By James Altiere, Regional Hunter Education Coordinator

Many think snakes are something to be frightened of regardless if they are venomous or non-venomous. Snakes are often the cause for nuisance animal complaints when suburbia begins to encroach into existing wildlife habitat. Removing these nuisance animals can be a difficult task and more often than not can be avoided by minimizing suitable habitat from your home environment.

Rat snakes are commonly found around houses, barns, tool sheds, chicken coops, and many other structures. In fact, the rat snake is also referred to as a chicken snake because of its tendency to be found around chicken coops or a white oak snake because of its ability to climb trees. They will den in trees and other structures including homes in rural settings. Rat snakes feed on rats, mice and other rodents and are beneficial to have around the house to control these and other pests.

Another species of snake commonly found around the house is the DeKay’s brown snake. It is a small snake that is light brown with dark brown blotches rarely getting over a foot long. These are the snakes usually reported swimming around in pools. Like the rat snake, it is non-venomous; however, they are sometimes mistaken for ground rattlers. Other snakes known to frequent homes and the surrounding areas are king snakes, black racers, ring-necked snakes, and eastern garter snakes. All these species are non-venomous and provide many benefits to the average homeowner. These benefits include controlling insects and rodents. A king snake will control other snakes, including venomous snakes that can be very dangerous around the house.

Some species of snakes – coral snakes and pit vipers – occur around houses in rural areas and are beneficial, but may also pose a threat. The eastern coral snake is rarely encountered and prefers sandy habitats in southern Alabama. Pit vipers are more commonly encountered than coral snakes and include species such as copperheads, timber rattlesnakes, pigmy rattlesnakes and, in south Alabama, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. In addition, if your yard or the surrounding area has a swamp or pond nearby you might encounter a water moccasin, also known as the cottonmouth. Of these venomous snakes, the ones you are most likely to encounter in your yard are copperheads and timber rattlers.

Many years ago, while on routine patrol as a Conservation Enforcement Officer, I received a nuisance animal complaint regarding a “water moccasin” that was in a house--more specifically, in the toilet. The snake made an appearance during a baby shower while the expectant mom was in the restroom. When we arrived at the house, the snake was not visible but we did find a gray rat snake shed skin in a nearby closet. While examining this shed skin in their yard, I heard the home owner yell, “There it is.” I ran back into the house to find a 6-foot-long gray rat snake climbing out of the toilet. I removed the snake from the home and was able to harmlessly release it back into suitable habitat away from human development.

Many people who live in forested areas have learned to peacefully coexist with many wildlife species, including snakes. Learning to identify snakes and differentiating venomous and non-venomous species is important for all individuals whose homes are in existing wildlife habitat. Take steps to minimize suitable habitat in and around your yard if you are unwilling to coexist with snakes. Keeping a well manicured yard that is free of debris is critical to minimizing suitable habitat for many species of snakes. Stacks of firewood, weedy areas, fencerows, and many other overgrown areas provide optimal habitat for snakes to forage and obtain shelter. Eliminating suitable habitat is critical to reducing nuisance animals, including snakes, from your home environment.