Does the sight of a snake slithering through the grass raise the hairs on your neck? If so, you’re not alone. Fear of snakes is incredibly common. Unfortunately, snakes are an important part of the ecosystem and can be found almost everywhere except Ireland, Greenland, Hawaii, Iceland, and New Zealand. These islands do not have any native snakes. St. Patrick was said to have banished snakes from Ireland thousands of years ago, but according to National Geographic, it was because of the early end of the land bridge to Ireland. If you don’t live on one of these islands, chances are you will encounter at least a few snakes, especially if you have a yard or a pond.
Ponds create a balanced ecosystem that attracts wildlife, especially when naturally maintained. A pond could be home to fish, turtles, snails, and be the local watering hole for many different animals like rabbits and deer. If you live in an area that is suffering from a drought, your pond could be the only natural water source for miles. This ecosystem created by your pond could attract snakes around your home. The majority of snakes are nonvenomous and can even help keep unwanted animal populations under control.
Some snakes enjoy swimming and may call your pond home. Black rat snake, corn snake, garter snake, and the northern water snake are common in North America. While your big koi are typically safe from snakes, you may have to worry about your smaller fish. During the day, water snakes hide in plants placed near the edge of the pond and hunt for small critters like fish, frogs, salamanders, and mice to snack on. You may find some basking on the rocks near the pond, or burrowed in the mulch to escape the heat. At night, they look for sleeping minnows and other small fish sleeping in the shallow water.
You will rarely see a snake during the winter time. They can not produce their own body heat, so they need to bask in the sun or borrow in warm places. When the weather turns cold, they stop hunting and take shelter beneath the frozen ground for the winter. During the spring, they come back into the sunlight, ready to eat and breed. They can be a little more bold at this time, caring less if they are seen.
Most of the snakes you’ll find around your pond are non venomous, and are vital to keeping unwanted animal populations in check. Snakes can get a bad reputation, and non venomous snakes are often killed when spotted in a backyard. You should not attempt to kill a snake on your own without a good reason. The majority of snake bites occur from people trying to kill or trap venomous snakes on their own. Snakes do not strike unless they feel threatened or confronted.
If you spot a snake in your yard, the first step should be identification. You can find a great visual guide to snakes here. Most venomous snakes have triangular shaped heads, thick bodies, elongated pupils that look like a cat’s, and swim with their entire bodies on the surface of the water. Nonvenomous snakes typically have rounder heads, slimmer bodies, round pupils, and mainly swim with just their heads out of the water. If you aren’t sure if a snake is dangerous or not, you can call your local university extension office or wildlife service and describe the snake’s color, scale pattern, and where you found it.
If you find a venomous snake in your yard, you can call local animal control to come and remove and relocate it. Make sure to keep all children and pets away from the snake and keep your eye on it from a distance. Snakes will strike when threatened, so you should not approach the snake or attempt to trap or kill it. Rattlesnakes can strike from a distance of 1/2 to 2/3 of it’s body length. Even nonvenomous snakes should be left alone and unprovoked. These harmless snakes can still bite and leave a mark. They typically will not bite without being threatened.
There are also natural solutions to help repel snakes from entering your yard. Several plants repel snakes with their aroma and also have beautiful blooms that you will be able to enjoy. Common plants suggested to repel snakes are marigolds, pink agapanthus, sarpagandha, lemon grass, wormwood, and mother-in-laws tongue is said to deter snake based on their appearance. Find which of these plants will grow most naturally in your area and plant them into the perimeter of your yard or the area you would not like snakes. Remember this solution will only affect the area that is completely surrounded by these plants.
Most snakes are more “creepy” than they are dangerous. Thanks to modern technology and the availability of antivenom, snake bites are rarely fatal. Nonvenomous snakes are actually a healthy part of your yard’s balanced ecosystem. We need snakes, but should still be careful around them. Always check your shoes and boots before putting them on (if kept outside or on the patio). Turn them upside down and shake to make sure there are no snakes, scorpions, and spiders. Make sure your house doesn’t have any openings for snakes to slither in. Patch up any holes or tears in screens and fencing, and do not leave outside doors open. Keep your lawn trimmed and scan areas before walking. Next time you see a non venomous snake, take a deep breath and appreciate your balanced ecosystem!