Starting with the Christmas decorations started for some people as early as Halloween (you know who you are) and have been popping up throughout November. Most people hold off until after Thanksgiving, however, and we notice some trends.
This period, where homeowners dig into that pile of stuff in the back of the garage that hasn’t been touched since last year, is when we get calls for rattlesnakes. It happens every year, quite often actually, and this year will be no different. Yes, we are open on Thanksgiving and the day after, because our snake relocation call-records show that we need to be.
It’s not a major concern, but it’s definitely something every homeowner living in places where rattlesnakes can be found should be aware of as you start grabbing dusty boxes. Those places we don’t get to very often, where that plastic Christmas tree is stored next to boxes of decorations and old yearbooks, are ideal spots for a young rattlesnake to spend its first winter.
Rattlesnakes tend to not be found inside the boxes as much as alongside or behind them, usually along the wall or in the corners. If you have storage that takes up an entire side, from back to the corner by the garage door, that is a more preferable location for rattlesnakes to use.
We have found rattlesnakes inside the boxes, too. Usually, this happens when cardboard boxes develop splits in them at the base, or are laid sideways so there is easy access. Rattlesnakes can and do climb up into shelves and places off the ground, but it’s not as common as other situations that are on the ground. The point is – they could be anywhere in that stored stuff, so be aware of hand placement.
Usually, the rattlesnakes we find in garages are small, yearlings or younger. These little guys have not yet worked out a stable home range, and surviving their first winter is a matter of finding a spot that will do the job, often without being a really great spot. Garages, especially in newly-developed areas, are perfect.
We do get congregations of adults as well, but this is usually the result of a multi-year situation. If you’ve moved into a home that was vacant for years, or have that spot where stored items have not been moved for several years, this could be a possibility. It’s rare, however.
To make the annual fake-tree drag out as safe as it can be:
Never reach into areas where you can’t see clearly. Use a flashlight to check before putting hands into any dark area.
Start early in the morning when it’s coldest out – any rattlesnakes that could be present will be less likely to react
Use plastic totes when possible instead of cardboard
If you see a snake, you’ll want to have it relocated properly (so it does not return) and have the rest of the garage searched as well
Change the location of stored items each year if possible
Add shelves to store items up off the ground and create a space greater than 10″ (or so)
Have the garage sealed and make sure it is in good condition
Always keep the garage door closed when not in use during den ingress times (Late September through Mid-November).
Even in rattlesnake-heavy areas, all things being equal – some houses are much more prone to snake encounters than others.
Based on 8,000+ call records to our 24/7 rattlesnake removal hotline, some minor differences in the placement and features around your home can make a huge difference … and unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it.
The biggest of these environmental factors is just the placement of your home. Many residential developments share a block wall behind rows of houses, with the end being open as drainage or access. In this incredibly common situation, the homes found at the end of the block wall will likely see many more snakes than other houses on the street.
These block walls also help provide shade, and brush and debris often accumulate here as well. Some communities even edge these walls with piles of rock, which makes a very enticing situation for snakes and their prey.
Think of that wall as a funnel. Snakes (and other animals) traveling through the area can’t climb over it and are forced to go one way or the other. At the end of the wall, the first home “catches” any snake first. They either continue around the wall to the backyard or keep moving straight. For this reason, snakes are more often found in the yards of the first home, and the second home to a lesser degree.
After the second home, the chances of rattlesnakes in the yard tends to decline rapidly. A rattlesnake found at the 4th or 5th home in line had to first travel through multiple yards and pass up whichever opportunities are present.
I live on the corner! What can I do about it?
The first thing you can do is to make it so that when a rattlesnake does come around that wall, it won’t find anything that will make it want to stay. Get familiar with our guide to keeping your yard snake-free, and don’t be afraid to go a little bit overboard. Anything that you can do to deny resources, food, water, shelter, and access will help the snakes keep moving down the street (sorry, neighbors).
This is also why it’s extremely important if you are considering rattlesnake fence installation for your home, that the side gates are properly secured. Even with low view fencing in the back, rattlesnakes are just as likely to just come through the front gate, where they can get “stuck” in the yard. (this is the reason why rattlesnake fence installation is an “all or nothing” solution – anything less is just a snake trap).
Consider keeping the trash cans in the garage instead of in the side-yard, if the side-yard is on the side of the property bordering the opening. Our rattlesnake removal team has removed countless rattlesnakes from this exact situation. The less cover, the better.
If the edges of the property are lined with deep rock piles, as is often the case in newer communities around the valley, your chances of seeing a snake just went up. Do everything you can to prevent bushes and weeds from growing around the edges, along the wall, and create an open space between the wall and the open desert behind it. Much of this is likely managed by the HOA, so be sure to mention to them that you are concerned for your safety and provide reasoning, and you may be given permission (or they will do it).
One of the biggest questions we get each November, when homeowners are surprised that snakes keep showing up in their social media feed: When do snakes go to sleep?
For snakes, that answer can be complicated. Snakes don’t really hibernate in the winter in the sense most of us are familiar with. Instead, they go into a state called brumation. During brumation, snakes live in their dens, but they’ll come out to bask in the sun on pleasant winter days.
Rattlesnakes in the Phoenix and Tucson areas can generally be found at the dens from October through March. When people see them basking outside of their dens, it sends waves of panic through news outlets, who report that snakes are coming out earlier that year. They say the same thing every year, even though snakes emerge right on time.
Their move towards dens (ingress) and out of dens (egress) is prompted by average temperatures, and other factors. If there are a few warm days in January, rattlesnakes might come out to bask and be spotted by people, but they are not starting their spring activity yet. They know not to leave their dens completely before temperatures have stabilized.
What makes a rattlesnake den?
Rattlesnakes choose very specific dens with steady temperatures during the coldest months. In the wild, these include large rock piles and caves with deep access. They know what’s best, even choosing the direction that the entrance faces.
On certain days, you’ll find rattlesnakes outside of their dens, basking in a mixture of shade and sunlight that brings their bodies to a comfortable temperature. They might be under a bush, between rocks or in the corners of a patio. This can be very surprising for homeowners.
Rain, too, can get snakes moving even on the coolest of days. In our area, rain is rare, and a drink is always welcome. A cloudy, drizzly day in the mid 60’s in January is an excellent day to see rattlesnakes on the surface.
If you see one snake between November and March, there may be a higher possibility that more might be denning in the same area. Rattlesnakes can den communally without many territorial problems. If you see a snake in the area during the winter months, it’s important to be very careful and watch for other snakes. In our warm climate, those dens are usually small, with just a few individuals. You’ve probably seen photos online of holes with hundreds of rattlesnakes pouring out of holes in the ground, but that’s not how it looks in Arizona.
Rattlesnakes may return to the same den year after year. This can be interrupted when construction or landscaping changes the area, destroying the den that the snake is trying to find. In that case, the snake will wander to the next best area. Homeowners frequently see rattlesnakes on their properties after construction begins.
What to do in the winter to keep your home rattlesnake free.
If you live in a desert area, it’s still important to watch for snakes in the winter.
Look where you’re walking.
Make sure to check your yard before letting young children play outside.
If you’re having landscaping changed, or if construction begins in your area, keep a watchful eye out for wandering snakes.
If you see a snake, call us at ——-. One of our removal experts can relocate the snake and check your property. Something you may also want to consider is having a Rattlesnake Fence professionally installed in your yard. No matter what, when the snakes “wake up” in early March, you’ll want to be ready for it.
For many homeowners living in rural areas or urban contact zones, snake encounters on the property are a concern. Most of these encounters are harmless, but venomous varieties, such as rattlesnakes, are not at all uncommon. Whether it be due to potential dangers or just because people just don’t like snakes, just how to keep them away is often a matter of debate.
In this article, we’ll cover methods of keeping snakes away that actually work, and which you should avoid. This is based on thousands of snake relocation and encounter records at homes in Arizona, and generally accepted advice and recommendations from qualified biologists and herpetologists across the country. What you will not find here are quips from pest control companies or your ‘interesting’ neighbor. Consider this your be-all guide for keeping snakes away, all based on real situations.
Fortunately, these are methods that can also not cause any harm to local wildlife, even the snakes that you probably dislike if you’re reading this article. Along with actions that will keep snakes away come others that will help you along the path of being ok with the ones that show up anyway.
Note: Because this information is based on our experiences with snake removal and prevention in Arizona, it will be most relevant for the prevention of rattlesnake species within the desert southwest. However, these basic principles can be applied anywhere with snakes in general, though perhaps not as specifically.
If you prefer to watch a recorded presentation that covers all of these topics for homeowners to keep rattlesnakes away:
1. No free lunch – eliminate rodents and other food sources.
Snakes are like other animals in that much of their activity is centered around looking for and obtaining food. For most species of snakes that show up in peoples’ yards, that food is a rodent.
Perhaps the best way to keep snakes away is to keep rodents away. Likewise, if your yard is full of unrestricted rodent holes, you’re more or less inviting snakes into the area. If you want to make an immediate dent in how many snakes may be showing up around your house, get on the pest control situation as soon as possible.
Rodent activity can attract snakes from far away, too. Rodents that may be coming in at night to eat the numerous food sources we as homeowners tend to provide leave scent trails that radiate well beyond the borders of your property. That means a snake crawling 100′ past your fence line could detect the rat that’s been getting into your dog food bin each night, and make a course correction to set up an ambush right outside your doggy door.
Unfortunately, this also means that having a generally higher number of rodents in the neighborhood can mean more snake encounters for everyone, so to a large degree, you may be left at the mercy of your neighbors. If there’s a property on the block that you suspect may be bringing more rodents into the area, do what you can to bring it to the attention to the homeowners.
Sometimes the neighbors bring the problem in.
For example, a home I recently visited to capture a Gophersnake had an immaculate yard free of any rodents. The neighbors’ property, however, where the snake crawled over the wall from, was different. Rows of citrus trees, and the leaves and fruits on the dirt, were attracting rodents from the nearby canal and elsewhere. The result is more snakes for everyone. The yard was otherwise very clean and well-maintained, but some situations create more rodent issues, and consequently snake issues.
Not all snakes eat rodents – some are primarily interested in invertebrates and lizards. Though the causes are different, the same rules apply. The fewer prey items are available, the fewer snakes will be attracted to the area to hunt them.
An abundance of crickets, scorpions, centipedes, ants, and even cockroaches can support a variety of small snakes. These bug-eating snakes, like Groundsnakes and Nightsnakes, also tend to be the species that end up inside of the home, just by their nature. In general, the homes where we are called to retrieve multiple instances of these small snakes also have a high volume of insects. An abundance of bugs also helps support a larger lizard population, and then, of course, the snakes that prefer to eat lizards.
So while no snake is going to come into your yard to go after the dog food left outside, rodents will, and then come the snakes. Attracting rodents is the same as attracting snakes, and should be handled as such.
Many species of snakes (including rattlesnakes) also eat birds. If you live where rattlesnakes do, and have a bird feeder (or for squirrels, etc), expect to see rattlesnakes sitting in ambush at its base at some point. If you take action to invite wildlife to your yard, you should know it is inviting all wildlife to your yard.
Important note: in your effort to rid your yard of rodents, pass on any poison bait or traps that use rodenticide. If you use those products, you’re also killing bobcats, birds of prey, coyotes, and a variety of other natural predators. If your pest control guy says this doesn’t happen, spend a few minutes on Google to learn how wrong that is.
Steps you can do right now to reduce the number of snake-prey in your yard:
Keep dogfood inside, and keep dog poop picked up as much as possible (yes, rodents eat it)
Avoid using bird feeders, especially any that use seeds
Find a good pest control company that can help (no poison bait!)
Use water to flood and destroy rodent burrows when you see them
Eliminate all food sources – fruit and nuts from trees, unsecured garbage, grease traps from the grill, etc.
2. Eliminate habitat – landscaping methods to prevent wildlife.
In the wild, vegetation is a very important part of the microhabitat systems that are used by snakes. The right plants provide cover, thermoregulatory dynamics, hunting opportunities, and more. Some of the same plants that we, as homeowners, often choose because they are pretty or provide a certain aesthetic, also give snakes ideal spots to hide and hunt.
The greatest offender? Lantana. These low-to-the-ground flowering plants seem to be on the list of default landscaping choices for most homes in Arizona. The problem? Snakes love them … rattlesnakes in particular. So do rodents, birds, lizards, and invertebrates that snakes eat. It’s not the plant itself that they like, but the deep leaf-litter almost always found under them. They tend to become quickly overgrown, are over-watered, and a mess in general. A decorative rock pile or wall lined with lantana is an absolute snake magnet.
Next on the list are any other plants that similarly provide deep cover opportunities, retain water, and catch a deep layer of rotting plant material. The silliest of these is the rosemary plant. There is a myth floating around out there that rosemary repels snakes, when in fact, the opposite is true.
Bush plants are best avoided if you don’t want to see wildlife.
The truth is, any plant that provides unchecked cover, tends to shed a lot of leaves, and needs to be often watered, is useful to snakes. If you have any plants that could be described this way, be sure to keep them as well-maintained as possible, removing all leaf litter, and carefully watering only as much as the plant needs. If you have these plants and wish to keep them, be sure that if you look at them from directly above, you can see some bare ground through the branches.
A rule of thumb for snake-unfriendly landscaping: if you have a bush that you’re not sure you love, get rid of it.
Some plants attract snakes by proxy. As described earlier, citrus trees (or any fruit-bearing plant) and trees that produce a lot of seeds or nuts can attract rodents and birds … which snakes will seek out.
If you prefer cactus, that’s great. They don’t use much water, don’t drop any leaves, and provide almost no shade. However, be careful with prickly pear (and similar) cactus. The base of these cactus is a common home for packrats, which are very important to rattlesnakes.
Perhaps the best thing you can do is to go natural – work with native plants and landscaping that doesn’t need a lot of water, and is easy to maintain. A variety of cactus, Palo Verde trees, ocotillo, creosote and others are all native to the Arizona desert and easy choices. Consider ditching the lawn and mid-western style yard for something a little more in-line with natural soundings, and you won’t be providing an unintentional oasis for snakes.
Steps you can do right now to reduce the number of snake-prey in your yard:
Go natural – design landscaping with native plants, cactus and others that require less water and provide minimal shade
Remove or replace lantana, rosemary, and similarly “heavy”, leafy and shaded plants.
If you do keep lantana or rosemary, keep it well-maintained and always remove leaf-litter
Change the watering schedule to be only as much as needed. If you have native plants that are healthy, consider removing the drip system entirely.
3. End the oasis – keeping water sources dry and unavailable.
Especially in desert areas, providing water sources can be a major source of snake encounters. Snakes need water, like all animals, and they’ll often stop by to take a drink when it’s offered.
Swimming pools are a common source of water, and you can’t do a lot to prevent that. However, a lot of swimming pool snake encounters are because the snake actually falls into the pool, and can’t escape. There are, fortunately, a lot of cheap products available to help with this. You’ll also inadvertently be finding fewer dead rodents in the pool, too.
Water gives much more than a cool drink on a hot day.
Water doesn’t just attract snakes that want a drink – free water sources are a place that other animals use as well. A dripping air conditioner condensation pipe, or example, makes a great bird bath, or spot for rabbits and rats to visit and get a drink. Snakes go where the prey is, and if you’re attracting a supply of rodents and birds, you’ll also attract the animals looking to eat them. Even worse, rodents that live and move well outside of your property lines may be using your home as a resource, and those scent paths lead right to back to your place.
Water also helps to just keep an area cool, which is a major challenge to desert-dwelling animals, including snakes. A shaded corner of the backyard becomes even more attractive when the leaky hose provides, essentially, an evaporative air conditioner.
Automatic sprinkler systems and drip hoses are standard features with any new home in Arizona. They come with a lot of opportunities for wasted water and the creation of a mini-oasis for local wildlife, including snakes. If you have automatic sprinklers, be sure to adjust the timing to be just as much as is needed, in the places it should be. If there’s a native palo verde tree at the edge of your property, it likely does not need daily watering.
An unfortunately common part of new housing developments, from our experience, are poorly-planned and managed parks, often with “drip systems to nowhere” at the edges that are watering native plants, or in many cases, nothing at all. Even though this is not at all on your property, there may be something you can do about it (see the later section on homeowners associations).
Things you can do to reduce water sources and lessen the chances of finding a snake in your yard:
Replace any leaking hose, spigot, or anything else that’s dripping. Wet dirt = snakes
Buy and install critter ramps and filter covers to make sure snakes that do drink from the pool can escape
Put a coffee can or bucket under air conditioning condensation pipes to avoid unintentional bird baths
Adjust automatic sprinklers to be efficient and eliminate any waste
Consider native plants and landscaping that uses less water
Fountains, birdbaths, ponds, and decorative water features that can be removed, should be
4. Maximize exposure – even snakes want to stay cool.
While the common belief is that snakes like it hot, the truth is that they spend much of their time trying to stay cool. Active thermoregulation is the behavior of cold-blooded animals to seek out not just hot temperatures, but the right ones, and in the desert southwest that mostly means trying to stay out of the sun.
A body temperature of only around 110ºF is lethal to a rattlesnake. Anyone in Arizona who’s tried to go get the mail barefoot knows that the ground is much hotter than this almost any day. Through most of the year, the open, unshaded ground is simply lethal to snakes, and they will look for opportunities to stay cool.
That’s not much different than how we behave in an Arizona summer. Your property most likely has many of these shade opportunities as a result. But eliminating them to keep snakes away isn’t a simple task – it may require some tough choices, and could impact how the property looks and feels. Basically, the more that your yard resembles the surface of the moon, the fewer snakes will be able to make use of it. Most of us don’t need to go that far, and there are some easy solutions that can usually be implemented without a lot of aesthetic heartbreak.
Proper landscaping can help minimize shaded hiding spots.
As stated elsewhere in this article, landscaping choices have a large impact on how much cover is available to snakes. To keep snakes away, you’d be better off choosing plants that can be cut high off the ground and don’t provide overly shaded areas.
Hedges and rows of bushes along walls are notorious for providing shade to rattlesnakes. If you can’t see the ground under your bushes, it’s time to cut them back. If that’s not possible, it may be good to consider a different landscaping choice.
Decorative rock piles are a major source of snake conflict issues. Where we most often see these issues are in the decorative rock formations that are commonly placed near swimming pools. The concrete that is used to bind the rocks together deteriorates faster than the rock itself, leaving large openings that snakes love. If you have one of these features, make sure that it’s always well-maintained, and fix any issues that you see immediately.
Other types of decorative rock can also cause problems, but not for the reasons many people expect. The standard rip rap used to line properties and slow erosion is typically installed in a way that is far too shallow for snakes to make use of. If they’re looking for shade, they’d find an oven. However, if you have rip rap that is stacked or placed in a way that is multiple layers deep, you may have issues.
More than a meal: rodents are builders of snake homes.
As stated earlier, rodents should always be kept in check. In addition to being a food source, rodents dig tunnels and provide shelter opportunities for snakes. What’s better than a free meal? A free meal and a sheltered place to nap afterward. If you avoid providing these situations, snakes have little use for your backyard.
Rodent activity in some areas can create ideal situations to attract snakes. In particular, the concrete pads where pool pumps and air conditioning units are placed, are absolute snake magnets when combined with a busy rodent. These also tend to be in places where people seldom visit, and even heavy rodent activity can go unnoticed for a long time.
You may also be unknowingly providing shelter for snakes by just not having a clean yard. That’s always the elephant in the room when talking about how to keep snakes out of a yard, but quite simply: if the property is used to store junk, you can expect animals to move in.
We all have that area in the yard where we put our unused pavers, tiles, the woodpile, pool toys we mean to throw away, and other “some weekend when it cools down” items. These are most likely in the side-yard, or somewhere that isn’t under as much supervision as other parts of the yard, which all lead to ideal situations for snakes to move right in. One of the best things you can do right now to make your yard less attractive to snakes is to spend a Saturday going through the yard removing all of these items.
Any space where animals can get access to stay out of the heat should be considered a possible snake hiding spot. Other common situations are plastic tool sheds and pool toy boxes that are stored on dirt. If it’s cool, it’s useful.
Wood piles, too, are notorious for snake activity, especially during the winter months. If you keep a pile of firewood outdoors, make sure it is on a platform at least a foot above the ground. You should also rotate the wood pile out completely every season, and make sure that you don’t end up keeping a few perpetual logs at the bottom that just never get used. Consider moving the entire thing each year, too, to a new location. These actions will greatly diminish its usefulness to anything that may want to hide under it.
Things you can do to reduce shade opportunities and see fewer snakes in your yard:
Keep landscaping in a way that minimizes shade
Decorative rock formations need to be well-maintained and rodent-free
Rip rap and erosion-control rock placements should be only a single rock-layer deep
Keep rodent activity under control, especially near structures like AC units and pool pump equipment
Get rid of the junk and storage items in the yard
Keep wood piles up off the ground, and rotate them out each season
5. Keep walkways clear
A surprising number of snake encounters happen right where people would least like them: right at the front door. This doesn’t necessarily mean that snakes really love these areas, though. It’s more likely that people just have more encounters here because it’s where we tend to be the most often. Every day we come and go from these entryways multiple times, so if something new is there, like a rattlesnake, we tend to notice it.
Covered entryways do provide some good stuff for snakes. Mostly, this is in the form of well-shaded cover. Covered entryways are a popular feature at most newly-built homes in Arizona, and these shaded overhangs superficially resemble the shallow caves and spaces that rattlesnakes call home during the summer months.
This is, of course, nothing you can do a lot about without some major changes to your home’s construction. But there are still some things you can do to help keep visiting snakes moving along, and less likely to set up shop opposite the welcome mat.
You want to keep the area as clear and open as possible. If there’s a snake there, you want to see it. The pots and decorations that are usually in the corners of entryways help provide a bit more cover, and we find snakes behind them every day. Pull them back, expose the space, and make it less of a hiding spot.
Avoid adding more water to further cool the area, too. If you have plants in the area, avoid situations that could further attract snakes. Lantana, rosemary, and other plants that provide deep cover only make these easy-to-access ‘caves’ all the more attractive to snakes.
To avoid snakes hanging out by the front door, here are some things you can do:
Pull pots and plants away from the corners and leave as much space as possible between it and the wall.
Avoid extra plants or landscaping that provides deep cover
Keep decorations to a minimum, or none at all
6. No free rent – keep up on building maintenance
Perhaps the greatest potential source of shelter for snakes on any property is the house itself. It doesn’t take much for a rodent to get into a faulty foundation, dig under patio pavers, or otherwise create access for snakes to move in.
The best way to keep that from happening is to simply keep absolutely up-to-date on any maintenance issues that pop up. If you see a crack in the foundation, don’t wait, get that fixed immediately. The more time it goes without correction, the more rodents will dig into it, animals will learn to use it, and the more your foundation turns into a welcoming, cool cave.
As stated earlier, decorative rock formations are great to attract snakes to a property. It’s not the rocks, but the tendency for them to quickly degrade. If you see any cracks forming, fix it right away. That goes for any other similar situation (mostly associated with the pool). If you see a crack, fix it.
Concrete areas, like driveways and walkways, are often installed over material that makes it easy for rodents to dig. This can create caves that snakes may find useful. Along with any other area of the property, make sure to jump right on any cave that looks to be forming underneath. We have recovered many rattlesnakes over the years from holes caused by rodents or erosion in these situations.
Manufactured homes present another issue, often requiring more immediate attention than homes with a dug-in concrete foundation. The skirting material that surrounds the base of the home is often poorly sealed and comes apart easily after only a few years. Every year, we receive numerous phone calls from homeowners who discover (usually by someone trying to fix the air conditioning ducts under the home) that there are rattlesnakes living underneath. If you have a manufactured home, I can’t stress enough that your skirting needs to be sealed completely and always in top condition.
Things you can do to your buildings to see fewer snakes in your yard:
Fix any maintenance issue immediately, especially if it could provide access to the foundation
Watch for rodent activity and erosion under concrete areas, walkways, and the driveway
Always keep the skirting around manufactured homes in flawless condition and allow no access under the home.
Any deterioration or gaps in the flashing along the underside of the home should be fixed immediately.
7. Keep out and stay out! – physical barriers and snake fencing
The best thing that you can possibly do to keep potentially dangerous snakes out of your yard is to install physical barriers. These barriers may work better for some species than others, but the majority of the solutions out there focus on keeping venomous snakes out.
Avoid anything called a “snake trap” or any sort of fencing, plastic mesh, or netting that actually captures and kills the snakes. Even if you don’t care much about the well-being of the snakes, you’ll also be killing a lot of other animals that people do tend to like, like birds, rabbits, lizards, and others. You could also be put in danger by having to deal with a trapped, injured, and terrified rattlesnake.
Nonvenomous and small snakes can climb walls and other surfaces that provide sufficient grip. Something like a Gophersnake, Ratsnake, or Kingsnake is going to be able to get where it wants to in most cases. Fortunately, this isn’t an issue … they’re harmless.
There should be some separation between the goals of preventing snakes when it gets down to it. Snakes that are harmless that people would just rather not see, and snakes that do actually pose some danger. A solution that is effective for the dangerous snakes, but does not make claims to keep out harmless ones, is a realistic and worthwhile answer to your problems. If anyone does claim to be able to build something that will keep all snakes out 100%, they’re lying to you.
Rattlesnake Fence Installation is a service that places materials, such as steel and concrete, in and around features of the property to create a space that rattlesnakes cannot physically enter. This is something that is often performed by landscapers, pest control companies, and a variety of handyman types … but in evaluating hundreds of yards where this service has been performed, one thing stands out: rattlesnake fencing is not a do-it-yourself task. There are some very specific factors at play that require deep understanding of rattlesnake behavior and physical capabilities. When you’re looking for a rattlesnake fence installer, go with a specialist or don’t bother.
Any materials that are used for rattlesnake fencing need to be permanent. Avoid any plastic, zip-ties, rubber, or anything that will wear out in the sun. Based on basic rattlesnake biology, and a lot of testing we’ve conducted ourselves in our facility, here are minimum requirements for a successful “snake proofing”:
Steel, no rubber or plastic
Installed to a minimum of 30″ (ideally 36″) above the nearest flat surface.
The largest opening in the entire perimeter of the yard must be a maximum of 1/4″, including gates
If installed against the ground, it must be trenched (buried) into the ground a minimum of 4 inches, preferably more and angled properly.
Use screws and metal materials
ALL entry points must be sealed, or there’s no point to it
Concrete and steel used on all gates, with no way to dig under them.
If you are going to install rattlesnake fencing, be sure that the perimeter is completely sealed. One of the most common scenarios we are called to collect snakes from is a yard where snake fencing has been installed on the fence, but the gates have not been modified. This is where what was intended to keep rattlesnakes out ends up being a snake trap instead. A reputable snake fence installer will walk away from projects where a homeowner insists on only a partial job, so if you plan on installing physical barriers, that’s a question you could ask them to see how much they really know about it.
Things you should consider when looking for a snake fence installer
Does the company have rattlesnake experts on staff or any specialized snake-specific training?
Do they specialize in rattlesnake fencing and snake prevention, or is it something they do “on the side”?
Do they have installation standards based on science and what snakes actually do?
Do they have a good method to seal gates and entryways entirely without any gaps?
Do they use permanent materials, like steel and concrete?
Do they put emphasis on aesthetics and how the finished product looks?
Do they have good customer service?
Do they have numerous good ratings (Google, Yelp, etc)?
Do they make you pay a large deposit (avoid this)?
Are they able to answer your detailed questions about snakes, how to keep them away, and how snake fencing fits into the big picture?
Are they licensed, bonded, and insured?
8. Snake repellents – a stinky scam
There are a number of products on the market that make the claim that they can keep snakes away. While some are chemicals, and others are mechanical or create vibrations, there’s one thing they all have in common: snake repellant products do nothing at all to deter snakes from your yard.
How do I know? As the owner of one of the busiest snake prevention and removal business in the world, I have personally captured hundreds of snakes from yards heavily treated in these products. If expanded to our entire team, that figure is in the thousands. Our records indicate that there is no correlation between spending money on this stuff and seeing fewer snakes in your yard.
Pest control companies will disagree, but that makes sense. Many just don’t know that they don’t work and honestly believe they are helping their customers. However, I’ve had far too many personal conversations with pest control operators where something like “we know it doesn’t work, but our customers ask for it” is muttered. If you’re wasting money on this stuff: cancel it immediately, and or spend that money on increasing (non-poison) rodent control.
There are other regional myths that are passed around as well. The idea that mothballs, rope of any kind, coffee grounds, rubber pellets, the skin of a kingsnake, cat urine, or any others out there actually keep snakes away is not based in reality.
Some may disbelieve all of this, but that’s easy to explain. This is an example of confirmation bias, where information is unintentionally selected that supports a belief. If a person spends hundreds of dollars on a snake repellent, then reports that they see fewer snakes, that person may be left with the idea that snake repellents do indeed keep snakes away. However, it’s more likely that they just haven’t seen more of them, and they are doing other things right as a result of an encounter. By the numbers: don’t buy this junk.
9. Make the Home Owners Association do their part
Some of the biggest issues that we see in neighborhoods where snakes are common aren’t even things that the homeowners can directly control. These are areas between properties, along the edge, the parks, drainages, and areas that are managed by the property managers and homeowners association.
But, just like overgrown grass or some other problem with the neighborhood, you can (or should be able to) demand action if you believe your safety is in danger.
A major offender here are the drainage catchments and parks at the end of outer-area blocks. The default design tends to be just to water everything, even native plants that don’t need it. They create a well-watered, cool transition against the dry desert, and rattlesnakes love to hunt here. If you have one of these parks around your home, especially if you live at the end of the block, you can expect to see more snakes.
In areas like much of Cave Creek and Scottsdale, Arizona, there are spaces between properties where native vegetation is maintained. In these areas, fed by an abundance of trash and citrus-fueled rodents, snakes can have a pretty great life. When it gets too overgrown, however, you may start seeing them in your yard. Even if you have something as effective as a rattlesnake fence installed, if the neighboring trees are growing over it to create a bridge, you’ll have issues. Ideally, all vegetation and trees should be cut back a minimum of 3 feet from the edge of your wall. The clear area will help reduce the usefulness of the wall to rodents, and therefore, snakes. This should be something you can request from the HOA, or have it taken care of yourself with approval.
Some HOAs have rules that actually prevent you from doing what you need to protect your property from potentially dangerous snakes. A great example of this are the varied and largely arbitrary rules dictating the installation of rattlesnake fencing. These seem to be based on appearance alone, ignoring the fact that something as important as a rattlesnake fence needs to, primarily, provide the function of keeping venomous snakes out of a backyard.
The height requirements, approved materials, and installation techniques should be designed for this purpose, but sadly, usually are not. In our experience, most HOAs will gladly modify their regulations if they learn that they are preventing the safety of their residents. Of course this can take a bit of work, so gather information and be prepared to make a case. If you contact the HOA concerned for your safety, and then you are denied the ability to handle that, this may present some concern for them. You can find the most complete list of tested, effective snake fence installation standards in this article.
Things you can request from your HOA to see fewer snakes in your yard:
Modification to drainages and parks to cut back on excessive or redundant watering, especially at the edges.
Cut any outer-area vegetation back at least 3′ from the wall or fence. This can be requested from the HOA directly, or as permission to do it yourself.
Make sure you are able to install snake fencing to the correct specification to actually do the job. If HOA regulations prevent that, campaign to have those rules changed.
10. Your garage is not a cave – your house isn’t either!
Each year, especially in the early spring and again in the hottest times of the year, we are called to capture hundreds of snakes found in garages. The reasons are simple enough – the garage, when accessible, is just a cave. It’s useful to stay warm in the winter, and provides refuge from the brutal summer heat. When the ‘cave’ is filled with a bunch of junk that’s been sitting there for years and even has some mice here and there, why shouldn’t snakes move right in?
You can prevent this, largely, by simply preventing access to the garage. Make sure the garage-door seal is in great condition and fully seals against the ground when closed. Remember that some snakes are tiny … rattlesnakes only need just more than a quarter inch to get in, so make sure it’s absolute. Make sure it is sealed all the way to the sides, and there are no gaps in the moulding or deterioration in the concrete. Any seams or gaps should be filled in along the base where the door closes, too, to prevent snakes from just crawling right in. If you see leaves and dirt in the garage-corners by the door, that’s a good indication that there’s more than enough space for snakes to get in, too.
During the shoulder seasons, when snakes are moving to and from winter den sites or are otherwise very active, make sure to keep the garage door closed. Leaving the door open for long stretches of time on the weekends, which we all can be guilty of from time to time, snakes can crawl right in. Even worse, you can trap them in there when you close the door. If you live in an area where there are a lot of rattlesnakes, consider an open garage an invitation.
For storing items in the garage (who doesn’t?), make sure that they aren’t positioned in a way that would make them useful to snakes. If you can, use plastic boxes or other storage bins that prevent entry, and keep them up off the ground. If you have long-term storage items, make sure that you change their location from time to time, or store them on elevated shelves.
An item that is notorious for snakes is the fake Christmas tree. They are used once a year for a month, then stored again until the following year. They’re completely ignored in the meantime, and we’ve removed more snakes from these fake trees than any other single feature within buildings.
Things you can do to keep snakes out of your garage:
Make sure that the door seal and edges are in perfect shape and seal the outer area completely
Keep the garage door closed at all times unless you are actually coming and going
Keep any stored items away from walls at last a few inches, use plastic bins, and elevate them on shelves whenever possible.
Don’t use the garage for long-term storage. The more stuff is in there, the more snakes (and other things you’d likely not want in there) can use it.
Something you won’t really need to worry about as much as most people think they do: rattlesnakes (or other venomous snakes) coming inside your home. We do very occasionally get a call to capture a rattlesnake inside a home, however it’s exceptionally rare, and generally easy to avoid.
In most of these cases where a rattlesnake is inside a home, the answer to how it got there and why it’s there is obvious. The door was left open on a spring day, the garage was left open while the homeowners were on vacation, etc.. In one instance, the home was so full of rodents that the place should have been condemned, and a rattlesnake moved right in to take advantage of it. These are not typical situations, and rattlesnakes being found inside homes is also atypical.
Other types of snakes may be able to get in other ways. Fortunately, these are very seldom dangerous, but it’s understandable that you’d not want them inside the house! Most of these come in through pretty small openings, like unsealed gaps in doors, and the tracks in sliding glass doors.
In Arizona, a snake that is notorious for getting inside the home is called a Nightsnake. They are often found in the bathroom, kitchen, or laundry room. The reason: pipes. They often end up coming up through drains and into the home.
In some homes, too, the way that cabinets are installed leaves an easy way in for snakes. If you look under the sink, you’ll likely see that pipes are nice and sealed into the hole coming into the cabinet. Behind the cabinet, however, there may be a large hole around the pipes coming into the home. If the cabinets aren’t sealed well underneath, that means there’s direct access from underneath the home to your master bath.
Things you can do to keep snakes out of your home:
Keep doors closed at all times (even nice spring days). It doesn’t take long for a snake to cruise right in.
Make sure sliding doors are sealed up tight
Seal all holes around pipes leading into the house, and make sure cabinets are sealed all around (even under the overhang)
11. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do.
Sometimes, even if you do every single thing on this list, and make your yard look like the surface of Mars … snakes will still show up. The reason: you happen to live where there are a lot of snakes! Without physical barriers, and no matter what you do to make the yard less attractive to snakes, there is always the possibility for random snakes to be passing through and have an encounter with you.
Some houses are more susceptible to this than others. A great example: houses at the end of the street tend to get many more snake visits than houses on the interior. The shared block wall behind rows of homes, with desert or a wash behind it all, acts like a funnel. Rodents (and snakes) follow the walls one way or another, and if you’re on the end of that funnel, your backyard is the first opportunity to hide, get a drink, and more. This is something for the snake-phobic keep in mind when shopping for a home near wild areas.
Things you should consider with purchasing a home, if you don’t like to see snakes:
Buy on the interior of the neighborhood, rather than the edge.
The last house on the street will usually see more snakes than the others
Contact a snake removal service to ask about specific neighborhoods to gauge how snake-friendly it may be
Ask your realtor about snake activity in the area
12. Learn everything you can about the local snakes
One of the best things you can do to keep yourself and your family safe from snakes is the very activity you’re doing right now: learning about them. Each environment and area has its own variety of snakes, both venomous and harmless, and the more that you know about them, the better you’ll be able to make decisions. Those decisions are both important during the prevention state of snake-safety, and perhaps even more so when you do happen to come across a snake in your yard.
So the snake you just saw racing through your backyard bushes … it was grown, kind of blotchy, thin, but not too thin … is it dangerous? Do you have to lock up the dogs and kids? Move to Canada? Burn the house down? If you had even a basic understanding of the snakes that live in your area, you’d know that, even if it’s not something you care to see, it’s nothing to worry about.
Just about every city or county has some sort of local educational resource available to help you learn the natural history of your local variety of snakes. You can find dedicated reptile-related nature groups, and Facebook groups that offer information and assistance with the identification of snakes. Your local nature center at your regional and municipal parks will also have good information.
Here are some examples of the types of educational materials that are out there in abundance. Even if you’re not really interested in snakes at all, or even science in general, knowing the details of the things you fear can greatly help diminish that fear at the time you may most need it. Eliminating fear is all about preparation, and with snake-related fears, that opportunity exists in abundance.
13. If you do see a snake:
Despite all efforts, if you live where snakes do, you will likely run into one at some point. From the experiences of thousands of our customers: it will be when you aren’t expecting it, and you will be ok.
As stated previously, if you’ve done your homework, you may already know which species it is (or at least, if it’s dangerous or not). Depending on level of knowledge, how fearful you are of snakes, and other factors, there are a few things that you can do to help make the situation safe and feel better about the whole thing.
First, you’ll want to identify it. If you don’t know, take a quick picture and send it to a local snake expert. That could be a herpetologist at your local university, or a nature guide at the nearest regional park. There should be quite a few services out there (including groups on Facebook) that offer free snake ID services. This is something best done long before you ever see a snake, so you can access it quickly without having to search for it.
If it’s a harmless snake, you really don’t need to do anything at all. While there may be some reasons why people still want to remove harmless species of snakes, this would be purely for the benefit of the snake and to ease fears. Whenever possible, once it is known that a snake is harmless, it’s best to be just left alone and it will leave on its own.
If it is a venomous snake, or you are unsure, do not under any circumstances attempt to capture, kill, or otherwise harass the snake yourself. This is not only, ultimately, not the most useful action, but it puts you in danger. Call a snake removal service, or wait for the snake to leave. If you call a snake removal group, follow their instructions, and they should be able to remove the snake, as well as provide a few other key services.
While the intention is respectable, it may not be best to have the local fire department or well-intentioned neighbor handle the situation. They’re not usually well trained in what to do with the snake after it’s been captured, and often injure the snakes in the process. Instead of a rattlesnake in the yard, you could end up with an injured, panicked rattlesnake dropped on the other side of your yard, trying to return. It’s best to stick with professionals.
While the snake removal person is at your home, and after the snake has been captured, ask them a lot of questions … after all, you are most likely paying for it! Ask them to search for more snakes, and why the snake they just caught was there to begin with.
Ironically, actually finding a snake in the yard is often the kick-off point for learning about how to avoid them. If you are reading this article, and have read this far, there’s a good chance it all started with a snake sighting.
If you see a snake in your yard:
Try and take a quick photo of the snake, and send it to the snake identification experts that you’ve already taken note of
If it’s harmless, leave it alone. It will leave.
If it’s venomous or you aren’t sure, either leave it alone, or call a professional snake removal service to handle it.
Do not attempt to handle it yourself, or allow a helpful neighbor do the same. You would be putting yourself in danger and may be responsible if someone else does the same.
Watch the snake until help arrives
Ask the snake removal person about why the snake is there, how it got into the yard, and how to prevent more from showing up
Above all, don’t worry too much 🙂 Snakes aren’t out to get you.
In most places where snakes can be found near homes, this is a hot topic. Snakes are a topic people seem to even, to some extent, enjoy fearing and not knowing much about. However, inevitably, the more that even the most snake-fearing person learns about them, the smaller and smaller the threat becomes.
Remember that in the United States, snakebite is almost never fatal. Accidental bites (where the person isn’t playing with it or trying to kill it) are very rare, too. The danger is mostly in our collective minds, and part of American culture. Odds are, you really don’t have as much to worry about as you may think. You may never want to see a snake in your yard; just remember that snakes don’t want to meet you, either!
Cooler temperatures and the approach of Fall means rattlesnakes are highly active. For the weekend, here are some quick things that you can do to greatly reduce your chances of seeing a rattlesnake in your yard. All of these take less than 1 hour to do, so it’s easy to incorporate them into your Saturday plans.
If you have more than an hour (it may take half an hour to even read this one!) here’s the more thorough, ultimate guide to keeping snakes away.
1. Make life hard for the local rodents
Take an hour and walk your property. You probably already know where the rodent holes are, and have been wondering who has made them. Fewer rodents mean fewer rattlesnakes. Wherever there are rodent holes, destroy them by doing this:
Use a garden hose, placed near the entrance (not inside), and use a low flow of water (maybe 1/4th total flow, if that). You want water to flow into the hole without collapsing the entrance, so that water flows all the way down and fills from the bottom up.
When water has filled to the top, let it soak for a moment, then do it again,until it is clear that the entire hole complex has been flooded. Then, use a tool (or just your boot) and collapse the entrance.
From now on, every time you see a rodent hole, don’t wait – just collapse it with your shoe right then. Make this part of your usual maintenance activity in the yard.
Adjust drip system and automatic sprinkler timers to use just what is needed and eliminate waste.
2. Clean up any debris that you can
The pavers along the side of the house that have been laying in stacks for months? The tarp that you’ve been meaning to get rid of forever? How about the old flower pots left over from last Spring? Well, now’s the time to get rid of it. Clean up what you can, either throw it in the trash (or otherwise get rid of it), or make arrangements for it to be picked up.
If whatever it is is too big to throw away immediately, you can minimize how useful it is by simply moving it a short distance. If there is an old tarp, for instance, if it’s been there for months, the rodent holes and dirt under it may be a lot less attractive to visiting animals if it’s just moved to a new location.
Do a once-over of the entire property to pick up anything that’s creating shaded spots for animals to hide.
If it’s not possible to throw something away quickly, just moving it a short distance to new ground can help.
3. Get rid of the leaf-litter
This one takes more or less time to do yourself, depending on your yard. However, it possibly has the greatest immediate impact. If you have any plants, like lantana or rosemary, with a lot of fallen leaf litter underneath it, get a rake and get rid of it! This material is where rodents often nest, snakes often hide, and is a great place to hide during the day throughout the year. Until you are able to talk to the landscapers to get the landscaping as it should be to keep snakes away (watch for a future article about this one 😉 the best and fastest thing you can do is clean up the ground immediately underneath.
4. Fix the leaky hose!
Snakes, like all animals, need water. A leaky hose is not only a valuable resource for snakes, but their prey of rodents and birds also visit. The result is a mini-magnet for snakes – which is fortunately usually pretty easy and quick to fix. If you have a leaky hose, get a new one. Do whatever you need to so that your yard isn’t an easy oasis for wildlife.
Replace old and leaking hoses, and repair dripping spigots.
Place a coffee can or pan under A/C condensation runoff pipes so water quickly evaporates and doesn’t create a patch of wet ground.
Repair leaky drip systems.
Consider throwing the birdbath out. Birds are great to see, but you’re also inviting the animals that eat birds.
5. Pull the pots in the front entryway away from the wall
Rattlesnakes often rest along the wall in corners of front-entryways. About every day, we are called out to capture at least one snake found in this situation. Even a little bit of cover helps them feel secure, and that cover most often comes in the form of a decorative pot or statue. If you have one of these in the corners by your front door (or back patio), pull them out away from the wall several inches and this can help lessen this effect. For narrow areas, just pull it down the wall so the corner can be clearly seen.
There’s much more … but this is a big, quick start.
The topic of keeping snakes out of your yard obviously goes much deeper than this, but you’d be surprised how much of a dent you can make with just these three steps. Later, we’ll be publishing a full list of things you can do to make your yard less attractive to snakes, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you have any snake-related concerns, any or all of these are an easy Saturday project that can make the rest of the weekend a lot more enjoyable.
To get more in-depth, here’s a presentation for homeowners to learn how to keep rattlesnakes away from your yard and feel better about the whole situation:
For as common as they are, and as often as people see them, the Longnosed Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei) is almost unknown to most of us.
Why is this? It seems to be due to a superficial similarity to a very well-known snake, the California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae). A mild-mannered, white-and-black banded snake that appears from time to time in backyards throughout Arizona, Kingsnakes are famous for their preference of rattlesnakes as a food source. They look quite a bit like the lesser-known Longnosed Snakes, but have a few key differences.
First, it should be said that Longnosed Snakes are completely harmless. They’re eaters of lizards, reptile eggs, and small rodents. I’ve never had one attempt to bite me over hundreds individuals handled. They do have a tendency to poop on the hands of the holder, however, and even bleed from their cloaca as a further action to say “hey, don’t eat me, I’m gross.” It must work, because I’ve never eaten a Longnosed Snake!
Longnosed Snakes live on the ground, and are mostly nocturnal, though they can be seen moving at any time of day in certain conditions. I most often encounter them as they move from hole to hole in the desert soil, poking their namesake nose in to see if there’s anything good to eat inside. They can get large, up to about 3′ in length, though most adults are a little more than 2′ long. They’re one of the few snakes that has become well-adapted to highly developed areas and can be found far from natural desert areas. Specifically, the Paradise Valley area, with its lush and green backyards that also tend to be huge, are home to a large number of Longnosed Snakes.
How to tell the difference between a Longnosed Snake and a Kingsnake
While some Longnosed Snakes are just black and white, most have some red, pink, or orange coloration as well. The pattern is most often more of a loose, jumbled or “pixelated” appearance, some having full red bands along with the black and white. Others just have a bit of a pinkish wash over the back, but it’s quite visible. Kingsnakes never have this coloration, so even a little pink or orange is enough to tell one from the other.
As the name implies, Longnoses Snakes have, wait for it … a long nose. It’s longer and more pointed than the round snout of a Kingsnake. It can be difficult to tell without seeing a lot of both without a direct comparison, but it’s clear when they are side-by-side.
Longnosed Snakes also often have grey or white smudges within each black band. Kingsnakes, while their pattern is very often far from perfectly-formed, don’t mix it up like this.
How to quickly differentiate a Longnosed Snake from a Kingsnake:
Longnosed Snakes have red, pink, or orange coloration. Kingsnakes do not.
Some Longnosed Snakes have red or orange eyes. Kingsnakes’ eyes are black or black and white.
Longnosed Snakes have a longer, pointed nose than Kingsnakes.
Longnosed Snakes may have white or grey smudges within the black bands, while Kingsnakes bands are completely black.
Why does it matter to know the difference?
I’ve always found this mentality odd, but it’s a question that’s posed enough (usually angrily, for some reason) that it should be addressed. If you are one of the many people who come to anger over facts that you don’t personally value, you are correct: knowing the difference between a Longnosed Snake and a Kingsnake is not likely something you’ll ever need to know. However, if you’re scared of snakes (most likely the reason for the above-mentioned attitude), knowing more about them is how you fix that.
Both Longnosed Snakes and Kingsnakes are completely harmless and not an issue at all to find in your yard or home, but for the snake-phobic, knowing what you’re looking at at 2 a.m. in your kitchen may be the difference between going back to sleep or not.
Longnosed Snakes tend to be found within homes more often than Kingsnakes. It could be because they seem to be more commonly encountered in general. It could also be because they tend to lay their eggs in areas around homes where they get inside more often. Flowerbeds, lantana bushes, and eroded material between pavement and the foundation are common spots for this to occur.
When baby Longnosed Snakes hatch, generally in the first few weeks of August, they seem to appear everywhere. Any social media or community group will have daily photos of baby Longnosed Snakes, asking “what is this?”, and a stream of incorrect identifications of a Kingsnake. While Kingsnakes do get into homes from time to time as well, they are not nearly as adept at doing so as the smaller, less-famous Longnosed Snake.
Aren’t sure? Send us a photo!
Many people are surprised to learn that Longnosed Snakes exist at all, let alone are the true identity of decades of “Kingsnake” encounters. If you have a snake photo that you’re not quite sure of, email it to us and we’ll tell you what it is.
The latest bit of rattlesnake misinformation is spreading fast, showing up all over the place these last week or so. It claims people living in “rattlesnake country” (i.e., almost anywhere in the U.S.) should keep plenty of Benadryl on-hand, being a miracle cure that works must faster than tried-and-true antivenom.
Before getting into specifics – if you read no further: the quotation below is all highly inaccurate; do not spread false medical advice.If you have shared this post, delete it. There are no folksy home remedies for a rattlesnake bite. There are no essential oils or homeopathic water pills that will work. Venom does not care about how you feel about science, Western medicine, and the healthcare system as it destroys your body.
Here’s the latest iteration, shared today many hundreds of times across Facebook:
“Important info about keeping Benadryl with you – For all of us in Rattlesnake country: I have learned something new that I thought was important enough that I wanted to pass on. Our hired man was bitten by a rattlesnake a few days ago. He was getting ready to bale and turned over a windrow to check the moisture and the snake was in it. It wrapped around his arm and bit him on the underside of the wrist. Luckily it was not a severe bite, the fang marks were clear, but not deep enough to draw blood. He came straight to the house and we got ice on it and had him to the hospital within an hour. I called ahead so the emergency room was ready for him. By the time he got there his arm was starting to swell to the shoulder and his throat was getting tight. The first thing the emergency room did was give him Benadryl. Apparently antivenom must be received within 4 hours of the snakebite, but the immediate threat is swelling and death of tissue, which was treated with the Benadryl. The swelling in his arm and throat started going down right away. The anti-venom medicine had to be prepared and was not ready for a couple of hours. He ended up getting two doses of antivenom and spent the night in the hospital, where they drew blood every three hours, but came home healthy the next day and went back to work. I have always carried liquid Benadryl in all of the pickups because I am allergic to bee stings. After this happened I went out to check my supplies. All three of the bottles I had been carrying behind the seats in my emergency kits had been in there quite a while and had cracked and the liquid was gone. So that wasn’t going to be any help at all if we did need it. My daughter, who is a nurse, told me to go buy the children’s chewable Benadryl instead. It is given according to body weight, so can be used for adults also, just give a larger dose. She said if you chew it and hold it in your mouth it will absorb just as fast or faster through the membranes of the mouth than from the stomach. The box doesn’t take much room and can be thrown into the glove compartment or saddle bags or a back pack if hiking, etc. Makes sense to me, and it might save a life.“
This is not good information. Starting with the tale of the rattlesnake that wraps itself around the person’s arm before biting, and getting worse from there. The rest, seems like a third-party interpretation of a possibly real story that has been distorted and misunderstood until twisted into this last form.
Benadryl is used in the protocol of some paramedics and hospitals as a response to anaphylaxis. This does not mean, however, that it should be expected to delay the effect of the venom, as is suggested in the post.
Hi Everyone, I wanted to address the poor information about the use of Benadryl (diphenhydramine) making the rounds on several snakebite forums. Benadryl is ineffective for treating a venomous snakebite, even as a temporizing measure in the back country for the following reasons. 1) Pit viper envenomations in the US cause local tissue injury from direct venom effect. The cell death causes swelling and pain from the release of intracellular contents as the cell dies. Furthermore, venom causes blood vessels to become “leaky” resulting in further swelling, redness, and pain as fluid leaves our blood vessels and enter the tissues. Benadryl does nothing to negate these effects. 2) Systemic symptoms of envenomation are rare but may include nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, swelling of the throat, bleeding, etc. These are also venom induced and are not reversed with Benadryl either. 3) Allergic reactions can happen from a snakebite but are very rare and if there are systemic signs as discussed above, the acute treatment is epinephrine, not Benadryl (or steroids, etc). Benadryl and other drugs can be used in conjunction with epinephrine at the hospital to keep the allergic reaction from rebounding. 4) Comparing bee venom and snake venom to assume Benadryl will work is not congruent. Bee venom specially targets cells causing release of histamine which results in swelling, pain, redness, and allergic reactions. This is similar to the pathway for non-venom induced allergic reactions. Benadryl is a “antihistamine”, so the mechanism to stop the reaction makes Benadryl a good drug for this scenario. This is not the case for snake venoms. In short, Benadryl is not effective for snake envenomations in humans or other animals. Please stop sharing this information.
“Benadryl offers no benefit in the management of snakes unless the victim is experiencing an allergic response, however the first line medication for treatment is epinephrine. Additionally Benadryl can cause an alteration in the victims mentation masking other neurological signs and symptoms.”
A Facebook comment from Dr. Spencer Green, Toxicologist at Bayou City Medical Toxicology & Emergency Medicine Consultants
Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is an antihistamine. Histamine does not play a role in snake envenomation. Therefore, diphenhydramine has no role in its management.
The RARE exception to this would be if the patient were to have an allergic reaction, either to the venom or the anti-venom. Diphenhydramine would be SOMEWHAT helpful in that situation, but it’s certainly not the most important medication.
But because those allergic reactions are very rare, I will reiterate that, in general, Benadryl has essentially no role in the management of snakebites.
Here’s an article written by Sheri Monk, paramedic, investigative journalist, and an avid field herper.
Dispelling the Benadryl myth – misinformation can be deadly
When someone is bitten by a rattlesnake, there is nothing that can stop the venom from circulating in the tissue – not a tourniquet or a suction kit.
How each individual reacts to the venom is going to vary, and the only known means to neutralizing the venom is through the use of antivenom. Antivenom needs to be administered quickly, in the care of a physician, and in a professional setting such as a hospital. There are no home remedies.
Rarely, some people may experience an allergic reaction to the venom, much like how some people react to bee stings. When this reaction becomes systemic, meaning it moves from just one organ system (such as swelling in the tissue near the bite) to at least one other organ system such as the respiratory system, it is considered to be an anaphylactic reaction, also known as anaphylaxis.
Patients experiencing anaphylactic shock immediately require epinephrine – the same medication found in an EpiPen, and emergency services should be called without delay. Benadryl, also known as Diphenhydramine, is a useful medication in continuing to manage allergic reactions. Benadryl cannot reverse anaphylaxis as it works too slowly over the course of hours rather than seconds. It can, however, help manage allergy symptoms.
In the same way that Benadryl isn’t an effective treatment for anaphylaxis or a substitute for epinephrine, it also isn’t an effective treatment for snakebite or a substitute for antivenom. The only treatment for tissue damage caused by snake envenomation is antivenom. Benadryl and epinephrine are only used for allergic reactions resulting from envenomation. The same is true for other mammals such as dogs.
To recap: • Of those envenomated, only a few will experience an allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.
• Anaphylactic shock is a medical emergency that urgently requires epinephrine. • Benadryl is used in managing symptoms of allergic reactions – it does not treat snakebite.
• The only treatment for snakebite is antivenom, which can only be found and administered in hospital under the care of a physician or veterinarian.
The space where snakes, specifically rattlesnakes, occupy in the minds of our culture makes it very easy for misinformation to spread. Fear of snakes and stories that challenge reality are a badge of honor in many communities. The bar for research and fact-checking is very low. This is a known issue and usually just an annoyance, but this is different and can get someone hurt. The average person who has rattlesnakes on the mind from time to time has very little chance of having access to an accurate set of information. If you’ve shared this post, don’t be part of a chain of misinformation. Delete the post. It happens – these are difficult times to know what’s real and what isn’t.
For further reading to answer questions about what does work, and provide context for any of the above refuting statements: here are publications detailing actual, modern treatment of venomous snake bites.
Along with many hundreds of rattlesnakes each year, harmless and beneficial reptile species are often captured and moved a short distance at the request of Arizona homeowners. Gophersnakes, Kingsnakes, Groundsnakes, Coachwhips – even lizards such as Chuckwallas – are gently stuffed into a bucket and escorted elsewhere.
This leads to an obvious and common question that we are asked when this is discussed. Why would anyone want to move a harmless species of snake from their yard? And, why would an ethical wildlife services business do so when asked? These are very good questions, and rather than mention it in our social media comments, I’ll address the topic here so it can be answered in detail.
Before diving in, it’s important to understand the goals of snake-relocation and prevention as a practice. There are many ethical considerations that sometimes conflict with one another, and having clear criteria laid out can help form best-practice procedures. There are many masters to serve, and balance between them is not cut and dry. Some are of equal importance, where any action must take multiple priorities into consideration.
Primary considerations of equal weight for any action:
Benefit to the snake. Is the action impact survivable and justified?
Benefit to the homeowner. Are residents and pets made safer by action?
Benefit to community. Is the public perception of wildlife positively affected by action?
Additional considerations that help shape decision-making, but are always secondary to the primary goals:
Benefit to education/research. Is there information or a teachable opportunity gained by action?
Benefit to ___insert relocation org here___. Does action help advance the operation and ability to positively affect primary goals?
Ultimately, capturing and relocating snakes must progress one goal above all else: peacefully mitigate immediate wildlife conflict while providing long-term, sustainable alternatives. Snake relocation is the quick fix, snake fencing, education, research, and ongoing outreach are the long game; the latter category should perpetually attempt to put the former out of business.
Why would a homeowner want to get rid of a beneficial snake, like a Kingsnake or Gophersnake?
Desert-savvy homeowners know that there is no better friend to have in the backyard than these large, harmless snakes. They are amazing, free pest control, in the very least. Some, like Kingsnakes and Coachwhips, even eat rattlesnakes (not Gophersnakes, contrary to popular belief, but that’s a subject for a different article). They don’t hurt anyone, including kids and dogs, as they quietly patrol the neighborhood looking to take out rodents wherever they find them.
The only downside? Simply, some people just do not like snakes. That dislike is most often synonymous with fear. Regardless of the type, aside from any knowledge, a deep cultural-phobia persists for many (I covered much of this in an earlier article about pre-summer mental preparation for the snake-phobic along with some resources if you’re firmly in the “hate snakes” crowd.)
Fear of snakes runs deep – at an individual basis and as part of our culture – and it is not easily fixed. From the outside (as occasional criticism from armchair conservationists seems to indicate) it may seem like all that’s needed to convince someone that the Gophersnake in the backyard is nothing to worry about are some quick facts. The reality is much more complicated.
We do our best to educate and provide as many alternatives as possible. We make sure that people know that the snake in their yard is harmless and will leave on its own. We also have the experience to know when that knowledge alone isn’t enough. In these instances, the situation is best handled by action. The snake can be safely escorted from the property and is not killed by terrified homeowners, who likewise benefit from the educational experience.
Why do you relocate harmless snakes instead of just educating the homeowners?
Based on the goals detailed in this article, sometimes offering knowledge alone will not create the desired outcome. It is important to understand the motivation of the caller, and be able to approach the situation regardless of the most ideal scenario.
In a perfect world, someone calling a snake removal group, who learns that the Gophersnake they’re looking at is harmless and will leave on its own, will thank the hotline operator and ignore the snake. This does happen quite often, but not always.
Fear of snakes is often not a purely logical process. While lack of knowledge and experience is a large component of fear, why and how it affects a person is not so simple that it can be eliminated by throwing interesting facts at it.
Apathy is another foe of education-only conflict mitigation tactics. Many people simply do not care or want to think about the snake in their yard – they just want it gone. It doesn’t mean they’re bad, ignorant, etc. … most people just don’t think all that much about snakes. That’s an odd expectation to have as a prerequisite prior to helping them. New information will not be valued by a person who doesn’t value non-essential knowledge, and that’s ok.
A person with a deep fear of snakes is not likely to be positively affected by learning that the Kingsnake on the patio is harmless and eats rattlesnakes. “I know, but I have kids.”
The guy that just moved into a home on a golf course and doesn’t know who David Attenborough is doesn’t care how cool the Nightsnake in his kitchen is. “It eats scorpions? Cool story bro. I’m killing it.”
We have learned the hard way what happens when idealism supercedes reasonable action. – dead snakes. We get emails and texts every day of decapitated and hacked-up snakes, many of which were well known to be entirely harmless.
Tasked with resolving the conflict between a snake and a person, it is not useful or reasonable to abandon both when the scenario is not convenient.
Conservation outreach is not a job best performed by robots.
For people who enjoy snakes, it can be difficult for us to empathize and act appropriately in these situations. Those who choose to work with the public need to not forget that “the public” is made of people. They should remember that, outside of nature centers and Facebook groups where people intentionally seek and value information, is everyone else.
Do you have anxiety when you fly? Here are reports and data that show how amazingly safe flying is, reading the entirety of which will not make a dent in how a nervous flyer feels on the runway. If this situation doesn’t apply to you, replace flying with whichever fear you have. Does anything change? Would it still change if you perhaps thought differently or had a different personality?
If you’re the type that creates or shares memes and information online to educate people about snakes (or anything, really), consider who you are talking to and why they should care before you do. If you routinely say “herp” or find yourself annoyed when someone mixes up venomous and poisonous, this article is for you. Don’t forget that educating people involves, primarily: people.
Sidenote: the elephant in the room.
Yes, we make money from it. We do try our best to provide as many free services as possible to teach people what these harmless snakes are and that they can just be ignored, but if the situation requires one of our team to spend time on-site, there’s a fee involved to cover our time. That can be seen as an issue for some, but it allows us as an organization to exist and be staffed by experienced professionals with more than a passing interest. That potential for ethical conflict is understood and great care is taken to make sure that whenever possible, these situations can be resolved by information alone. There’s always going to be the “all business is evil; all profit is corrupt” sect of young conservationists who dislike what we do, and that is ok.
No. From all available data and evidence, snake repellents don’t work at all. Don’t buy them; it’s a waste of money and can be dangerous.
If you’re someone that’s already typing out a “well it worked for me for X years!”, please stop now and read the rest of this before doing so. You may be a victim of shady marketing practices, and you should direct anger towards those that would lie to you to make a buck instead of this article.
Rattlesnake Solutions has many thousands of records of rattlesnakes found in yards all across Arizona. Yet, we have not seen any perceivable difference between yards treated with snake repellent products (any of them) and yards that have not. We literally find rattlesnakes hiding in and under bags of the stuff, sleeping on top of mothballs, and any combination of these scenarios. Every day, we are called to homes with the tell-tale smell of a cat litter box that tells us one thing: this person was tricked into spending money on snake repellents, and the fact that we are there proves it does not work.
What is a snake repellent?
There are a variety of products that market themselves as capable of keeping rattlesnakes out of your yard. Most are just various forms of the chemicals found in mothballs, but there are some herbal varieties as well. There are some that also claim to mimic the smell of Kingsnake musk (Kingsnakes are natural predators of rattlesnakes). There are other forms as well of the more home-grown variety, such as actual mothballs, coffee grounds, rope (not kidding), lyme, and others. There are other forms, like sonic emitters and various electric fire-hazards, but they’re mostly sold in other countries. We won’t go into any specific products here, because none tend to work better than any others. It’s a great way to make money for a the person selling it, but not an effective way to keep snakes out of your yard.
The proof? Rattlesnakes.
The best measure of the ineffectiveness of snake repellents are the rattlesnakes themselves. If snake repellents worked, we’d not keep finding rattlesnakes in these yards, but we do. The featured image in this post is from a property in 2015 that was completely covered with the stuff. So much, in fact, that the homeowner stored the remaining bags (along with some empties) against the side of the house – inadvertently creating a shaded area. the result? A Western Diamondback Rattlesnake moved in overnight. This un-posed photo was taken by a Rattlesnake Solutions field agent prior to capture and relocation of the snake. Situations that make for such a great photo are rare, but the case of snake-repellent failing to even prevent direct contact with a snake is unfortunately common.
If you think snake repellents work, blame our brains.
If you have used these products and have not seen snakes, it has nothing to do with them. If you’re the type that is actively trying to prevent these situations in your yard, you’re almost certainly doing other things as well that actually do help. Things like: rodent control, good landscaping practice, keeping a clean yard, barriers and physical prevention, etc. If you have experienced this, to the point even where you’ll defend it despite all objective evidence and data, you may be a victim of a logical fallacy called confirmation bias. It’s something we all experience, perhaps some more than others. If a pest control guy has convinced you to give him money for it (or the marketing on the bag at Home Depot, etc), you are invested in having confidence in that decision. There is no such thing as “it works for me” if it doesn’t work for everyone; it works or it doesn’t, and reality is the latter.
Here’s a video that explains how confirmation bias works.
This type of misinformation is dangerous. These products create a false sense of security where none exists, and homeowners, believing their yard to now be immune to snakes, let their guard down and stop the basic safety actions that actually do keep people safe. If it were any other topic but rattlesnakes (the thing people seem to love to not know much about), it would be yanked off the shelves and outlawed.
Another scary and unfortunate fact: when I’ve talked to dealers privately about it, the sentiment seems to be “ya we know it doesn’t work, but customers ask for it”. That level of unethical practice being the norm is frustrating at best. There are of course many pest-control companies that fully believe it to work, so just having it on the list of services doesn’t mean your people are trying to intentionally deceive you … but some do know it doesn’t work but sell it anyway.
What works to keep snakes away?
Keep food, water, and shelter opportunities to a minimum. View your property as habitat to be exploited by local wildlife. The fewer resources exist for animals, the lower the chances are of having a surprise rattlesnake encounter.
A few of the big ones:
Rodent control – rattlesnakes eat rodents, so having rodents coming and going from your property will bring them in.
Eliminate cool and moist areas, like the leaky hose or patch of lawn that nobody really uses.
Clean up dog poop. This can attract rodents and the rattlesnakes that look for them.
Why should we trust you over our snake repellent dealer?
A simple fact: if it worked, we would sell it. If it did work, it would be a great thing for everyone and would be a huge financial benefit to me, personally. But, snake repellents don’t work. Don’t fall for it.
And, if you’re a company that sells it without even considering the facts here: do better for the people that trust you to protect them.
You may have seen the photos of two rattlesnakes “standing up” next to each other. Half of their bodies are up off the ground, rising from the grass or brush. It looks like a beautiful mating dance, but the reality is even more dramatic.
Those rattlesnakes are actually two males in combat. A third snake, which is female, will be somewhere nearby.
If two male rattlesnakes meet while tracking a female rattlesnake, they may begin this combat. The males will raise their heads up together and begin to wrestle. They’ll twist together and try to knock each other against the ground.
They might fight for seconds or many minutes, but the winner of the battle will stay and mate with the female rattlesnake. The losing opponent will generally flee.
Sometimes, a young male will approach an older, larger male who is sitting near a female. The older male might chase the younger male away without a fight. We saw one instance where an older male chased a young male off of a small cliff and into a tree.
It seems counterintuitive. Why would rattlesnakes wrestle when they have extremely potent venom? Rattlesnakes are more social than many people realize. They don’t usually bite each other (of course, there can be cases of rattlesnakes biting each other if they confuse a snake for the prey they are tracking). Plus, there’s no reason to waste venom that’s needed for protection against predators and catching meals. Many animals have rutting behavior that is not meant to seriously injure or kill their opponent, but show who’s toughest.
So what do mating rattlesnakes actually look like?
There is a real mating dance that amorous rattlesnakes perform. The male will do a twitching dance with their head against the female. The rattlesnakes will flick their tongues and flip their tails. This dance happens on the ground, without any of the upright posturing that combatting males do.
If you see two males fighting in your yard or on a trail, be on the lookout for the nearby female. Do not approach the rattlesnakes and do not let your children or dogs go near the snakes. This is just one more example of the highly social nature of rattlesnakes.