How to get along with snakes
Living in Florida, you have no doubt come across snakes in your travels. A fear of snakes, or Ophidiophobia, is common in many people. Interactions between people and venomous snakes in residential areas are much less common than those involving non-venomous species, and the risk of snakebite (venomous or non-venomous) is extremely small. The most common non-venomous snake in Florida is the black racer (see photo). You may be able to safely feed squirrels in a city park, but if you grab one of the squirrels, chances are it will bite and scratch you out of fear. Most people would not condemn squirrels for defending themselves by biting and scratching. Snakes defend themselves mostly by fleeing, but they may bite if captured and harmed. However, biting is not a sign that they are dangerous; it is just the only way that most snakes have to defend themselves.
There are only six species of venomous snakes in Florida, and only four of these species are found south of the Gainesville area. Attempting to harass, handle, or kill venomous snakes significantly increases your chances of being bitten, so it is best to adopt a “leave it be” attitude for all snakes. This also can help to prevent the needless killing of harmless snake species. If you are not 100% sure of the identity of a snake, just “leave it be.”
If you have snakes around your house
- You should feel lucky as they are there for a reason.
- All snakes are carnivorous and a benefit to humans. For example, rat snakes eat rodents such as mice and rats, and king snakes eat these rodents as well as other snakes, including venomous snakes.
- If you find a snake in your backyard, swimming pool, or garage, do not try to kill it! Instead, try to identify it, and if it is non-venomous, appreciate it and leave it alone just as you do with songbirds in your garden. However, if you are uncertain or it is a venomous species- leave it alone.
- Although we recommend leaving all snakes alone, catching most snakes around your house can be done safely by using a plastic garbage can and household broom (see below).
- Species such as North American Racers and Coachwhips are fast moving and may be longer than the garbage can, but with a little patience these snakes can be guided into the garbage can.
- If it is a small species like a Ringneck Snake or Crowned Snake, turn it loose in your garden where it can do its job eating little pest insects.
How to safely catch a snake
Lay a plastic garbage can on its side, stand safely back, and reach out with a long house broom to sweep the snake into the can. Slow but firm brush strokes are best. Flailing at it will only agitate the snake. A snake can strike up to 2/3 its body length.
Once the snake is inside, stand the garbage can up and put the lid on it. Make sure your fingers are safely behind the lip of the can. The snake cannot bite through the plastic and cannot climb the smooth sides. Snap the lid on the garbage can and tie or tape it securely in place. Neither you nor the snake is harmed. Secure in the garbage can, the snake can now be removed from the property. Most snakes can be safely removed this way – they should never be killed.
If you are bitten by a snake
Most people are bitten on the hands and arms when they are handling or trying to kill a snake. Therefore, if you are uncertain of its identity, do not try to catch or even kill a snake.
For a short time after a snake is killed, its reflexes may continue to work. Those reflexes typically cause the body to writhe slowly. Poking or prodding a freshly killed snake can cause a convulsive contraction and even a bite, so do not handle a newly killed venomous snake. If you are bitten, stay calm; remove any rings that could restrict circulation if tissues swell, and keep the bitten limb below the level of the heart.
The only acceptable treatment for venomous snakebite, involves the use of antivenin. So if you or someone else is bitten by a venomous snake, seek immediate attention at the nearest hospital or medical facility.
MARCH 12, 2014, BY KBRUNK
Information obtained from The University of Florida’s IFAS website at: http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/index.shtml