How to Get Rid of Snakes
16–18 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
For many homeowners, the sight of a snake is among the scariest of all pests. Whether a snake is venomous or not is almost beside the point, as many people suffer from ophidiophobia – the abnormal fear of snakes.
Given that it’s difficult for homeowners to easily identify venomous from non-venomous snakes, it’s better to call for professional pest control when you encounter a snake near your home. Let’s first speak to the most common non-venomous species:
Most of these are harmless, but some have a mild venom which cannot harm humans. Garter snakes will stay near water sources and are most often seen near marshes, gardens, and meadows. This species also has a sense of timing, being the first to emerge from brumation (a slowing of metabolism during winter) and the first to mate. The garter snake will move about during daytime to scout for prey such as frog, fish, salamanders, and even birds.
How To Identify:
The most common snake in North America
Adults range from 15-36 inches
Found from Canada to Florida and throughout the eastern U.S.
Females are often 50 percent larger than males
Typically yellow to pale green with a stripe of tan, yellow, or orange
Spends winter in logs, tree stumps, rock piles, and even spaces under roads and buildings
While non-venomous, these snakes are easily mistaken for the poisonous water moccasin (or cottonmouth). As the name implies, you’ll find it near a body of water – a favorite location from which to feed on fish, frogs, toads, and salamanders. This species is characterized by its narrower, rounder head and a slender body. Unfortunately, water snakes will act aggressively when approached.
How To Identify:
Most often seen in the southern and eastern U.S.
Adults may reach lengths of nearly 5 feet
Females are heavier and longer than males
Colors range from brown to gray to olive green
Looks are deceiving with gopher snakes since they appear menacing and even resemble rattlesnakes – but are actually non-venomous. Yet their loud hiss and vibrating tail makes them even harder to tell apart from a rattlesnake. Fortunately, their favorite homesites are not densely populated with humans. Gopher snakes live in forests, desert areas, prairies, rocky bluffs, and thickets. Their name comes from their taste for gophers (their preferred prey), though they also eat foxes and coyotes.
How To Identify:
Often seen in the Midwest and western states and as far south as West Texas
Grows to between three and eight feet
Cream to light brownish in color
Active during daytime, but often found in underground burrows
Common Venomous Snakes
Each species below is a member of the pit viper family, meaning these snakes have heat-sensing pits between the eye and nostril on each side of the head. These pits are used to sense changes in temperature, which typically leads to prey. All pit vipers are also notable for their triangular heads, thick bodies, and ridge-like scales. Again, it’s best to call for pest control if you find one on your property.
As a member of the pit viper family (which includes water moccasins and copperheads), their name owes to the distinctive sound made by the “rattle” at the end of their tails – a sound that can be startling. Despite their ominous sound, rattlesnakes are not usually aggressive and would prefer to stay away from people and larger animals.
How To Identify:
Average adults range from three to four feet
More than 30 known species
Most abundant in desert areas of the Southwest but also occasionally seen in swamps of the Southeast
Colors include brown, gray and black, cream, and yellow
Bites are dangerous to humans and should be treated immediately
Water Moccasin (“Cottonmouth”)
Though this species is North America’s only venomous water snake, it is not aggressive and only bites when threatened. It’s also an active snake year-round, moving about during the day and night, especially in the summer. A water moccasin’s favored prey includes fish, small mammals, birds, and other reptiles.
How To Identify:
Adults range from two to four feet in length
Seen in southeastern U.S., from southern Virginia to eastern Texas
Native to swamps, marshes, ditches, and near ponds, lakes, and streams
Body colors range from dark brown to black to olive
Bites are dangerous to humans
This member of the venomous pit viper family gets its name from its coppery red head. This species can pose a challenge because its habitats can vary widely, from wooded areas to suburban settings. In fact, copperheads will be comfortable is almost any space with an abundance of both sunlight and cover. Of the pit vipers, this is the variety most likely to bite.
How To Identify:
Average two to three feet in length
Dens have been seen from northeastern states south to West Texas
May seek out woodpiles, abandoned farm buildings, junkyards, and the like
Bites are moderately dangerous to humans
Gather the Tools You’ll Need
a good flashlight
Step 1. Know a Snake’s Habits
Because snakes are cold-blooded, they will always seek a location that offers warmth, moisture, and a food source. In other words, they look for a homesite of convenience with a plentiful number of rodents nearby. As disturbing as snakes may be to homeowners, they are not known to cause any damage to homes or structures.
Step 2. Know Where to Look
A shed snakeskin seen on or near your property means you should check the area. But proceed with caution: You’ll need protective clothing, a flashlight, and snake tongs so you can manage a live serpent (if you spot one) from a distance. You should probe outdoor areas such as:
- Yard debris
- Tall grasses and shrubs
- Under storage buildings or sheds
- Piles of wood
- Tree branches or limbs that reach your roof
If you find a snakeskin indoors, your search will change as snakes are skilled at hiding in small spaces. Snakes are capable climbers, and you’ll need to examine locations in your home such as:
- Near heat sources and water pipes
- Piles of clothing and/or boxes
- Wall ledges and rafters
- Near and behind appliances
- Small cracks or openings near doors and windows
Step 3. Consider Exclusion or Elimination
Because most homeowners don’t have experience with snakes and may not know the differences between species, it is recommended that you consult a pest control professional for advice about protecting your property and removing any potential habitats. A professional can also explain whether your state has laws pertaining to the proper exclusion of certain snakes.
Weather and Snakes
As mentioned, snakes are cold-blooded creatures and seek opportunities to conserve warmth. Some species hibernate, while others engage in brumation during winter. This simply means that their metabolism slows dramatically and they’re far less active. Snakes will attempt to eat more prior to brumation so they can survive the winter. Thinner snakes, however, may not survive the season.
Spring temperatures signal an end to both hibernation and brumation, and snakes look to sun themselves and begin mating behavior. In fact, some types will pursue a mate immediately upon the onset of warmer climates.
Snakes can be a huge fear for many people, and seeing one in your yard is likely to give anyone a fright. Luckily, snakes aren’t common pests. If you do see them on your property, it’s likely that it isn’t venomous and is simply passing through. It could even be helpful at removing rodents and other pests that can damage your plants and make their way inside your home. The main problem, however, is that they’re so successful at hiding that they can easily be stepped on by pets or children — a surefire way to be bitten.
It’s always best to leave a snake alone until you have the proper equipment and knowledge for removing them from your home or yard. Before beginning any treatment, make sure you’ve successfully inspected and identified the species of snake you’re dealing with and have found out if they’re poisonous or not. Afterwards, you can use regular preventative measures and understand how to get rid of a snake problem when you first notice any signs of one.
Snakes love to hide so that they can easily sneak up on prey and catch them. To prevent them from settling into your yard and home, there are several steps you can take to make your yard inhospitable for them and eliminate most of the hiding spots that they seek out:
- Clean Up Your Yard. Take the time to eliminate debris, trash and vegetation that builds up on your lawn. It’s best to rake regularly and never leave piles of leaves or branches sitting out. This also goes for toys, decorations and even rocks.
- Trim Your Trees and Shrubs. Don’t let your trees, bushes and shrubs become overgrown. Not only will they provide the perfect cover for snakes, but they’ll also create an ideal environment that insects like mosquitoes and roaches thrive in.
- Keep Your Grass Short. An overgrown yard can be unsightly, so it’s a constant reminder of when you need to be mowing the grass. This step is also especially important if you have pets and children, because snakes love to hide in tall grass. If they go unseen in the middle of your yard, they’re much more likely to be stepped on, and this will aggravate them and cause them to bite.
- Eliminate Moisture. In addition to the hiding spaces that backyards provide, they also tend to offer the perfect climate for snakes – cool and damp. There can be so many holes and objects in your yard that retain water, and these are all appealing to snakes. After it rains, check to see where water is pooling. Fill in any divots or holes in your yard as best as you can, and take the time to drain bird houses and flower pots that might still contain rainwater. Cleaning up your yard goes hand in hand with this step, because you’ll also be able to remove the debris that tends to soak up moisture and retain it.
- Mulch. In the areas where you already mulch around your house, you can switch to using sharper materials like rock chips and crushed up pine cones. Snakes won’t want to move over these materials, so they’ll act as a deterrent.
Treat Your Property for Rodents
Rodents are snakes’ food source, so keeping those out of your yard and home will in turn keep most snakes away. If there isn’t any food available on your property, they’re likely to just pass through and continue searching for their next meal. If you’ve seen mice, rats or any other critters, turn your efforts toward eliminating them before continuing on with snake treatments. Even if you eliminate snakes, they’ll always keep coming back if your home remains a free buffet for them.
Again, keep in mind that a snake here or there can actually help keep out rodents. If you aren’t experiencing an infestation with either animal, it can be best to leave them be and let nature run its course.
Keep Your Home Closed Off
Snakes in your yard is one thing, but having them come inside your home could turn into a whole other nightmare. Take some necessary steps to close off any entrances to your home so that snakes making their way inside isn’t even an option.
- Inspect your house for cracks and crevices, and take note if the spaces around your doors and windows are bigger than they should be. Also pay special attention to drains, vents and crawl spaces – these can have openings around them or might simply need a fitted screen on top to eliminate it as an entryway.
- Seal up any small openings that you’re worried about with caulk, expandable foam, or rubber sealants like weatherstripping. This will help remove possible hiding places for snakes.
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If you’ve already started seeing snakes coming around your property, the best way to prevent an infestation is to start making your property less and less appealing to them. There are a multitude of repellents you can buy at the store, and these usually come in granular or liquid spray form. They contain chemicals that emit an odor snakes hate, so they don’t try to go anywhere near them. You may also find nontoxic snake repellents on the market that are safe to use near pets and children.
There are certain plants that snakes seem to hate the smell of, so they’re a great option to use especially if you’re finding snakes in and around your garden. These include marigold, garlic and lemongrass. Some of these plants also have repelling properties for insects like mosquitoes.
Similar to the reason why plants can deter snakes, there are some types of essential oils that snakes can’t stand the smell of. These are a great natural snake repellent to use close to your home since they’re also non-toxic. Some of the oils that have been proven to repel snakes include cinnamon oil, clove oil and eugenol.
DIY Essential Oil Spray
10 drops of the essential oil of your choice
1 cup of water
Multiply the essential oil recipe as needed and combine the solution into a spray bottle. The oil will separate from the water, so be sure to shake the bottle before each use.
You can even use the spray directly on snakes to cause them to flee, but it isn’t encouraged to deal with a snake in close proximity if you aren’t sure whether or not it’s venomous. If you know there are certain areas where snakes congregate around your home, you can also soak a piece of cloth, cotton ball or cotton-tipped swab with the solution and place it in the area. This will concentrate the smell and make it even worse for the snakes.
Find out what some of the best snake deterrents on the market are.
There are some snake traps on the market that you can easily get at the store and set up in your yard to remove snakes if you’re dealing with a large problem. These traps have different designs, but they usually all operate by luring the snake in with appealing chemical scents and then trapping them inside mechanically or with glue. Some traps will kill snakes, while others trap the snakes live and allow for you to release it elsewhere. But even if you’re using a glue trap, the snake can be released by pouring oil into the trap. This coats the glue and allows the snake to slip out. If you’re using a kill trap, be sure to research the types of snakes you’re trapping and if there are any laws that apply to them. Some native and endangered snakes are protected by law and it’s illegal to kill or even harm them.
Traps aren’t an encouraged method for treatment because they may require you to come into contact with the snake when you’re releasing it. Furthermore, the chemicals used won’t lure in other animals, but curious pets can very easily get into the trap as well. Snake traps also require that you know where you can legally release the snake. Depending on the species, it could also be illegal to move it to another area without contacting professional help.
Before purchasing a snake trap, be sure you’ve identified the snake successfully and thoroughly read any instructions so that you know what to do. You may even want to contact a professional to double-check that you’re doing everything correctly and that you know where the snake can be released
Snake fences are one of the most laborious and costly methods for treatment, but they’re one of the most effective. It’s recommended to look into a snake fence if you live in an area with many snakes and you own children and pets, or you know of a nearby infestation. Even though it may be expensive, a snake fence is a great investment because it’ll keep out snakes as long as you’re keeping up with the fence’s maintenance, and you won’t have to worry about any other treatment.
Snake fences can be made out of wood, vinyl, plastic mesh or fabric, steel mesh, or catch net fencing. Regardless of which material you decide to use, your snake fence will need to meet the following requirements:
- It must reach 6 inches into the ground.
- It must completely surround the perimeter of your property.
- If it’s made out of mesh material, it needs to be less than a quarter inch.
- The fence needs to be unclimbable. This could be ensured with the material that you use, or by making sure to slant the fence outward at a 30-degree angle.
The only thing your fence doesn’t need to be is very high, but if you’d like to double its use as a privacy fence, you might as well invest in more material.
Removing a snake yourself isn’t encouraged. Especially if you don’t know the species you’re dealing with, it’s best to contact a wildlife control expert who will come with the proper tools and expertise to take the snake elsewhere. But if you have identified the snake as safe and know that it isn’t a threat, there are some steps you can take to cautiously remove it from your property:
- Before you begin any type of physical removal with a snake, make sure you’re wearing long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a thick pair of gloves as well. Even if a snake isn’t venomous, it’s best to take all of the necessary precautions for avoiding snake bites.
- If you’re only dealing with a single snake, you can simply sweep it away to a different area. This is a simple solution if you feel the snake is getting too close to your home or if it’s sitting in an area too close to you, such as if you’re trying to garden or work inside a garage or shed.
- If there’s a larger snake on your property that looks like it could pose a problem for your family, you can purchase a snake tong to move it away outside the perimeter of your property. The tongs allow you to pick up the snake while maintaining your distance, so you’ll still be safe if the snake begins to struggle.
With the tongs, you should grab the snake about 1/3 of the way down its body – not too close to its head nor its tail. Too close to the head can be harmful to the snake, and closer to the tail will give it the room it needs to bite you. Once you have a secure grasp of it, slowly lift it up but don’t take it completely off of the ground. Instead, drag it away toward wherever you’ve decided to move it.
With this method, the snake can easily just slither back into your yard, so you’ll want to use some type of repellent as well.
Snakes that are deemed invasive may need to be taken somewhere specific, and there are also laws protecting endangered and native snakes that determine how they’re dealt with.
Immediately notify a professional wildlife or pest control expert is if you begin noticing even one of the following signs of an infestation:
- More than one snake. They don’t live in colonies, but if you see a snake and smaller, younger ones, you’ll know that its eggs have hatched on your property.
- Snake skins
- Evidence of a nest or eggs
Even if you do feel you can successfully remove a snake on your own, always contact a professional or do the research necessary to find out what to do with a certain species. Snakes that are deemed invasive may need to be taken somewhere specific, and there are also laws protecting endangered and native snakes that determine how they’re dealt with.
If you can’t positively identify a snake on your property, call a professional if you believe it’s posing a threat to the safety of your family. Otherwise, a single snake will often move on within a day and isn’t going to cause any damage to you or your yard. If you have identified non-venomous snakes, you can usually treat it on your own if it isn’t known as dangerous or threatening. Any poisonous snakes you see should always be reported to professionals so they can deal with it in the best way possible and make sure you’re out of harm’s way.
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