The first rattlesnake sightings of 2020 have started to pop up around Arizona, along with the subsequent misinformation. To get a jump on things, let’s clear a few things up. SHARE this with your local community group.
Rattlesnakes are not out early; some reported sightings are completely normal. You do not need to worry or stop hiking, etc.
It is not “too cold”. Any day with the right conditions can have rattlesnakes coming to the surface of their chosen den. This can happen any day of the year when things are right.
Rattlesnakes do brumate (hibernate) and do have distinctly different phases of behavior as seasons progress.
Yes, you can see rattlesnakes on rare occasions, under very specific circumstances, in very specific places. “They are out” as they are all year, but this does not mean they are ACTIVE or that you need to worry if you’ve heard of someone seeing one.
No, rattlesnakes have not started to move around and begin a major activity period similar to the Spring emergence, which will likely start right on schedule around mid-March. They’ll likely stay right at the place they’re at (or within a few dozen feet) until conditions signal that it’s time to go.
Rattlesnakes are not “more aggressive” as they emerge from winter dens. If this is not a complete myth, it is likely one created by confirmation bias and a possibly delayed defensive reaction (rattle) as hunters and hikers approach a denning snake.
On TV and in internet posts, you may see photographs of hundreds of rattlesnakes piling out of a hole in the ground. In the hot desert areas of Arizona, this is not what they do. A rattlesnake den in the Phoenix or Tucson areas will usually have between 1 and 5 individuals, with some special places having a larger number.
If you do see a rattlesnake at your house, it’s almost certainly been there since October or so. This would be a good time to contact a professional or herpetological organization to investigate.
Right now is the best time to get started on any pre-season landscaping, yard cleanup, or any other habitat-reduction methods of rattlesnake prevention. Don’t wait until it gets warmer.
The superbowl is next weekend! If you’re grilling, do a quick inspection under the grill island before your guests arrive. Stand-alone grill islands that are popular in Arizona are a popular site for denning rattlesnakes.
If you hear anything else and want some clarification, post it in the comments!
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).
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.
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.
Arizona is one of the fastest-growing areas of the country, and every home at the desert edge can benefit from a rattlesnake fence. Snake fencing is the only proven way to keep rattlesnakes away from your property and keep family and pets safe.
It’s December, it’s cold (for Arizona), and the Rattlesnake Solutions relocation team is still busy. Instead of picking up rattlesnakes from patios and porches, we’re pulling Western Diamondbacks from garages and sheds. Whenever this happens, a common comment pops up – “why are there still rattlesnakes out there? It’s Winter, I thought they were hibernating?” What is going on?
The answer is easy enough – why aren’t rattlesnakes hibernating? (or brumating, as is more accurate, with a note on that later) They are, and the places we catch them are where they’re doing it. As we have covered in previous articles about just how and why rattlesnakes choose garages as prime den real estate, rattlesnakes in the warmer parts of Arizona tend to have quite a few options for a survivable winter refuge. When a rattlesnake is found in a garage on a cold December day, it’s likely been there since October, and where it is found is where it was brumating. This is not the same as being active, being “awake”, or any situation where an imagined extension of rattlesnake activity has been extended because of a few warm days or any other reason.
“If it’s cold why are rattlesnakes still out?”
They’re not, they’re in, and that’s where you found them.
These cold-weather sleepy rattlesnakes are often discoveries by people using the holiday downtime to get to long-neglected projects, like cleaning out the garage or tearing down the old shed in the yard. Another common one throughout December are rattlesnakes found under boxes of Christmas trees and other holiday decorations that have remained untouched in the deepest corner of the garage for 11 months. These discoveries are small rattlesnake dens, of only one or a handful of individuals,
Here is a trio of Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes that I captured in a storage closet at an apartment complex in Cave Creek:
“But I saw a rattlesnake outside! Why isn’t it hibernating?”
As mentioned earlier, rattlesnakes don’t truly hibernate. Rather, they do something similar called brumation. This means they’re sleeping a lot and avoiding the cold, but if conditions are good for them, they may come sit at the entrance of their den and hang out or move around a bit. What conditions cause this to happen vary by species and location. Here in the Sonoran Desert, temperates can get chilly but not often dangerously cold, and moisture loss is a concern. They don’t necessarily choose sites that have a lot of sun exposure, or even avoid it altogether (Hamilton et al 2008). On some warm days, especially just before or after rain, or a bit of sun after a some winter sprinkles, rattlesnakes will often come to the surface to take advantage of it. That means that if you see a rattlesnake coiled in the backyard, it’s likely been in the area for quite awhile already, and is just coming out a short distance.
“I heard on the local news that rattlesnakes are coming out early, or are active longer this year because of the weather!”
There is no evidence to suggest this is happening, but somehow it’s still a news story each year. According to our call logs over the past decade, our observations, and other research, rattlesnakes are going into brumation (ingress) and coming out of it (egress) in about the same times as normal. That is, generally, in by the first of November, and out by the 15th of March. That means that the shoulder times around those dates are full of rattlesnakes moving around and traveling, so sightings may increase, even as general activity is considerably less than other times of year. This is when you should be keeping garages and gates closed.
How can I be rattlesnake-safe this Winter?
Refer to some earlier articles we’ve provided about rattlesnakes during the cooler months:
Right now we’re all happily being soaked by the remnants of Hurricane Rosa. Washes are filling up, and desert life is getting a much-needed last, big drink before we go into another relatively-dry Arizona Winter. But this is a lot of rain, and rattlesnakes don’t have the weatherman to help make wet weather plans for the week. This can cause rattlesnakes to show up in some unexpected places during the next week or so.
Most rattlesnakes in the low desert have been busy doing their fall activities – eating, mating, and generally moving around a lot to get everything done before it’s time to laze-away cooler months. They often use washes and drainages, take cover under large rocks, rodent burrows, and similar situations. Unfortunately for them, when a rare event like regional flooding suddenly happens, this can cause rattlesnakes to be flooded out of their temporary hideouts. Rattlesnakes are often displaced by a major storm event in this way, and may end up moving erratically as they search for place to get out of the elements.
Don’t panic, just be strict with snake safety and be aware.
For homeowners, that means that your garage, covered patio, wood pile, or even car can become temporary shelter. If you live near a wash or drainage, especially, rattlesnakes will have to come to higher and dryer ground, so any available cover may be used. Even places that aren’t especially great rattlesnake refuges can become a port in the storm. Temporary or often-moved items like trash cans and parked cars, even boxes by the door, can become temporary shelter.
For hikers, it means that you may see rattlesnakes crawling in times and conditions that you don’t expect. If you avoid hiking at certain times of day hoping to not see a rattlesnake, the “rules” may be shaken up for awhile. In any case, rattlesnakes that you encounter still won’t chase, jump, or attack, or any of the silly stuff people believe. Follow hiking rattlesnake safety recommendations and be aware of your surroundings.
How to keep safe from rattlesnakes after a big storm:
Do not be overly alarmed, but do exercise extra caution during the next several days while rattlesnakes adjust to having their house flooded. As always in rattlesnake-activity areas, be aware of your surroundings and follow general rattlesnake safety protocol.
Be extra aware of the area around your front and back doors if you have an overhang. If you have pots or decorations in these areas, pull them away from the wall to open the space up.
If you are cleaning up debris from the storm, use heavy gloves and tools. Never reach directly into the sticks and leaves that pile up after rain water recedes. Rattlesnakes may be using this debris as temporary cover, so treat it as you would any other bush or potential rattlesnake-hide.
When you let your dogs out to use the bathroom, go with them. A dog on a leash is seldom bitten by a rattlesnake.
Talk to your children and remind them of basic rattlesnake safety, and accompany them when playing in the backyard.
If you do have debris in your yard, give it a day or two before going in to clean it up, but don’t let it stay too long. Rattlesnakes that are displaced or flooded out by the storm may be using debris as temporary cover, but in most cases this is not suitable for them when things heat up again.
If you have rattlesnake fencing installed, check it out to make sure there have not been any wash outs. If you see a washout, contact your installer to have it repaired as soon as possible.
Be aware that not just rattlesnakes are displaced by the high water. Nonvenomous, harmless species also may make a surprise appearance after a watery eviction. If you’re not familiar with the snakes that live in your area, it may be time to brush up on your snake identification skills.
Every monsoon season, a handful of big storms that sweep through the valley and rearrange our yards and shingles. The next day, an chainsaws and leafblowers join the sound of cicadas as the aftermath is handled.
Along with the downed trees and trash-scattered streets are rattlesnakes that have been displaced by the water and wind. After a massive storm, places where rattlesnakes may have been hiding from the heat can be flooded or destroyed. That means that these snakes have just a few hours to find new places to hide before the daytime heat kills them. That often puts them into conflict with people.
One of the places where rattlesnakes frequently live during the hottest times of year are in small caves along the edges of normally-dry washes. When these washes fill with water, rattlesnakes need to move. For home owners at the edges of these washes, that means that the rattlesnakes could be moving to the nearest dry area – your patio. Covered patios and entryways make up the majority of rattlesnake relocation situations after rainouts. They’ll also be hiding in the debris caused by the wind and flooding. Fallen trees and collections of yard debris are going to provide cool cover for these displaced snakes, and should be treated with caution when they are cleaned up.
The extra humidity also causes rattlesnakes to be more active, so they are already more likely to be hiding in temporary hiding spots, and may be more easily displaced by the big rain. Rattlesnakes are shedding their skin and heading out to hunt and drink after a long period of inactivity during the hottest and driest time of year, and that makes post-storm movement even more of a factor for home owners bordering desert areas.
What should you do to keep safe from displaced rattlesnakes?
Be alert around covered entryways and patios, especially in the corners. Rattlesnakes often use these covered areas to hide after extra-wet weather forces them to leave more preferable areas. If you have any decorations in the corners, like pots or plants, it may be good to move them out or at least create extra space between the corner and these features. Especially in the early morning, be mindful of the spots right around the front door.
If you have downed trees or yard debris that has collected after the heavy wind and rain, give it a day before cleaning it up. Be mindful while you do so of the potential for rattlesnakes to be using it as temporary shelter. Rattlesnakes may be “stuck” in situations where they need to quickly choose places to hide from the daytime heat that are not preferable, and may end up hiding in piles of branches and fallen leaves. By waiting 24 hours, you give the snakes a chance to leave if they are there during the next suitable time to do so (at night).
If you live near a wash or drainage, be especially cautious. Rattlesnakes are very common in drainages and the rain can force them to move erratically, often taking cover at the nearest available shade – your house.
Accompany dogs outside during their bathroom breaks and give the yard a quick check before allowing children to play in unprotected yards. If possible to let them out earlier in the day while it’s still hot, that may further decrease the chance of an unwanted rattlesnake encounter.
More than the monsoon – rattlesnakes may be surface active in any temperatures, any time of year.
Something that surprises many home owners each year are sightings of rattlesnakes after Winter rainfall. While it is true that rattlesnakes are largely inactive during the cooler months of the year (roughly November through February in the Phoenix area), some conditions will make them show up at any time. Heavy rain can cause similar displacement issues for rattlesnakes if it gets into places they’ve selected to spend the winter … especially if these are temporary, artificial, or new sites.
Other than displacement, rattlesnakes still need to drink in the winter time. Even in relative low temperatures for rattlesnake activity, they may come to the surface to collect rain in their coils or drink it directly from the rocks.
Here’s a video I took years ago at a small Timber Rattlesnake den, showing one of the several present rattlesnakes coming out to drink from the rocks.
If you have a rattlesnake denning on your property, you have a decent chance of seeing it sitting on the surface as the rain starts, or just after if the storm breaks to sun. What most people don’t like to learn about these situations is that the rattlesnake has almost certainly been in the area since about October, just hidden until having a reason to come out.
All in all, rain is just one of the many factors that make rattlesnakes move and be visible to people.
After months of brutally hot and dry conditions, the valley was absolutely hammered with rain and wind last night. The longer a person lives in Arizona, the more they learn to love such events. This is certainly true for native Arizonans, including rattlesnakes.
As humidity increases, rattlesnakes that have been hiding deep under cover have been emerging in small groups at the entrance of these safe areas, hoping for some rain. When the first sprinkles do come falling down, the rattlesnakes coil and gather rain on their scales, then drink it from any surface they can. While most of us were swearing in traffic or huddled at the office window watching palm leaves fly through the air, rattlesnakes all across the valley were sitting out in the open waiting for their first drink in awhile. The long wait is finally over – another foresummer survived.
To quickly address what you may be hearing out there: yes, monsoon weather does increase rattlesnake activity.
So what is next in the life of a rattlesnake? Does the monsoon make them more active?
In short, yes. Though rattlesnakes are active all year to varying degrees, the monsoon moisture brings the greatest period of activity of all. In just a few short months, they need to shed their skin (at least once), eat, mate, have babies, eat again, mate, establish dominance over new areas, travel to birthing, shedding, and hunting areas, and more. They are very active and this means that they can show up in surprising places more than other times in the year.
It’s not just the moisture and a chance to drink that brings them out – temperature is a primary driving force that dictates most rattlesnake activity. When the rain finally comes, the temperature stabilizes into a much more survivable, and predicable, range of temperatures. Daytime temperatures drop, nighttime temperatures stay put, and overcast skies can mean a longer, slower climb into lethal temperatures each day. This makes heading out into the world in search of mates or food a much less dangerous activity, and rattlesnakes begin to cover ground much more than in previous weeks. Under the darkness of a new moon in the monsoon humidity, rattlesnakes can be found moving in great numbers everywhere in Arizona.
This may not mean that people are more likely to run into them. Unlike the active period in the Spring, much of their activity takes place at night. That means that while they may be more active than any other time during the year, much of the contact time that can overlap with human behavior takes place right at sunup and shortly after. That means that we will get a few relocation calls each day from people surprised by a rattlesnake sleeping by the front door as they leave for work, but much of the rest of the day is pretty quiet. that is, until the babies start to move.
What happens when baby rattlesnakes are born?
Starting in mid July (now), some rattlesnakes begin to give birth. Rattlesnakes give live birth and do not lay eggs, and will stay with their babies for a period of time afterward. Once the baby rattlesnakes have shed their skin, they head out into the big scary world to eat and figure out how to be a rattlesnake.
As they wander, they often get into a lot of trouble. We find baby rattlesnakes in all kinds of terrible situations – stuck in glue traps, squished all over roadways, and crawling around in conditions that no self-respecting adult rattlesnake would ever be caught out in. This is bad news for home owners near areas where rattlesnakes live, since the likelihood of random encounters may be higher. However, unlike what is often the case with larger and older rattlesnakes, a visit from a newborn rattlesnake may not be for any particular reason but close proximity to desert areas, and may not actually indicate a rattlesnake “problem”.
What can be done to avoid rattlesnakes during monsoon season?
Even when rattlesnake activity is at its peak, the usual rules apply: stay aware, avoid putting hands and feet into places you can’t see, and keep the yard clean. If your backyard looks anything like mine does right now after last night’s massive storm, debris and leaf litter can be all over and be used as cover for rattlesnakes. Do what you can to keep debris to a minimum, rodent populations in check, and assume that any dark place has a rattlesnake in it until proven otherwise. If you live near an area where you may have random rattlesnake traffic, now would be a good time to pull the trigger on getting a rattlesnake fence installed, before the babies come. If you do have a rattlesnake fence already, use the pen test to see if your fence is good enough to really do the job.
Even though rattlesnakes are pretty much having a party right now, it doesn’t mean you need to worry too much. Just stay aware, and enjoy the rain!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.