The Wild Side: Keep snakes at bay
A while back I wrote a column about snakes. In that article, I said I would write another column about snake exclusion. I waited until now because mid-June should be the time when young snakes hatch and leave the nest, so exclusion measures won’t result in trapping young snakes.
Why is that important? Well, because snakes are an important part of the ecosystem. Also, because they will keep trying until they do find a way out, and you may not like the result. When I was working for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, I lived in a suburb of Kansas City. One spring day, I opened the outside door to the back yard, and baby garter snakes rained down on me. They slithered in all directions, some going outside, some moving into the laundry room. Thank goodness my wife wasn’t home! I managed to chase down all but one, which got under the bathtub. I didn’t tell her about that one.
How did THAT happen? Let me tell you, I like snakes, but this really startled me-not one of my manlier moments. The door had a kind of weather strip that was basically felt-faced bent metal that compressed when the door was closed. The snakes must have been under the back stoop, and when they hatched, they wriggled their way up and out, but got into the door jamb and weather strip, and kept going until they were stuck overhead. When I opened the door, the weather strip opened up, and the snakes dropped.
Kansas has lots of snakes, even right in town. It was clear that I needed to do some snakeproofing, because my wife hates snakes. The grass came right up to the siding and the stoop; I trimmed it all down to bare dirt. Then I put some angular decorative rock on either side of the stoop. I changed the weatherstrip, and caulked all the openings I could find.
Wisconsin DNR’s Bureau of Endangered Resources put together a great reference document for frequent questions about snakes, available on the DNR website. It states snakes typically occupy the foundations/basements of homes because these locations are being used for winter hibernation. Snakes are usually attracted to home foundations/basements if the house is new and built on the site of an existing hibernaculum, the house is old and the foundation has been traditionally used by snakes as a hibernaculum for many years, or a nearby existing hibernaculum was destroyed. Excluding snakes could be difficult in these situations. However, mid-summer would be the best time to attempt exclusion. I would crawl into the crawlspace on a sunny day, because daylight helps you see gaps from the inside. Make certain there are no snakes in present company, because you don’t want to trap them inside. Identify any gaps or openings and seal them.
Snakes are attracted to areas that provide lots of food and places to hide. If you have a lot of rabbits, field mice and chipmunks, you have snake food. To reduce the likelihood of snakes in your yard, you must make your property unattractive to them.
• Do not feed birds or other wildlife near your house.The feed or seed birds spill attracts rodents, a primary food source of many snake species.
• Remove brushpiles, woodpiles, junk piles, compost heaps and old foundations from your property. Snakes and their prey use these as cover and will be attracted to them.
• Keep vegetation well-manicured (including gardens). Overgrown shrubs, bushes, grass, vegetables, etc., attract snakes and their prey by creating cover for them.
In a future column, I will tell you how to build a hibernaculum to benefit snakes and other animals.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR in Rhinelander, and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.