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An Unwanted Garden Snake: Identification and Removal

Do you have a garden snake pestering your family? Not many families do well with the knowledge that they have a snake (or snakes) living on or frequenting their property, and it’s no wonder why! Many of us are not as skilled in recognizing a venomous snake from a harmless common snake, so we do what we can to ensure that our family members and pets are safe from any type of snake. Before we talk about how to get rid of snakes, let’s learn a little about some of the most common types of snakes that can be found in North American gardens to see if you might find a bit more comfort in being able to identify the snake in your garden before you dispose of it. With any luck you will be dealing with a harmless garden snake variety that you won’t feel obligated to kill, but might instead simply move it off of your property. 

Smooth Green Snake aka “Grass Snake”

The smooth green snake, which many of us simply know as the grass snake, is bright green in color and has a smooth and shiny body. Adults can be anywhere from 14 to 20 inches long and is typically very narrow in size. This snake has a red tongue with a black forked tip. Smooth green snakes can inhabit a variety of different environments, including grasslands, wooded areas, and marshland. They are not venomous and rarely ever attack humans. In fact, they are quite easygoing around humans and are most likely to let you approach them as long as you don’t scare them (in which case they will simply turn around and flee). If frightened, the grass snake will release a bad smelling odor as a deterrent to potential predators, but the foul smell is nothing more than an odor and does not harm humans or other animals. If approached cautiously, smooth green snakes will generally allow you to hold them although they may be a bit excitable at first. Once they wrap around your hand, arm, or finger, they generally relax and go along for the ride. This species enjoys a diet of spiders, ants, worms, moths, snails, and most types of smooth-textured caterpillars. They are not harmful and can even help deter pests from your garden.

Garter Snake

The term “garter snake” actually includes a number of sub-species that fall into this category. They come in many colors although all of them have some kind of line running down its body. The intricate pattern that adorns many of this species looks very similar to the frilly garters that women used to wear to hold up their stockings, hence the name “garter snake.” Garter snakes can be found all over North America and they are tolerant to a variety of temperatures and terrains, which accounts for their occurrence all over the continent—even in Alaska! Garter snakes enjoy a varied diet and are opportunists; they will eat almost anything they can find, such as lizards, snails and slugs, worms, small birds, rodents, and even fish and toads! Basically as long as the garter snake is strong enough to overpower its prey using constriction, it will eat it. This means that you don’t have to fear being eaten by a garter snake!

As far as garter snake behavior is concerned, it is not as amiable towards humans as the smooth green snake; however it is not vicious or aggressive, either. When approached, the garter snake will usually flee the area, although if it feels trapped or directly threatened then it may hide its head and wave its tail quickly. This is a warning sign and if the snake is made to feel further threatened it may strike out, but it is not venomous. The worst you have to worry about a bite from this snake is that failure to clean and dress the wound may lead to an infection, in which case antibiotics can easily treat it.

Removing a Garden Snake from Your Yard

Removing a garden snake from your yard may feel like a daunting task, but it is definitely one that you should not take on if you are worried that the snake may be venomous. A good way to tell if a snake is venomous is to inspect the shape of its head. Most poisonous snakes have a triangular-shaped head, where the “jaw” area is very broad and narrows down to a pointed nose. The facial shape of poisonous snakes is to accommodate the venom glands in the mouth.

You may use a net, such as a butterfly net, to gently scoop up the snake and transport it off of your property. Alternatively you could use a broom or shovel to scoop it up and do the same. If you believe that you have a poisonous snake on your property and you are worried about the safety of your children or pets then the best option is to call animal control. Do not attempt to remove or kill the snake yourself.

You can deter garden snake visitors by removing the things that they like from your garden. For instance, snakes love straw mulch, compost, ponds, tall or overgrown patches of grass, and heavy or bushy flower beds. All of these areas provide camouflage and protection from potential prey such as birds and raccoons, and therefore snakes may be attracted to the safety that your garden has to offer.




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