Is your home a rattlesnake den? How to stay rattlesnake-free this winter.


It’s October, and rattlesnakes are as active as ever. They’re moving around a lot right now, getting in some last meals, mating, and general rattlesnake “housekeeping” as they get ready for cooler months. This is also the time of year they begin to move back towards where they will spend the winter. Unfortunately for many homeowners in Arizona, that means your house or property. Rattlesnakes can and do overwinter in and around buildings, so how can you prevent your property from being a rattlesnake den?

Before going into the details, I should specify that this information may really only be completely relevant in the Sonoran Desert portions of Arizona, particularly Phoenix and Tucson. It’s also a lot of good general advice, but be aware that the further you are from saguaros, the less accurate it may be for your situation. The rattlesnake species that most-often comes into conflict with people is the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. They’re generalists that make good use of the desert landscaping found at most homes on the outskirts of Phoenix and Tucson, and the species that I’ll be referring to in this article as “rattlesnake”, despite the several other species that also occur in these areas.

How rattlesnakes den for the winter in the Sonoran Desert is a bit different than in other parts of the country, or even other parts of their range within Arizona. In the lower, hot desert, it just doesn’t get cold enough in the winter to create a need for a lot of fuss over finding a perfect den. You may be familiar with photographs online of dozens or hundreds of rattlesnakes pouring out of a hole in the ground, usually with some silly comments. These are actual and accurate photographs, but from cooler climates where rattlesnakes may have fewer preferable areas to select from, during the longer and colder winter.

Here, where we may only get a handful of nights each year with sub-freezing temperatures, sun exposure everywhere, and countless rock piles and tunnels to choose from, snakes have it easy. This means that they tend to den in smaller groups, perhaps only a few individuals, or even alone. While some larger dens do certainly exist in some places, with 20 or more individuals, this is not as common as the smaller sites. Other species, like Speckled Rattlesnakes and Tiger Rattlesnakes, tend to den in a general area rather than a particular crack year-after-year, so avoiding the creation of an accidental den can be challenging. A primary driving force for choosing a den site appears to be the preservation of moisture, rather than sun exposure and access to heat [Hamilton, Nowak, Western North American Naturalist 69(3):319-328. 2009 ]. That means that a rattlesnake den in much of Arizona isn’t just some high rocky hilltop, but can be really anywhere at all. They may use different dens in different years, and are generally less predictable than in cooler climates.

Do rattlesnakes den at homes?

The Rattlesnake Solutions relocation hotline largely stops ringing in mid-November, after the snakes have completed ingress (moving into the den area they’ve selected). After that, we still get calls, but they are of a different nature – they are denning rattlesnakes. The places where we have found them over the past decade and the conditions they appear to be drawn to are consistent enough that we have a good idea of which features at a home are likely to become a rattlesnake den without some consideration.

These are the most common places where we see rattlesnake dens in the winter, and how to keep it from happening to you:

1. Rattlesnake Den in the Garage

To a rattlesnake a garage is just an insulated cave with some golf bags and fishing gear. By far, the most common rattlesnake den situation we find at homes in Arizona are storage areas in the garage. Typically, they are discovered in the early Springtime once the snakes tend to move towards the front of the garage, and are found coiled in the corner near the door. Upon inspection, these are almost always snakes that have apparently spent the entire winter in the garage (the homeowners usually don’t like this news).

They tend to use areas where boxes or other storage comes in close contact with the wall. This description probably fits most garages (including mine), but long-term storage with poorly-sealed boxes seems to be the most common and useful situation for rattlesnakes. Cardboard boxes that contain holiday decorations seem to be commonly used as a dens, as they provide some cover and additional insulation.

What can you do to keep your garage from becoming a rattlesnake den?

  1. Make sure the garage door is in good shape and tightly sealed, especially at the edges and corners.
  2. Fix any cracks in concrete and vents that lead to outside areas.
  3. Keep the garage door closed as much as possible, even during the day, especially during the ingress period of October-November.
  4. Keep the garage clean and move long-term storage to other areas.
  5. Close access to any built-in closets, water heater areas, equipment rooms, etc.
  6. Watch for signs of rodents (droppings, nesting material) and get rid of them if rodents are found.

2. Rattlesnake Den in the Pool Pump Area

A swimming pool is an extremely common feature at most homes in the Phoenix area, and it’s no surprise that rattlesnakes will make use of the often-overlooked pool pump and equipment area. These pump and filter areas are usually closed off and alongside the home, or otherwise separated from the rest of the yard. They’re also less often-visited than other areas of the property, so can get a “pass” on rodent activity and are generally less tidy than other parts of an even manicured yard.

In the winter, a common place for rattlesnakes to den is under the concrete base of the filter unit or other pump equipment. Rodents and erosion, along with the generally-higher humidity near the pump equipment and vibration, create caves and spaces that rattlesnakes apparently love. Each year, we receive numerous calls to relocate multiple rattlesnakes from situation.

What can you do to keep your pool pump and filter area from becoming a rattlesnake den?

  1. Control the rodent population and make sure that any tunnels or digging is addressed immediately.
  2. Keep the area clean and do not store anything there that isn’t necessary. Any clutter, buckets, bricks, and other things that tend to be stored in these areas can increase your chances of seeing a rattlesnake here.
  3. Seal the entrance to the pool equipment area with a gate, then have rattlesnake fencing installed onto it.
  4. Fix any cracks in the concrete pad and eliminate any spaces possible in the surrounding walls.

3. Rattlesnake den in decorative rocks

The third most common situation where we find rattlesnakes denning are rock piles and rip rap placed as decoration on the property. In many of these situations, the rock piles are placed in areas where they also come into contact with the surrounding landscaping. If this is done in a particular way, it can create a perfect situation for rattlesnakes looking to hide for the winter. More specifically, rosemary bushes or other large, low cover that tends to create deep leaf-litter that is allowed to grow over the top of rock piles, where the rocks are the size of a cantaloupe or larger, and are piled to a depth of more than 20″. If there is water nearby (drip system, pool, etc), this is even better for the snakes. If this all exists on a slope or at the edge of a wash, you should be surprised if rattlesnakes are not using it already. Each year we capture rattlesnakes in these situations, and more often than not, there is evidence to show that the snakes have been using these areas for a long time.

What can you do to keep your landscaping and decorative frock from becoming a rattlesnake den?

  1. Keep plants and bushes trimmed back from the edge of the rock, and never let it grow over the top of or through the rock pile itself.
  2. Make sure that decorative rock piles do not have deep spaces and are as shallow as possible.
  3. Watch larger boulders for rodent activity and tunnels that may create spaces under them. If tunnels are found, use a garden hose to flood them and destroy them from the inside-out.
  4. Seal spaces and crevices between larger rocks with concrete (or similar) so that access to the interior, protected area is eliminated.
  5. Consider removing any plants or rocks in the property that you do not feel adds to the appeal to the property, or that you’re “on the fence” about keeping. Generally and unfortunately, a boring yard is a safe yard. Be sure not to add superfluous features.

4. Rattlesnake den under the home

The fourth, and most common in many areas, place where rattlesnake dens are frequently found are underneath homes themselves. This is typically most common in areas where manufactured homes are numerous, where the aluminum or wood skirting that lines the space under the home is easily breached by rodents and general wear and tear. In larger homes with a solid foundation, the situation can be even more difficult to solve, since the crawl spaces leading to where the snakes den can be difficult for a tall snake relocator (ahem) to fit into. We are often alerted to these dens by Air Conditioning repair technicians, who see a shed skin and refuse to crawl any further until it gets checked out. Fortunately, even though this can be relatively common and difficult to handle, it is relatively easy to prevent.

How can I keep my house from becoming a rattlesnake den?

  1. Seal all cracks in the foundation, no matter how small or minor they appear to be. Even cracks that are too small for a rattlesnake to fit through may widen over time, and it is best to fix them as they are found.
  2. Watch for any signs of erosion or digging by rodents at the edge of the home. If these holes go under the foundation, you’ve created an insulated and safe cave for rattlesnakes to use. Have a zero tolerance policy for any rodent activity at the base of the foundation.
  3. Be aware of spaces in the flashing or spaces at the corners, pillars, and other joints where the stucco frame meets the foundation. Modern home construction seems to be less-than-concerned that the house is sealed properly. We commonly see gaps in corners, even completely open overhangs that can lead up and over the foundation itself or into the walls of the home. Do whatever needs to be done to fix this.

5. Rattlesnake den under the shed

A place where we regularly find rattlesnakes denning on a property is under a backyard shed. These structures are almost always less-maintained than the home itself, and have a variety of foundation types, even just plopped onto the dirt on a few cinderblocks. Unfortunately for us, these are perfect conditions for rodents, and the predators that eat them. Rattlesnakes can move into the spaces under the shed and be relatively undisturbed. Of all of the den conditions described here, backyard sheds seem to offer the most long-term refuge from winter cold, according to the number of shed skins and even dead snakes that we find there. Sometimes rodents even dig up into the shed itself and find additional cover opportunity in the stuff stored in there, which usually gets even less attention than boxes stored in the garage.

How do I keep rattlesnake from making a den under my shed?

  1. Watch for any rodent activity and do what you can to eliminate it.
  2. Put the shed on a foundation or support structure of some sort that does not allow gaps and easy access.
  3. Use heavy materials and avoid things like particle-board, cheap plywood, and things that a rodent can easily get through.
  4. Schedule a yearly cleanout of the shed itself to keep things clean and review items to possibly cut down on the amount of clutter stored inside.
  5. Keep anything that can be eaten out of there – birdseed, dogfood, grass seed, and other edibles are often kept in these sheds, and can attract rodents (and rattlesnakes as a result).
  6. If the shed is build near a wall, make sure to clean out the space between the wall and prevent landscaping debris from piling up there.

6. Rattlesnake den in the grill island

This will be the last potential rattlesnake den situation that is covered here. It’s a little bit less common than the others, but its nature and tendency to put sandal-wearing or bare feet in close proximity to rattlesnake fangs makes it worth noting. At many homes in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas, a stand-alone grill island is a standard feature. The trouble is, all those burger drippings and hot dogs that slip through the cracks can attract rodents, and once again, rattlesnakes who are looking for them. These islands usually have an access door on one side, and at least one vent on the rear side. Some also have inlets for propane stored elsewhere, or even extend into other features like a bench. The construction of these islands is usually flimpsy and tends to fall apart at the corners relatively quickly, leaving easy access for hungry rodents and one-stop-shopping for rattlesnakes in search of a place to hide away for the winter.

How do I keep a rattlesnake den from forming under my grill?

  1. Keep the access door closed at all times and make sure that it latches tightly.
  2. Cover vents with 1/4″ steel hardware cloth mesh.
  3. Completely seal all cracks that may appear in the stucco, and make sure that any interior openings for access to propane and other pipes is sealed entirely.
  4. Keep it clean! If you see any rodent droppings under there (like a squishy brown tictac), you have rodents running around the area where you make your hamburgers. That’s not only gross, but a potential attractant for rattlesnakes.
  5. Have your entire yard sealed properly by having rattlesnake fence professionally installed.

Don’t let your guard down just because it’s cold outside. Rattlesnakes in Arizona are active all year.

A term that people throw around and the local news loves is rattlesnake “season”. This implies that rattlesnakes show up at some point, stay awhile, and disappear – and nobody has to worry about it until rattlesnake “season” starts up again! This may be true in some places where ice-scrapers are sold, but here in Arizona, rattlesnakes are active to some degree every month of the year. They may not be traveling or hunting, but if they definitely will come out on a sunny day or after a rain even on cool winter days. No matter if you have one of the above feature or not, the greatest rattlesnake den advice I have to give is to continue to follow the rattlesnake safety rules as you normally would. Don’t reach where you can’t see, clean up messes as you make them, get rid of rodents and clutter, and so on. Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean you can’t meet a rattlesnake, and if you’re sharing a garage with one, that could be any time at all.

If you have any rattlesnake den stories or have found one at your home, or you have questions about any of these features and want more information about what you can do to help keep a rattlesnake den from showing up at your place, contact us.

Hello Prescott! Rattlesnake Solutions now offers snake removal and rattlesnake prevention services in the quad-city area

We’re happy to announce that Rattlesnake Solutions has expanded service to Yavapai county, and can handle any rattlesnake relocation that may be needed in Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Cottonwood, and Sedona (and surrounding areas).

The species found in that area add to the list of possible rattlesnake species we’ve been able to relocate in our existing service area. Soon, we’ll have some photos of Arizona Black Rattlesnakes and many more Blacktailed Rattlesnakes to add to the feed!

If you know anyone in the area that could use some help with rattlesnake prevention and snake relocation, please send them our contact information.

24/7 Snake Removal Hotline:928-325-7371

https://prescottsnakeremoval.com

Rattlesnake Removal, Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Hills, and surrounding areas

Rattlesnake solutions offers completely safe, humane, all-hours to removal of unwanted reptiles from your home or business in the quad-city area. Rattlesnakes are the most common where homes meet desert habitat, and snake sightings are common almost year-round, but in the Prescott area, they’re most likely to occur from late Spring (April) through the monsoon season (September) when rattlesnakes travel to Winter dens. Pest control companies can’t help and really, most wildlife services companies may offer some snake services but don’t have the knowledge to truly do it correctly. More details about our snake removal services in the Prescott area.

Property Inspections for homes in the Prescott area

We’re not just rattlesnake removal specialists; the Rattlesnake Solutions field team is made of field herpetologists, biologists, snake researchers, and reptile lovers with thousands of hours experience tracking and capturing rattlesnakes in wild situations. Rattlesnake Solutions field team agents bring this experience to your property. You’ll learn what could be possibly attracting snakes, and how to make minor changes to reduce your chances for unwanted rattlesnake encounters.

Rattlesnakes in the Prescott area:

Arizona Black Rattlesnake

Blacktailed Rattlesnake

Mojave Rattlesnake

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Living with Snakes Basics for New Arizona Residents

Photo by Brandon Harmon, Rattlesnake Solutions

Many people move to Arizona for our near-constant sunshine, and mild winters. These also make for perfect conditions for reptiles, which to the dismay of many homeowners, live in great numbers throughout the state. Where our neighborhoods meet the desert, an encounter with a snake every so often is just part of life.

The valley is home to 6 unique species of rattlesnake, all of which pack a harmful, venomous bite. A bite, which if logic prevails, is almost always optional. Rattlesnakes are on the menu for many desert predators. They’re nervous, shy, and like most animals, will try to prevent their own death when it is threatened. Rattlesnakes do not chase, jump at, or come after perceived predators, regardless of the numerous, fictional tales we as Arizonans are sure to hear. The fact is; rattlesnakes encounters are almost always harmless if in nature, and optional in our yards.

So what is the home owner to do, when a venomous visitor suddenly drops by one morning, coiled on the porch and going nowhere? The first thing to consider: nobody is in danger. The snake has been seen, and the only way anyone will be within range of a bite is if they put themselves there. Statistically, this is what many shovel-wielding husbands will do, becoming the single largest bite statistic, by far. A bite to the hand of a home hero can cost well over $100,000, cause incredible pain, and result in disfigurement and occasional death. Contacting a professional to remove the animal costs around $100, and is absolutely safe and humane.

Taking one step back – why is the snake there? Isn’t there some way to keep them from being there in the first place? Fortunately there is. Here are a few tips to keep your yard as rattlesnake-free as possible:

  • The desert is a hard place to live; make sure your yard isn’t an oasis. Rattlesnakes want food, water, and shelter. Deny those, and the yard is nothing interesting. Fix leaky hoses, keep the yard clean, and make sure all of the bushes are trimmed and free of dead plant material underneath.
  • If you have a view fence or wall surrounding the property, complete the barricade. Door sweeps and wire fencing can be installed to keep animals out. It’s a relatively inexpensive Saturday project for the handy, or contact a snake removal company to install it for you.
  • Forget the store-bought snake repellents and mothballs; they simply do not work. Many pest control companies will swear they do, but all research points to repellants being a smelly waste-of-money.

Dogs can be trained to avoid rattlesnakes by a number of businesses around the valley, and an inexpensive vaccine can be requested by most veterinarians. Keep dogs on a leash in desert areas, and have emergency information on-hand if you live near open, native desert.

Despite the very high number of snakes that are found here, bites still make the front page when they occur. It is a relatively rare event with an extremely low fatality rate, which somehow still occupies a place in our culture as a major threat to be feared by every desert home owner. As citizens in this amazing Sonoran habitat, it is the responsibility of all of us to be peaceful, well-informed co-inhabitants with the desert wildlife. Rattlesnakes may be the thing of nightmares to many, but that is an optional fear that, like most fears, fades to nothing with a willingness to learn and a touch of understanding.

In the valley, the most common places to run into a rattlesnake in your own yard are Cave Cree, Scottsdale, and other areas where there is a lot of development and contact with native areas.

Most Commonly Encountered Snakes in the Phoenix Area

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

VENOMOUS – Grey to tan in color, between 1’ and 4’ long. Easily identified by the distinct white and black banded tail, and rattle. Defensive in nature but easily avoided if encountered. Do not attempt to capture, kill, or otherwise interact with this snake.


Sonoran Gophersnake

BENEFICIAL – Also commonly misidentified as a “bullsnake”. Tan, yellow, or orange in color, with dark brown blotches, between 1.5’ and 5’in length. Defensive if attacked, but non-venomous and will not bite unless attacked. A gophersnake is great free pest control.


Desert Nightsnake

BENEFICIAL – Grey or dark brown with double rows of spots on the back, between 8” and 14” in length. Often confused with a baby rattlesnake due to elliptical eyes and triangular head. Absolutely harmless, this snake feeds on spiders and scorpions in the yard.


Speckled Rattlesnake

VENOMOUS – Highly variable, this snake takes the coloration of rock where it is found; orange, brown, white, or light grey. It is small, between 1’ and 3’  in length. If seen, do not approach this snake for any reason.


Longnosed Snake

BENEFICIAL – Often confused with the kingsnake, this snake is between 8” and 3’ long. It eats lizards and their eggs. They are absolutely harmless, and can reduce rattlesnake-attracting prey in a yard.


Kingsnake

BENEFICIAL – Black and white banding from head to tail, and between 1’ and 4’ in length. Kingsnakes consider rattlesnakes a primary food source, and are great to have on a property. They may bite if picked up, but are otherwise completely harmless.


Coachwhip

BENEFICIAL – Fast, slender, and between 1’ and 5’ in length. May be black, olive, or red in color. This snake eats rattlesnakes and other prey items and should be kept as-is if seen. They will bite if picked up, but move away quickly if seen and are difficult to capture.

24/7 Removal Hotline: 480-237-9975

facebook.com/snakeremoval

Snake Identification & Information: email photos to info@phoenixsnakeremoval.com

Holiday Rattlesnake Awareness Guide for Visiting Family

It’s finally cooling off out there and rattlesnakes have mostly ended their surface activity for the year. They’ve gone to their Winter dens to wait out the cooler temperatures – but those dens can often be places close to (or in, under, or next to) home. If you live in a place where rattlesnakes do, especially if you have had rattlesnake encounters near the property, it’s good to have a little bit of information for visiting friends and family who aren’t as savvy as you are. This isn’t meant to scare anybody away (or may be it is! [insert mother-in-law-joke here]), but create just enough awareness to make sure everyone has a good, safe time and there’s nothing to worry about for those grand-babies from cooler climates.

  1. Do a pre-visit check of the yard for rattlesnake activity. This one is a no-brainer. A couple of days before they arrive, spend a half hour looking around the yard to see if there’s anything suspicious. Shed snake skins, odd holes that weren’t there before, and weird-looking poop could mean there’s a rattlesnake that’s decided to spend Winter in your yard. Places to be especially aware of are pool-filter areas, near and under sheds, and in the garage. If you live in a manufactured home, or a home with easy access to the foundation, that’s another area to look. If you’re not sure, this is something that we can help with.
  2. Just a simple awareness statement. When everyone arrives, just give a quick statement about being aware. A quick “Just so you know, rattlesnakes do live around here, so always keep an eye out” will do, and may give you something to talk about on the way home from the airport. You might want to go over some of the basic rules of living in the desert that you do every day. Things like “don’t reach anywhere you can’t see” and “don’t go outside at night without shoes and a flashlight“. Different relatives may have different tolerances for all the snake talk, so feel it out and give the appropriate amount of information to keep everyone safe without ruining turkey day.
  3. Keep the kids out of the garage. After Thanksgiving is a common time for people to get into the storage to dig out Holiday decorations. Rattlesnakes commonly use garages as den sites (this is something we handle all Winter long), so be aware that stuff that you haven’t touched all year, i.e. dusty decorations, are great places for these sleepy snakes to hang out. While the actual hanging of decorations might be fun for the family, actually retrieving them from storage is a better solo job for you.
  4. If you are within a quarter mile of any construction project, be especially aware. Many rattlesnakes that we are called to capture during the Winter have been disturbed at their chosen Winter refuge, and end up wandering into nearby neighborhoods trying to survive. If there is any construction project nearby, including road expansion, or and minor residential construction like digging a pool or removing an old shed, be especially aware. When native desert is torn up, the animals that have lived there have no choice but to find a new place to go, regardless of how cold it is outside. If you are in this situation, you may want to give an extra note of caution to your visitors.
  5. If you have a snake fence, check it out. Are there any holes in it? Are you using the right size mesh? Are all gaps 1/4″ inch or smaller? There’s no better time to check out the snake-proofing work than before visitors arrive, so you can confidently say that the yard is protected. Here is a simple test you can do at home in a few seconds to see if your snake proofing is doing its job.
  6. Keep our 24/7 hotline number available. In the event that a rattlesnake does show up while family is there, be ready to handle it in the safest and most effective way possible: call an expert to help (nobody wants to spend the holiday in the hospital ICU). If a rattlesnake does show up, call 480-237-9975 any time for immediate removal.

To help, we have a seasonal discount on Property Inspection Services for the rest of November. If you want to have a rattlesnake expert come to your property and check things out before friends and family arrive, call 480-237-9975 or email info@rattlesnakesolutions.com. Same-day service is available in most cases upon request.

Snake Fence Installations – Don’t Wait Until a Snake Shows Up

Keeping rattlesnakes away is a 2 step process. The first is to remove things that may attract snakes to the yard. The other, even better, is to install a snake fence to physically keep rattlesnakes away.

A professionally installed snake fence can be very low-profile, and will last for years. It is the surest way to keep rattlesnakes out, and ensure a safe area for bare feet and play. An improperly installed snake fence, however, can actually become a snake trap, funneling snakes that would otherwise just crawl right through the area and leave. Our fence installation partners know the difference, and just how to install the fence so that it not only protects your property from rattlesnakes, but does not ruin the aesthetic or view of the surrounding landscape.

Snake Fence Properly Installed

Snake fences can look nearly invisible when installed correctly. The above photo from our Tucson partner is an example. The fence is installed to attach to existing fence structures, like view fences and gates, to provide a low-profile barrier to wildlife. Rattlesnakes are capable of climbing, but the fence is installed in a way that they either can’t reach the top, or are otherwise prevented from getting over.

Likewise, rodents can dig under a fence that has not been buried to the proper depth. Gates and drainages, too, present their own challenges that a professional fence installer will know how to handle. This is not the sort of work that should be trusted to the local handyman – a knowledge of snake behavior and experience with them in wild areas is necessary to truly understand the situations where a snake could possibly be a danger, and how to prevent it.

Here are some photographs of recent installations from our Tucson snake fence installation partner. They show just how invisible these fences can be when done properly.