Snakes are long, thin reptiles. They do not have legs and they slither along the ground. In the United States, only copperheads, coral snakes, rattlesnakes, and water moccasins have poisonous bites.
Snakes have a long, legless, flexible body that is covered with dry scales. When snakes move about on land, they usually slide on their belly. Snake's eyes are covered by clear scales rather than movable eyelids; therefore, their eyes are always open. They repeatedly flick out their narrow, forked tongue, using it to bring odors to a special sense organ in the mouth.
Snakes belong to the order of animals called reptiles. This group also include crocodiles, lizards, and turtles. As with the other reptiles, snakes maintain a fairly steady body temperature by their behavior. They raise their temperature by lying in the sun or lower it by crawling into the shade.
There are about 2,400 species of snakes in the world. They live almost everywhere, in deserts, forests, oceans, streams, and lakes. Some are ground dwellers, others live in trees, and other snakes spend most of their lives in water. There are a few areas where snakes do not live. They cannot survive in places where the ground stays frozen the year around, so they are missing in the polar regions or at high mountain elevations. Several islands, including Ireland and New Zealand, do not have snakes.
Most people living in urban areas probably have not encountered a snake. Chances are you never will. Even a move to the 'burbs might not produce any snake encounters. Though the chance of meeting the very common garter snake does increase.
Whether you meet your first snake in your backyard or on a hiking path in the forest, you will want to determine whether it is venomous or non-venomous. Expect for the very curious and studious, this is all that should concern the novice snake hunter. There are only 4 highly of venomous snakes in the United States. They are the Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, Cottonmouths (Water-Moccasin), and Coral snakes. Below are the four snakes. Study them and when you find a snake, if they don�t look like the ones below, then they might not be venomous. Many non-venomous snakes share the same colors and other charateristics of posionous ones, and make it hard to tell the venomous apart from the non-venomous. Also the juvenile venomous snake may look just like the non-venmous snake.
In the United States of America there is one key characteristic that sets venomous snakes apart from non-venomous snakes. That trait is the eyes.
Venomous snakes have vertical slits for pupils. Sometimes these are called cat eyes. Non-venomous snakes have round pupils.
Do you have to get close to a snake to really tell the shape of its pupils?
Of course, you can't at one hundred feet. But you can be a good twenty to thirty feet away and get a good look at a snakes eyes without putting oneself in harms way.
There is one exception to this rule. The coral snake has round pupils but is extremely venomous. Fortunately the coral snake is easy to identify because it is one of the most colorful of North American snakes. It is colored in yellow, black and red bands. However, the coral snake has a copycat brethren that has the same colors. The king snake is the coral snakes non-venomous counterpart. How can you tell whether that colorful snake is the poisonous coral or the safe king snake? It come by looking at the order of the colored bands. Remember this poem:
Red on black/safe for Jack
Red on yellow/ Will kill a fellow
If its nose is black, get back
Remember too that sometimes the "yellow" of the coral snake is almost "white".
Coral snakes only live in the very southern portions of the United States and a portion of southwestern states. So if you live in the North, snake identification for venomous snakes is based completely on the eyes.
So the key in basic snake identification is the eyes. Fortunately, the other basic identifier of color, belongs to one of the most colorful snakes there is. So the next time you are walking through the woods enjoying the color of the trees and you see a snake, look for its eyes!
The Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), can be quickly identified by its copper color. This snake has vertical, cat eyed shape pupils. Has a triangular shaped head and a very thick body. Its scales are weekly keeled and does not appear shiny. Its a broad headed snake which means its neck is skinny and its head is wide.
Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin)
The Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus), also known as the Water-Moccasin, can be difficult to identify. They are like water snakes, and are normally found near water. They are normally a dark brown color to black. They have a white inner mouth. They have vertical shaped pupils and have a thick body. They have a broad triangular head. These snakes are often mistaken as water snakes.
There are several kinds of corals snakes. The Coral snake can be very easy to identify with its bright red and yellow on black coloring or can be mistaken as a harmless snake. The pattern of the coral snake is red and black with yellow between the two, red and yellow touching. The coral snake is mimiced by several other snakes, one of which is the Scarlet snake. The scarlet snake has the same colors as the coral snake, but different pattern. Also the scarlet snake has a red nose, as the coral snake has a black. The coral snake has a rounded head, with a slender body and no neck. Here are two very useful rymthes that will help you tell the venomous coral snake apart from the other non-venomous snakes:
Red on Yellow, Kill a Fellow
Red on Black, Venom Lack
If its nose is black, get back
There are many species of Rattlesnakes in the United States. The rattlesnake can quickly be identified by the rattle on the tip of its tail. The rattlesnakes characteristics are a broad, triangular head, with a thick body, and a rattle on the tail. Though don’t always think it is not a rattlesnake, just be cause the snake doens’t appear to have a rattle. Some times the rattles break off, and the juvenile rattlesnake rattles can sometimes barely be seen.
Tips for controlling Snakes
The most effective way to discourage snakes around a home, such as in the yard or garden, is to make the area unattractive to them. Remove their habitat, including hiding places, foraging areas, and food resources.
In early spring, snakes are attracted to hot spots, such as metal cans or other heat-conducting items. Snakes are most active during warm months, when they are attracted to cool, damp, sheltered areas. Remove hiding cover for snakes near homes, including piles of boards or firewood, rock or brick piles, and weedy growth. Check around cement walks or porches for cracks or holes that might provide access to snakes for shelter. Repair or close these access points to prevent their use.
If you have firewood stored for a fireplace or woodstove, keep the stack away from the house. Wood can be temporarily stored near the house during cold months when snakes are inactive. Use a rack to keep the firewood at least 12 inches above the ground; snakes will be discouraged if the wood (shelter) is separated from the soil. Snakes like to lay eggs in compost piles, so keep those away from the house. Keep fencerows and the edges of wooded areas free of debris, brush, and other cover.
Check around the base of storage sheds. If snakes can crawl under them to protective cover, close off access with packed soil or building materials such as bricks, sheetmetal, or small mesh metal hardware cloth. To exclude snakes effectively, use a barrier that extends about 6 inches below the soil surface. Snakes may push through loose soil, but they cannot dig through hard soil because they lack digging adaptations such as legs or claws. Snakes may use holes made by mice or other rodents, and snakes may eat these and other small mammals as food, so control these rodents where feasible.
Check around the foundation of your home for cracks or openings where snakes, mice, or other unwanted guests might enter. Close all openings larger than a quarter of an inch, and use latex caulk or insulating foam around any gaps where surface wires or pipes enter. Seal cracks in masonry foundations (poured concrete, concrete blocks, or bricks) with mortar. Repair holes in wooden buildings with sheet metal or fine mesh metal hardware cloth.
For rural homes, ensure that septic or treatment plant drain pipes are not open to snake access. If the pipe or tile is open at the end, cover it with 1/4-inch metal mesh hardware cloth. Check periodically to ensure the wire doesn�t interfere with drainage.
No fumigants or toxicants are federally registered for snake control. Diet, body temperature, and other biological aspects of snakes complicate the potential for developing such snake controls.
Various home remedies have been suggested for repelling snakes, and several have been tested to determine if they repel black rat snakes. Treatments included moth balls, sulfur, gourd vines, a tacky bird repellent, lime, cayenne pepper spray, sisal rope, coal tar and creosote, artificial skunk scent, and musk from a king snake (eats other snakes). None of these remedies prevented the snakes from crossing them.
Some sticky materials, when applied in 18-inch bands around supporting poles, prevented snakes from climbing to wood duck nest boxes. This technique may keep snakes away from bird nest boxes mounted on poles, but otherwise it is not practical.
Snakes occasionally enter houses. They may be attracted by the warmth on cold days or the coolness on hot days. They may enter through a hole in the foundation or outer house structure, or they may crawl under a door or through a basement window. If this occurs, remove them, then close the access to keep them out.
One good way to remove a snake is to sweep it with a broom into a large bucket, then release it at a site as far away from houses as possible. It usually serves very little practical purpose to kill the snake. In fact, many snakes provide great benefit to humans by keeping rodent populations low. (See Beneficial Aspects of Snakes.)
If you cannot find the snake to capture it but think one is present in the home, consider using the rumpled cloth or glue trap techniques described in the Trapping section that follows. Unless you are skilled at snake identification, treat all snakes as if they were venomous and avoid contact with the head.
Attract snakes for capture by placing rumpled damp cloths (example: burlap bag) on the floor near a place the snake is likely to be. Cover it with a dry one. The rumples provide spaces for snakes to enter under the cloth. The cloths are attractive to snakes because they provide a cool, damp, dark place for them to hide. You will probably find them curled up in the cloth later. Remove the snake or place the pile of cloths in a large box and carry it outside.
You can also capture snakes using rodent glue boards. Remove and release captured snakes unharmed by pouring common cooking oil on them. The oil breaks down the glue, then you can remove the snakes with a stick or a pole.
One glue board arrangement will capture snakes up to 5 to 6 feet long. Use a 1/4-inch plywood board about 16 x 24 inches. Tack or glue two to four rodent glue traps (or use bulk glue) along one side and drill a hole with a 3/4-inch diameter in an opposite corner. Insert a pole with a hook on the end into the hole to remove the board and snake. You may need to trim the edges of plastic-tray type glue traps to provide a flat surface.
Place the board against an open section of wall where the snake is likely to travel but where it is away from pipes or other objects the snake might use for leverage to escape. Use glue boards only indoors or under outdoor structures. Ensure that children, pets, or wild animals cannot reach them. Despite the aid of cooking oil, the glue is messy and difficult to remove from animals.
Current trap designs generally are impractical for removing or discouraging snakes outdoors or around homes. A simple field-research method uses boards (example: 1 to 2 feet square) placed on the ground surface. Check under boards periodically for snakes because they hide under boards for suitable shelter. In backyards, boards may actually improve snakes� habitat, attracting rather than repelling them.
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