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I was surprised when I recently spotted a snake in my yard. Aren't they most active in the fall?
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Utah snakes are active in both spring and fall, but have been surprisingly active this spring. The unsettled weather forces snakes emerging from hibernation into homes and other dwellings as they attempt to escape unseasonably cold temperatures. The following is one of many recent snake encounters.
Corrine had just returned home from delivering freshly baked bread to the neighbors. The oven door was slightly ajar to dissipate heat from the oven. As she approached the oven to close the door, she noticed movement. Upon closer investigation, she came face to face with a 16-inch garter snake. Neither she nor the snake expected the encounter, however, Corrine was the only one screaming.
Snakes are probably the most feared and misunderstood creatures known. Utah is home to 27 species of snakes. Of these, 23 are non-venomous. Because of this, chances are high that when Utahns encounter a snake, it will be non-venomous. The most common non-venomous snakes in Utah are three species of garter snakes commonly referred to as water snakes (although Utah has no true water snakes), the rubber boa and gopher or bullsnake.
Snakes are reptiles and are considered cold-blooded, which means they maintain body temperatures approximately equal to that of their environment. When environmental temperatures drop below 50 F, snakes seek shelter in areas where the temperatures are maintained above freezing. Suitable shelters may be found under rocks or rock piles, in holes, below ground, in or under tree stumps, wood piles, debris or man-made structures. These locations may be used for temporary shelter or for winter hibernation. Some snakes will use the same sites as dens year after year for hibernation. Several hundred snakes may also occupy the same denning sites. This is when problems can occur.
Non-venomous snakes cause no direct damage to humans, structures or pets. They actually assist in controlling local insect and rodent populations. Some non-venomous snakes eat other snakes, even venomous ones. Occasionally, snakes enter buildings and other structures for shelter or food. To reduce these encounters, consider the following tips.
The best way to reduce problems with snakes is to make the area unattractive to them. Snakes require food and shelter, and if these are not available, they will not be attracted to the area. Keep lawns cut, weeds and vegetation thinned and remove wood, rock and debris piles. Removing these and other potential snake or rodent hiding places will also help reduce food supplies.
Snakes may enter buildings in search of food and shelter. The best way to exclude them from buildings is to close possible entrances. To do this, check the foundation for cracks and openings larger than one-fourth inch, and fill these openings with caulk or concrete mortar. Metal screen or hardware cloth can also be used to close these openings. Pay special attention to areas where pipes or wires enter the building. Check around doors and windows for openings and make repairs. Consider using screens around doors and windows to reduce the chance that a snake may enter through these areas. These modifications can also help exclude rodents and insects.
Consider exclusion methods when building a new home. Also consider site location when building. If you build near a permanent water source such as a river, stream, lake, pond or wetlands, you will increase your chances of non-venomous snake encounters. Consider snake habitat and food requirements when landscaping.
If snakes continue to frequent an area after modifying the habitat, it may become necessary to trap and remove them. Keep in mind that snakes are protected in Utah and that they should not be killed without proper cause. The best way to remove snakes from buildings is to use long capture tongs, a pole or a stick, then place the snake in a container for removal. It is not recommended to capture snakes by hand.
A pile of damp burlap bags can be used to attract and assist in removing snakes from an enclosed area. Place the pile of bags in a cool, dark place and cover it with a dry bag to keep the other bags damp. Snakes will be attracted to this area to escape the heat of the day. Remove the bags and snake(s) with a large flat shovel in the middle of the day when snakes are more likely to be inside.
Glue boards may be used to capture and remove snakes. Attach three or four rat-size glue boards to a piece of plywood (16 x 24 inches) or staple them together. Since snakes generally move along walls, place the glue boards along an inside wall or along the foundation. When a snake slithers along the glue board, it will become attached and the glue board can be removed. To avoid close contact with an agitated snake or if you are squeamish about getting too close, consider fastening a wood extension handle to the glue board plywood base before placing the trap. To release a snake caught in a glue board, take it to a suitable area, place the glue board flat on the ground, and pour vegetable oil on the snake. The vegetable oil will reduce the tackiness of the glue, allowing the snake to free itself.
Contact your local county Extension office to receive a copy of Extension bulletin WD-007 ANon-venomous Snakes,” or contact Terry Messmer at 435-797-3975 for further information.
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