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Reduce snake encounters as as temperatures start to rise

USU Extension writer

With the onset of spring, nature's cycle of life is in full swing. Many wildlife species have been in hibernation to cope with freezing temperatures and periods of low food availability.

According to Utah State University Extension wildlife specialist Terry Messmer, snakes are one species prompted out of hibernation by the recent warm weather.

As the reptiles emerge and begin seeking seasonal habitats, the snakes have been found in homes, backyards, playgrounds, on roads, decks and other structures.

"Our office has already received many calls on snake encounters," said Messmer. "One woman told us she had just returned home from delivering freshly baked bread to the neighbors. She had left the oven door slightly ajar to dissipate the heat. As she approached the oven, she noticed movement. After looking closer, she came face to face with a 16-inch garter snake. That probably made her a little leery of bread making for a while."

Snakes are probably the most misunderstood creatures known, noted Messmer. Utah is home to some 27 species and 23 are non?venomous. Therefore, chances are high that when Carbon County residents encounter a snake, it will be non?venomous.

The most common non?venomous reptiles are three species of garter snakes. They are often referred to as water and gopher or bullsnakes.

Snakes are considered cold-blooded, which means they maintain body temperatures nearly equal to that of their environment, said Messmer. When temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, snakes seek shelter in areas where temperatures are above freezing such as under rocks, in holes, below ground, in or under tree stumps, wood piles, debris or man?made structures. These places may be used for temporary shelter or for winter hibernation.

Some snakes will use the same sites as dens year after year for hibernation.

Several hundred snakes may also occupy the same denning sites.

"Non?venomous snakes do not cause direct damage to humans, structures or pets," said Messmer. "They actually assist in controlling insects and rodents. Some non?venomous snakes eat other snakes, even venomous ones."

Occasionally, snakes will enter buildings and structures for shelter or food. The best way to reduce encounters is to make the area unattractive to snakes.

Snakes need food and shelter and, if these aren't available, they won't be attracted to an area.

Messmer advised local residents to keep lawns cut, weeds and vegetation thinned and remove wood, rock and debris piles to discourage snakes from entering yards,

The best way to exclude snakes as well as rodents and insects from buildings is to close possible entrances, continued Messmer.

People should check the foundation for cracks and openings larger than one-fourth inch. Larger openings may be filled with caulk or concrete mortar. Metal screen or hardware cloth may also be used.

People should also check areas where pipes or wires enter the building.

Using screens around doors and windows discourages snakes from entering through the areas.

"If you are building a new home, consider the exclusion methods," indicated Messmer. "Also think about the location of your building site. If you build near a permanent water source such as a river, stream, lake, pond or wetlands, you will increase the chances of non-venomous snake encounters. Also think about snake habitat and food requirements when landscaping."

If snakes continue visiting an area after the habitat has been modified, it may become necessary to trap and remove them.

Residents should keep in mind that snakes are protected in Utah and should not be killed without proper cause, he noted.

The best way to remove snakes from buildings is to use long capture tongs, a pole or a stick, then place the snake in a container for removal. It is not recommended to capture snakes by hand.

"A pile of damp burlap bags can also be used to attract and remove snakes from an enclosed area," said Messmer. "Place the pile of bags in a cool, dark place and cover it with a dry bag to keep the other bags damp. Snakes will be attracted to this area to escape the heat of the day. Remove the bags and snake with a large flat shovel in the middle of the day when snakes are more likely to be inside."

Glue boards may also be used to remove snakes. People should attach three or four rat?sized glue boards to a piece of plywood 16 x 24 inches or staple together. Snakes generally move along walls.

Glue boards should be placed along an inside wall or foundation.

When a snake slithers along the glue board, it will become attached. To avoid close contact, people may fasten a wood extension handle to the glue board's plywood base before placing the trap.

To release a captured snake, local residents should take it to a suitable area, place the glue board flat on the ground and pour vegetable oil on the snake.

The vegetable oil will allow the snake to free itself, concluded Messmer.

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