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Snakes In My Yard; a common concern

Since joining the extension service, I, along with colleague Carol Lord, have received many calls concerning snakes in my yard.  Most of these are asking for identification, others need advice on how to keep them away from their garage or back doors.  This is understandable, snakes are not everyone’s favorite animal and we live in a state with many of them.  Most are non-venomous, but some are – and not being able to tell the difference is a bit unnerving.

The classic white gape of the cottonmouth.
Photo: UF IFAS Wildlife

Currently, the list of snake species in the state of Florida is 46; six of those are venomous.  Most understand the benefit of these animals to us, namely they control disease spreading and seed consuming rodents, but this does not make them feel better knowing they may be in the backyard.  The real concern here is that they may be venomous.  Venomous or non-venomous, there is always the concern of a bite.

 

We have all heard that snakes are more afraid of us than we are of them.  Are they “more” afraid, I do not know, but are they afraid – yes, they are.  We are large and predatory in their eyes.  When they since us nearby they tend freeze, trying to blend into the environment and not be detected.  This is true for venomous snakes as well.  The venom is designed to kill and digest prey, you are not prey in their eyes, you are the predator – and they would just as soon avoid you and save the venom for what is meant.  If they feel they have been detected, they tend to flee – trying to remain out of range of you.  If they have nowhere to flee, they will turn to strike.  Before doing so, they will display a variety of behaviors to alert you that they are there and ready to defend themselves.  Most snakes need quite of bit of antagonizing to get them to strike.  It is known that about 95% of those bitten by snakes were trying either to catch them or kill, before of these will welcome a strike.

The banded water snake. often confused with the cottonmouth, it differs that it possess thin vertical stripes on the lower jaw. Other differences are discussed on the fact sheet posted at our website.
Photo: UF IFAS Wildlife

This is Florida and there are snakes.  The best thing to do when encountering one is to allow it to flee to where it wants to go.  That said, many times they want to go into the garage – not acceptable right?  Understood.  Also, some locations in the county repeatedly encounter snakes.  One such location is a gated community in the Perdido area, and the snake they seem to be encountering frequently is the cottonmouth.  I certainly understand the concern.  If your community is having repeated encounters with snakes, you can call the Extension office and asked for Carol Lord or myself for advice.  I can certainly make site visits to help try to determine why the snakes keep coming back.  For this cottonmouth issue I have written a fact sheet on the creature.  You can find it at http://escambia.ifas.ufl.edu/marine/2017/07/31/cottonmouth-agkistrodon-piscivorus/.

 

If you have questions or concerns about Florida snakes, please give us a call.  (850) 475-5230.