“Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes”? This famous line from Indiana Jones sums up how a lot of us feel about serpents, but Floridians need not live in fear of our native snakes. Our state is home to forty-six native species of snakes, of these only six are venomous and only four of the venomous species can be found in Central Florida. The vast majority of snakes living in close proximity to humans pose no threat and in fact provide a valuable service by eating problematic insects and rodents.
I have a large black racer who has taken up residence in my yard, and I’ve enjoyed watching her grow over the years. My socially distant friendship with my backyard snake may not be a relationship envied by all, and I can certainly appreciate that some folks would prefer to enjoy their outdoor space sans snake. Luckily, if you would rather not get up close and personal with the snakes living near your property, there are steps you can take to snake-proof your yard and minimize chance encounters.
I’ve heard it said that “the only good snake is a dead snake”. This isn’t true for a number of reasons, but rings especially false if you are trying to control the number of snakes on your property. It may seem counter-intuitive but killing non-venomous snakes, some of which eat venomous snakes, without eliminating their food source could increase the rodent population and thus attract more snakes to your property.
You can make your yard unattractive to snakes, and decrease the likelihood of a chance encounter, by eliminating hiding spots such as tall grass, overgrown shrubs, debris, or wood piles from areas close to the home or where children play. Storing wood piles or firewood off the ground on a rack can also discourage snakes from taking up residence. It is also wise to rodent proof, and snake proof, your home. Bare in mind that snakes can enter the home through very small openings so be sure to check gaps around where plumbing or wiring enter the home.
If, despite your best efforts, you do still encounter a snake, it is important to remain calm. Often the snake will attempt to escape to the nearest cover, so try not to stand between the snake and its preferred escape route. Even non-venomous snakes may become defensive or attempt to strike when they feel cornered. Provided the snake is harmless your best course of action is to simply give him space and let him go on his way.
If you happen to find a non-venomous snake in your pool you can use the end of a leaf skimmer to give him a gentle assist back to dry land. A non-venomous snake found inside the home can be gently shooed into a trashcan using a broom and removed outdoors, or if the thought of getting that close to a snake makes you feel like Professor Jones, you can call in the professionals for assistance. There are also humane traps available to help capture more elusive snakes who are in your home, but it is important to check the traps daily. If the snake that you encounter is one of our venomous friends, it is important that you keep your distance and let a licensed wildlife removal specialist handle removal.
This article was adapted from Dealing with Snakes in Florida’s Residential Areas: Preventing Encounters by Steve Johnson and Monica McGarrity. The full text, as well as related articles in this series are available online at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_series_dealing_with_snakes_in_floridas_residential_areas