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Snakes

A lot of people are absolutely terrified of snakes.  Thankfully, we have some really great wildlife specialists at the Hotline that absolutely adore these critters, and are very good at talking the rest of us down from a tree when we see a snake.  The Midwest is home to many snakes, but very few of them are venomous, making the majority of them completely harmless to people and pets.  In general, if you wish to avoid encounters with these scaly critters, follow these rules for the best results:

-Learn your snakes!  It doesn’t take much time to look through some photos, and once you do it, you’ll feel much more comfortable on your next hike.  If you love to hike, camp out, fish, hunt, walk the dog on long treks, you need to brush up on your snakes.  It’s better to learn it now than to end up trying to look up a snake description on your iphone in the middle of a national park after being bit!  Missouri & Illinois, with its variety of wildlife habitats, is home to a total of 51 different species and subspecies of snakes. The majority (88%) of our snakes are harmless.

Things You Should Know

-Stay away from areas where you may see more snakes – wet, muddy areas, and swampy areas are hot spots for venomous snakes.  Other harmless snakes tend to hang out in brush piles, tall grasses, and dark corners of sheds, garages, etc.

-When doing yard work or gardening, never stick your hand or foot under a rock, paver-stone, hedge, without *looking* first.  Use your ears before you use your hands and you’ll have better luck in keeping your hands bite free.  This goes doubly when you plan to SIT on a rock or ledge.  Check around before sitting!

-If you are planning to walk through a marshy area, or tall grasses and brush, wear jeans and boots – preferably heavy rubber boots or thick leather.  

-Don’t act sneaky while walking.  You don’t want to sneak up on a snake.  It’s much better for him to SEE or HEAR you coming.

-If you see/find a snake, don’t stand over it trying to see it’s markings to figure out what kind it is.  If you don’t immediately recognize what type of snake it is, don’t mess with it – just stay away.  Looming over a snake isn’t a good idea for you or the snake.

-Forget everything that you have been told about snakes in the past.  People think if a snake doesn’t have a triangular head it isn’t venomous, but this is deceiving in the wild, where non-venomous snakes ”pretend” to be venomous.  You may have been told that a  poisonous snake has eyes that are vertical like a cat’s, but that is deceiving here as well.  Only in the best of light will you be able to tell for sure if a snake has vertical or horizontal pupils, and until you know, you shouldn’t be that close to it!  

How To Catch A Snake

Whenever possible, leave the snakes be!  People most often get bitten when they are trying to catch snakes or kill them (or the snake thinks they are).   If you can, leave them alone. You are bigger than they are, and they think you want to eat them. They will defend themselves, and they can’t just tell you to go away. Even if you are a little put off by snakes, back up and let them go their way. You can end the day with a story to tell, and the snake can live to do its job.

If you must catch and relocate a snake, there is a simple, effective way to do so.  Some warnings first though; Make sure that you know what KIND of snake it is and that it is not venomous before going anywhere near it.  Also, try to find where the snake got into your shed, garage, house, etc. before removing it.  A snake can be removed from a building, and placed right outside the door of the building.  It doesn’t need to be moved miles and miles away.  In fact we prefer that they are not moved very far.  But if you don’t repair the ‘door’ the snake was using to get into the building you don’t want him in, he will go right back in when you turn your back.  Remember, animals are attracted to food and habitat.  Snakes are following their prey – usually mice and rats are first choice.  If you’re having a snake problem, it is a good idea to start trying to eliminate rodents from your property to encourage the snake to move on.  Make sure your bird feeders aren’t pouring seed onto the ground, your trash cans are secure, and that there aren’t any areas nearby that might be a haven for rodents.  Once the food is gone, it will be much easier to STAY snake free.  With all of those things considered, you’re ready to catch a snake.  The simplest way to do so is to take a trash can and lay it on the ground on its side.  The trash can should be clean, with no bag in it.  It doesn’t matter if it is plastic or metal, but we would like for it to have a lid.  Use a broom to sweep the snake into the trash can.  The broom should keep your limbs far from striking distance of the snake.  If in doubt, call us at the hotline and we can find an expert near you.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry, just like your Mother told you.

We found snakes in our home, yard, shed, garage.

By getting rid of what makes them happy. If there is good habitat, such as a woodpile, rock pile or tall grass, get rid of it.  Piles of boards, fence posts, dump heaps, slabs of roofing paper, scrap corrugated steel roofing, burlap, slabs of bark and piles of rocks provide hiding places for snakes and the food they eat.  Inspect foundations, doors and low windows to make sure there are no openings where snakes might enter.  If there are mice or other foods, get rid of them. We often hear, “but I don’t see any mice.” Ahhh, maybe you aren’t seeing them cause the snake has been taking care of them. And that brings up a good point: snakes are really good exterminators. They have an important role in our world, keeping mice, rabbits and other small animals in check.  We recommend that any harmless snake encountered be captured with a hoe or stick and released unharmed in an isolated, safe habitat.

Poisonous Snakes

All venomous snakes native to Missouri are members of the pit viper family. Pit vipers have a characteristic pit located between the eye and nostril on each side of the head. Their pupils are elliptical in shape and they have a pair of well developed fangs. Our venomous species all have a single row of scales along the underside of the tail. Many people insist on using the “triangular shape” of the head to determine whether a snake is dangerous or harmless. Although the venomous snakes have a somewhat triangle shaped head, several harmless species, like the water snake, garter snakes and hognose snakes, can and do flatten their head and cause them to appear triangular in shape. Harmless snakes lack the sensory pit and fangs. They have round pupils and a double row of scales along the underside of their tail.

The venomous snakes found in Missouri & Illinois include: the Osage and southern copperhead, cottonmouth, western pygmy rattlesnake, massasauga rattlesnake and timber rattlesnake. The diamondback rattlesnake and coral snake are not found in Missouri. The most common venomous snake in Missouri is the copperhead. There is no record of a human death caused by a copperhead bite in this state.

Copperhead Snake

Missouri’s most common venomous snake is vital to the natural scene, rarely bites and never kills. It is deadly only to very small prey animals, mainly lizards, frogs, cicadas and mice. Get to know and live peacefully with copperheads and other snakes.For more information on the snakes of Missouri and Illinois, try these web sites.
Illinois Wildlife Snake Page
Missouri Department of Conservation Snake Document