DO YOU DO WITH A SNAKE IN YOUR YARD?
by Whit Gibbons
August 25, 2003
recently found a copperhead in our driveway. I am interested in ecology
and conservation and would not let my husband kill it. The snake crawled
away toward the nearby woods. However, with a child and two dogs, did
we do the right thing?"
The answer to this perennial question has not changed since last spring
when I wrote about how to deal with snakes in the yard . But because
I receive so many emails similar to this one, particularly in spring
and fall when snakes are most active, revisiting the issue seems worthwhile.
no perfect answer to the venomous snake issue exists for people who
have strong commitments toward their family and pets and yet want to
conserve wildlife. Three obvious choices are (1) leave the snake alone;
(2) kill the snake; (3) transport the snake to another location. With
a venomous snake, each of these has a certain level of risk. Of course,
before you contemplate any action be sure you are not dealing with one
of the many harmless species.
The risk involved in option 1, leaving a venomous snake to depart on
its own after you bring children and pets inside, is that it might disappear
but not actually leave your yard. Snakes have no interest in staying
around people and most will retreat to a wooded area if given an opportunity,
but a hiding place might be found under or around a house. If you let
a venomous snake leave on its own, you should keep a watchful eye to
make sure it indeed departs. A snake in a suburban yard may just be
passing through or may be returning in autumn to what was its original
den site, before the house was built.
Option 2, kill the snake, is a rather brutal way to deal with a species
that causes far less harm than other animals people tolerate in their
neighborhood. For example, no one kills dogs that cross their yards,
yet dogs cause thousands more injuries in the United States each year
than do snakes. Also, the risk in trying to kill a venomous snake is
higher than that of leaving the snake alone. Many snake bites occur
because someone gets too close while attempting to kill a snake or picks
up a still-alive snake believing it is dead.
Many conservation-minded people prefer option 3, removing the snake,
because it eliminates the safety hazard to people in a neighborhood
while giving the snake a chance for survival.
and transporting a large venomous snake requires extreme caution. The
process can sometimes be accomplished safely by using a garden tool
to guide the snake into a container, such as a large garbage can, and
then carefully putting the lid on. Never pick up a venomous snake.
H. "Marty" Martin, a West Virginia herpetologist who has studied
timber rattlesnakes for many years, says, "The best thing for the
snake is probably to move it a short distance (no more than half a mile)
away from your yard. However, if you want to be reasonably certain that
it does not come back, the snake should be transported to a relatively
wild area at least 2, and preferably 4 to 5, miles away from the capture
point. And what have you accomplished? Several studies have found low
survivorship in rattlesnakes that were transported outside of their
home range. Because of increased overland movements in unfamiliar territory,
the snake has a great chance of being taken by a predator or run over
on a road. Or it may fail to find a suitable refuge or den for the winter.
However, you may have bought the snake some time, and it may live another
year or part of a year [and be able] to reproduce."
like spring, is snake season, which some people find more exciting than
an amusement park and others find a bit disquieting. If you are among
the latter, just remember that most snakes are completely harmless;
venomous snakes bite people only as a last resort; and most Americans
who get bitten by snakes first pick up the snake.
If you have an environmental question or comment, email