Ophiophobia: the fear of snakes.
Seeing a snake stops me in my tracks, leaves my heart pounding and scarcely breathing while my eyes are fixed on the reptile. Being someone who has made a living working outside much of my life, snakes are not a rare thing in my day-to-day activities, but I still prefer to avoid them.
During this first week of June, I received my fill of snakes. Just one day this past weekend found me relocating a 5-foot black snake only to have it return an hour later. A sharp stream of water persuaded it to stop climbing up to our hummingbird feeder. At the same time I was hooking up the hose, I came face-to-face with a garter snake in our window well with a toad halfway in its mouth.
I berated the garter snake for eating a beneficial toad, but he was too busy using the side of the window well to shove the toad in his mouth to notice my insults. I left him to his meal.
Despite my own misplaced ophiophobia, snakes are incredibly beneficial and misunderstood.
The typical diet for our Midwestern snakes is insects, worms, and other rodents. Snakes do not cause damage to plants and they cannot chew or makes holes, but instead take advantage of existing openings in structures.
Snakes rarely bite humans. Should you be bitten by a non-venomous snake it feels akin to being slapped as their teeth are not long enough to cause any harm.
Venomous snakes are rare in Illinois and they vary depending on your location in the state. In total we have four species of venomous snakes: Copperhead, Cottonmouth, Massasauga, and Timber rattlesnake. These are easy to distinguish with their distinct viper head shape, which can be likened to arrowhead-shaped. Non-venomous snake's head transition smoothly to their body.
The reason snakes are present is because the habitat is conducive to their needs. Landowners can make adjustments to their property that make it less appealing to reptiles.
Landscaping modifications to discourage snakes
- Replace loose rock walls. Snakes like to crawl in or behind stones that help keep their cold-blooded bodies warm. Replace loose stone walls with tight-fitting concrete block or timbers.
- Keep plant material short. Long grassy weeds provide good cover for many animals including snakes. Staying on top of mowing will leave snakes more open to predation which they will tend to avoid.
- Remove or relocate other debris such as piles of rocks, bricks, brush, or wood.
- Repellents such as mothballs or sprays do not work. The only item shown to deter snakes is sharp lava rock. Place lava rock adjacent to structures to prevent snakes from basking near that building. According to University of Nebraska Extension lava rock should be 2- to 3-feet wide and 5- to 6-inches deep.
- Fencing or screening with holes less than ¼-inch keep snakes out.
- Caulk and seal openings greater than ¼-inch in foundation and siding. Remember snakes cannot chew; any kind of caulking will work.
- Caulk or seal joints and seams around outdoor steps or patios.
- Remove birdseed feeders during the spring and summer. Birds can easily find their own food in during spring and summer. Birdseed attracts rodent pests, which in turn draw in snakes.
Have a question about snakes? Or need to identify a snake? Give your local Extension office a call to connect you with a local or state herpetologist. But please, I would prefer you not bring a sample of this type to me. Pretty please! Hopefully, my snake experiences are over for the year, but I know this is not the case. In the end, my ophiophobia may drive me north of the Arctic Circle.