, there are lethal traps that are the easiest way to kill a snake. These traps lure the snake and then trap it by the head. There is an instant snap, providing a humane, fast death for the snake. Just take care, as if the trap fails to sever the head fully, you will need to finish the kill without releasing the trap. You’ll need to place the traps where the snake has been sighted and check the trap regularly. You don’t want to attract other pests or have a bad smell from leaving a dead snake in the trap for a prolonged period.
This can be very tricky, as most snakes will try to slither away as soon as they are aware of your presence. You’ll need to try and shoot the snake from a distance and aim for a headshot to get a clean kill. For most people, this will be almost impossible.
Since many people have a shovel nearby in their yards, it is a common weapon to use against a snake. Many people try to decapitate a snake using a shovel, but this does put you within striking distance of the snake. It is also unnecessarily brutal. If you do not manage to kill the snake with your first strike, you may agitate the snake and put you at greater risk.
The final method of killing a snake is to bludgeon it over the head with a garden tool or stout stick. This is likely to be the most common method if you’re startled by a snake. You will need to be close enough to deal a killing blow, so be ready for a snake that feels threatened and may defend itself.
If you are aware that you have a snake in your home, it can be frightening, but if you prepare yourself, there are a number of ways to deal with the problem.
Firstly, you need to remain calm. Although your pulse may have jumped up a few beats, take a few deep breaths and try to calm yourself. This will help you to avoid disturbing or even harming the snake.
Ideally, try to give the snake an escape route, so if possible open a door or a nearby window. If you’re unsure whether this snake is venomous it is a good idea to call a wildlife control company.
As you wait for them to arrive, try to use boards or boxes to create a barrier around the snake. This will make it easier for the pest management company to capture the snake and make you feel calmer that the snake will not start to slither towards you. A pest management specialist can safely remove the snake and provide guidance on prevention.
As with most aspects of home maintenance, prevention is better than cure when it comes to snake issues. Fortunately, there are a number of ways that can help you to prevent a snake problem.
Snakes like secluded places where they can shelter from the sun, find a place to mate or brumate. You can eliminate the potential for snakes to find such places by cleaning up your yard. Don’t leave your garden hose coiled on the floor, tidy up your compost pile and remove any clutter that could harbor a snake.
Snakes use trees and bushes as shelter, so if you keep them trimmed, you eliminate this protection for any snake visitors.
Long grass not only provides protection for snakes, but it also creates a potential danger for you. If your grass is longer, you may need to have snake guards just to cross your lawn. So, keep your grass as short as possible.
Rodents are the dietary choice for many snake species. If you have mice, rats or other rodents on your property, you are creating an all you can eat buffet for snakes. If you can eradicate the rodent problem, you can also address any potential snake issues.
The smell of pet food can not only attract any number of pests into your yard, but it can also provide a food source for snakes. So, err on the side of caution and keep any pet food inside your home.
As with many pests, creating a barrier can help to keep snakes out of your yard. Snake fences should be flush to the ground with a height of at least three feet. The fence should also be underground at least three feet. The fence should be made of aluminum or galvanized wire mesh.
Finally, it is worth inspecting around your home to ensure that there are no entry points where a snake may be able to infiltrate the property. Check for gaps in siding or holes where a snake could get into crawl spaces. It is worth performing repairs, so that if a snake does enter your yard, it does not have an easy way to enter your home.
Professional pest control companies have specialist equipment to deal with snakes. This includes snake tongs that are large and have a grip to capture a snake at a distance. However, amateurs risk not only the snake escaping with improper use of snake tongs, but it is also possible to hurt the snake.
While it is possible to purchase this type of equipment, professionals are trained to safely handle, capture and transport snakes using tongs, snake hooks and other tools. This ensures that even if the snake is venomous or aggressive, it will be immobilized and unable to strike.
Another good reason to call in the professionals is if you suspect a snake is venomous or it appears aggressive. Even non venomous snakes may defend themselves if threatened. While an initial bite may not be particularly painful, you could experience pain and swelling requiring medical treatment. To avoid this situation, if a snake does appear to be aggressive or venomous, err on the side of caution and seek professional help.
Generally speaking, black snakes are not poisonous or dangerous. While they may bite, this is only in extreme circumstances.
Basements can be particularly tricky places to deal with a snake problem. Many people use their basements as a storage area, so there may be boxes and other clutter that can provide shelter for a snake. If you can approach the snake in a clear area, you could use the net technique we discussed earlier. However, in most cases, you will need to create a barrier to contain the snake and call in a pest management company.
If a snake has gone under your concrete slab, it is likely to remain there unless it is convinced to leave. The best option is to lure it out with bait and a trap. This could be a glue trap, maze trap or minnow trap. Once you have removed the snake, be sure to repair any holes where the snake was able to get in.
Like basements, attics tend to have an abundance of boxes and other clutter. If you suspect there is a snake in your attic, place some traps and check them regularly.
If you discover a garter snake nest, you should eliminate any potential food sources in the area and keep any surrounding areas cleared back. This will involve keeping grass short and trimming bushes or other plants. However, dealing with the nest itself can be challenging. Like most animals, momma snakes will defend their young, so you need to be very cautious. The best bet is likely to call in professional assistance.
If you have snakes in your pond or near your pool, you may want to try natural repellents, such as ammonia. This smell is typically sufficient to deter snakes. You will need to keep the surrounding areas clear, so the snake cannot simply retreat into another area of your yard. Keep an eye on the snake and, if possible, encourage it to a more desirable area.
According to WebMD, if the snake is not venomous, you can treat a snake bite as a standard puncture wound. You should keep the bite clean and use pressure to stop the bleeding. If it is still bleeding after five minutes, you will need to seek medical attention. Bear in mind that you may need a tetanus shot.
You should call 911 if you suspect the snake is venomous, and if there is a loss of consciousness or breathing difficulties.
If possible, take a picture of the snake, but if not try to take note of the snake’s appearance. While you’re waiting for medical attention, ensure that you and the person are not within striking distance. You should cover the wound with a sterile, loose bandage and remove any jewelry from the area near the bite. If the bite is on the leg or foot, remove the shoes. Have the person lie down and keep the person calm.
Do not apply a tourniquet, ice or water, attempt to suck out the venom or cut the bite site. You should not give the person any medications, caffeinated drinks or alcohol.
Once you arrive at the hospital, the staff may administer an anti-venom treatment and a tetanus booster.