Most snakes are not poisonous and are truly beneficial predators of rodents and insects, but people do not want them around their property. If you see a snake and are concerned, call Critter Control at 800 CRITTER and our trained technicians can oftentimes catch the snake if it is still there. We perform a complete inspection that will help make your home environment less snake friendly by repairing holes and sealing cracks to help keep critters out.
|Venomous Snakes||Non-Venomous Snakes||FAQs|
Relatively few snakes are venomous. Of over 2,500 species of snakes in the world, only about 375 are venomous. Of about 116 species of snakes native to the U.S., only 19 are dangerous. Bites of a few species of the rear-fanged snakes sometimes cause harm, but the effects vary.
Basic snake biology, behavior, and snake control strategies (for those native to the U.S.) are covered in the Fact Sheet on Non-Venomous Snakes. Despite movies and folktales, a venomous snakebite will not always kill, or permanently disable you. Based on reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over the past several decades, honeybee stings have killed about twice as many people as have died from snake bites in the U.S. each year.
How to Tell if a Snake is Venomous
As with other animals, the shapes, numbers, and locations of physical structures are important keys used to correctly identify (ID) a species or higher taxonomic group. All venomous snakes do have at least one pair of specialized teeth used to introduce their venom into their prey. These "fangs" are usually distinctly larger or longer than most of that snake's other teeth. The presence and location of "fangs" is very important to ID a snake as venomous.
Other characters may also be important for a geographic area. For example, in the U.S., all pit vipers have only a single row of scales on the underside of their tails; vertically elliptical pupils; and a pair of pits between their nostrils and eyes. Although these characters are common to all pit vipers, there are some very venomous snakes that DO NOT have them. For example, coral and sea snakes have round pupils. Other characters like color patterns or behaviors are often used to ID species or subspecies, and may be important for alerting potential prey, warning away predators, or communicating between members of the same snake species (especially in courtship and mating).
Tooth (Fang) Arrangement
Snakes have four basic general tooth arrangement patterns.
Loreal Pits (Containing Heat-Seeking Organs)
Pit Vipers get their common name from the pair of sensory pits in their loreal scales, one between each nostril and eye. These forward directed pits are very sensitive detectors of infrared radiation (heat) and very weak air vibrations. They can pinpoint warm-bodied prey in full darkness, detecting temperature differences as small as 0.003° C. They may be important in aiming the snake's strike.
Even the most venomous snakes have natural enemies, including: predatory mammals (e.g., foxes, badgers), birds (e.g., hawks, roadrunners), and other snakes (e.g., king snakes, racers). Venomous snakes feed on rodents and other small mammals, but they almost never kill or eat enough to have much effect on even moderate populations of such pests.
Snakes move around on land in four basic ways. Large species, such as anacondas, alternately stretch out and then contract their bodies along their length, which causes their belly scales (scutes) to catch against the ground. This lets them push themselves forward in a slow direct (rectilinear) "crawl." Most snakes move in a side-to-side, "S-shaped" (serpentine) path, pushing against rocks, plants, or other structures as their muscles contract in waves. Nearly all snakes can swim and usually use serpentine movements to do so.
Some snakes alternately stretch part of their body forward, then pull the rest forward, in a concertina movement. On very smooth surfaces, like fine sand or glass, nearly all snakes will extend their bodies forward at some angle to the direction they seem to intend to travel, then lift their head and move their body forward in a series of "sideways" loops. They will usually have only two or three small parts of their body in contact with the surface at any given time. This is called side-winding. Some species move this way routinely, such as the sidewinders, small rattlesnakes in some southwestern U.S. desert areas.
Snakes have very good voluntary control of their strike, whether or not venom is injected, and how much venom is injected. Many strikes and bites, which occur when a snake is disturbed ('provoked' bites), are strictly defensive ('dry') and very little or no venom is injected. Factors such as the way in which the snake was disturbed, how recently it has fed, and its health can all influence the amount of
venom injected during a bite. Unprovoked bites are rare and usually result when a hungry snake mistakes a person's hand or leg, or a pet, for its normal prey (usually a small animal). Most snakes can only strike for 1/3 to 1/2 of their body length (except for a few "jumping" vipers), so their size is important to note. The longer the snake, the farther it can strike.
Few animals are more disliked or misunderstood than snakes. Most are beneficial because of the rodents and insects they eat, and most species found in the U.S. are non-venomous. When snakes enter homes or are seen around buildings, they usually frighten people, who then want them removed immediately. Snake control can be a very time consuming problem which generally requires action by the property owner, but many people are unwilling or untrained to capture and remove snakes.
Several snake control methods can be used to discourage snakes from frequenting an area, prevent them from entering buildings, and to safely capture individual snakes that have strayed indoors. There may be extreme situations of heavy infestations, particularly of venomous species, that are best handled by qualified individuals, such as the professionals at Critter Control.
How to identifyNon-Venomous Snakes
One reason that many people become frightened when they find a snake is because snakes are difficult to correctly identify (ID). There are many good reference books available to help recognize snakes, but all too often the snake is killed before it is identified. Of the 116 species of snakes found in the United States, only 19 are dangerous, including 15 rattlesnakes, two moccasins (copperhead and cottonmouth), and two coral snakes. Coral snakes are in the Family Elapidae. All the others belong to the viper family (Viperidae) and the "pit viper" subfamily (Crotalinae). There are three ways to tell pit vipers (rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths) from all nonvenomous snakes in the United States. Pit vipers have the following:
Coral snakes have round pupils and their head is not dis- tinctly wider than their neck, nor V-shaped. In the U.S., coral snakes are ringed with red, yellow and black; the red and yellow rings always touch, and the tip of the head (snout) is black. The coral snake's markings can be easily confused with nonvenomous species, such as King Snakes, but the following ditty can help ID native coral snakes: "Red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, friend of Jack."
Non-Venomous Snake Habits
Snakes are closely related to lizards. They live in a wide variety of habitats including forests, swamps, grasslands, deserts and both fresh and salt water. Some are active at night, others during the day. Snakes are predators and eat a wide variety of animals, including rodents, insects, birds' eggs, and young birds. King and Indigo Snakes eat other snakes. Some small snakes feed on earthworms, slugs, and salamanders. Water snakes eat frogs, fish, and tadpoles. Racers, Coluber spp., may advance forward until challenged, but most U.S. snakes do not move toward, charge, or attack people. They will usually crawl away to find cover and react only when cornered. Depending on the species and circumstances, a nonvenomous snake may react in one of several ways when threatened: it may lay on its back and play dead, hiss, open its mouth in a threatening manner, coil and strike, or bite (nonvenomous snakes have several rows of short recurved teeth).
Snakes are cold-blooded and must move to a suitable sur- rounding environment to regulate their body temperature. They can't survive extreme summer heat for more than 10 - 20 minutes and are rarely found in the open. They hibernate in the winter and may also be inactive periodically during hot summer weather. They spend most of their time resting in cool, damp, dark hidden areas. Snakes, like all reptiles, will sun themselves on warm spring days.
Snake activity is seasonal, and they are most active in the spring. They hibernate in many different places either singly or in large groups. Dens can be located by searching places where they are likely to sun themselves before hibernating in the fall, or when dispersing from den sites in the spring. Most snakes can breed when they are two to three years old. Females may produce dozens of young in a single brood. Snakes usually reproduce by laying eggs, but some hatch their eggs inside the female's body and the young are born alive. Young snakes can take care of themselves almost immediately. They do not breed inside houses, but have been known to lay eggs or bear live young in or under foundations. Minimizing shelter and food sources will make such an area much less attractive. When inspecting property with potential snake infestations, follow these precautions:
Non-Venomous Snake Legal Status
Most snakes (especially venomous ones) are not considered threatened or endangered, but they are important in their local ecosystems, and should not be killed unnecessarily. Only 12 species found in the U.S. are on the Endangered Species List. Since some are dangerous, and nearly all are feared by most people, there is often little support for their protection, except in national parks and preserves. However, some federal, and many state and local laws may restrict the choices of "acceptable" control methods. Contact the appropriate Natural Resources or Fish and Wildlife Department for legal and preferred control procedures, and to obtain any special permits needed.
Non-Venomous Snake Control
Habitat modification and physical exclusion (as with many other pests) are the most effective long-term methods for discouraging snakes from frequenting areas around buildings. The snakes may be feeding on rodents. The customer should be made aware that even a dramatic reduction in the rodent population in an area will not immediately reduce the number of snakes, since they can go without food for a long time (sometimes for months).
Non-Venomous Snake Habitat Modification
The following recommendations can be useful to property owners and managers for snake control:
The 'rodent-proofing' techniques listed below can also be used for snake control and snake removal strategies.
For play areas or locations with a heavy infestation of venomous snakes, a PMP could exclude them by installing a drift fence 18-36 inches high, using galvanized 1/4-inch mesh screen hardware cloth. Bury the bottom edge 4-6 inches in the ground. Put the fence posts on the inside of the fence and make sure the gate fits snugly. Sloping the fence outward (from vertical) at a 30-degree angle may be more effective but more difficult to install.
Live Snake Trapping
Live snake trapping is a snake control method that is used with V-shaped fences and at den entrances. Drift fences direct the snakes to a wire mesh funnel trap. Funnel traps of 1/4-inch mesh hardware-clothe can be 6 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 11 inches high, with an inward facing funnel entrance at one or both ends. The trap is constructed with a locking lid on top of the cage to remove the captured animals. Another type of funnel trap can be made by rolling a 3 by 4 foot piece of 1/4 inch mesh hardware cloth into a cylinder about one foot in diameter and 4 feet long.
Some snakes such as rattlesnakes, may congregate in large numbers in old rodent dens. Traps used at den entrances should be about 40 inches long, 32 inches wide and 16 inches high. The trap should have a 4-5 inch diameter opening 2 inches above the floor of the trap, with a long flexible sleeve to cover the end of a chute that is inserted into the main den entrance. The sleeve can be made of heavy cloth, plastic, bird netting, or other material with a drawstring or duct-tape closure. The 2-3 foot chute can be a 4 x 4 inch wooden open-ended box, or a piece of white PVC pipe. All other den openings must be sealed.
Capturing Non-Venomous Snakes Indoors
Once a snake is in a building, it may be very difficult to find. While looking for the snake you should try to determine how it got into the house (through vents, holes, etc). Use a stick or pole to check clothing on the floor and blankets on the bed for the hidden snake, then remove clothing from the room. If the snake can’t be found try trapping it.
Rat-sized glue boards can be used to capture snakes. Attach several glue boards to a larger board or piece of cardboard and place this along a wall along which you have seen signs of its passing (alternating curved marks in the dust, snake droppings, etc.). Any snake which is caught on a glue board can be released by applying vegetable oil (while wearing heavy gloves, of course) to loosen the glue. There are one or two similar devices commercially available.
There are no toxicants or fumigants which are legal for snake control. There are commercially available snake repellents, but their effectiveness is variable and should always be used in conjunction with a more comprehensive Integrated Pest Management plan, such as the snake control and snake removal services available from Critter Control.
Is that snake I see poisonous? Probably not, since of the over 2500 species of snakes in the world, only about 375 are venomous. Of the 116 species of snakes native to the U.S., only 19 are dangerous.
Do venomous snake bites mean death? Not really. According to the Centers for Disease Control honey bee stings kill twice as many people as snakes each year.
Do snakes have any real purpose in the environment? Snakes are very important in rodent control. High rodent populations may be the reason you are seeing snakes around your residence.
What should you do if bitten by a snake? The best first aid for a venomous snakebite is to get the victim to medical aid (such as a hospital emergency room) as soon as possible. Keep the victim reassured, calm and warm until then.
Call your local Critter Control office today at 800 CRITTER for effective snake removal and exclusion services (reprinted from the National Pest Management Association's NPMA Pest Management Library).
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