So where's the snakes?

axeman(7)June 28, 2005

In the six years I've lived in my suburban Philadelphia home I've seen chipmunks, squirrels, groundhogs, rabbits, suprisingly large turtles in my creek\storm drain, plus an assortment of fish, herons, hawks, bluejays, cardinals, and a whole flock of all kinds birds, many of which I can't identify.

I haven't seen a snake.

I assume they must be there. I've planted lots of shrubs, let the area near the creek go a little wild, and made a small woodlands under the oaks in the back. There is a small park and some woods right up the creek.

Not that I'm a snake fancier mind you, but I expected to see at least a garter snake by now. I see them often enough when I'm hiking in the mountains or in the parks, but not at home.

Am I just not noticing them, or are they rare in a typical big city burb?

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They're probably less common than in most of the places you hike but my guess is that they are still around and you just aren't noticing them.

Snakes like to spend most of their time under cover like flat rocks, logs and debris so if you lift those items you're more likely to find snakes. Checking the creek at night on a moderately warm summer day with a flashlight might also reveal a northern water snake or ribbon snake.

I live well within the city limits in a city of 80,000 and have a similar type habitat set up to what you describe (creek, small park and woodlands behind my house etc) and few of my neighbors have seen snakes. But because I actively seek them out whenever I have some free time, I actually see quite a few in the neighborhood and have over several years even discovered a small handful of very inconspicuous dens.

I find that I see most of the snakes in the spring and the fall when the weather is more comfortable in the day for both snakes and people. In the summer they tend to be more active at night after it has cooled off.

Good question..

    Bookmark   June 28, 2005 at 9:14PM
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jillmcm(z6 PA)

I'm also in the suburban Philly area with a wild and hospitable yard, and I seldom see snakes. Maybe one or two garter snakes a year, if that. I see tons of toads, frogs, even salamanders, but few snakes. Not sure why, but it does seem odd to me, given how many I used to see in my Mom's yard as a kid. I know they're out there, but I guess just not where I can see them (or when).

    Bookmark   June 29, 2005 at 12:14AM
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plays_in_the_dirt(SW Georgia/Z 8)

I've had them in my yard.I'll share!

    Bookmark   June 29, 2005 at 6:49AM
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navymom2226(7- R.I.)

lol plays - deathly afraid of them/ and so far I've never seen one here on the lake. I just know the day will come that I will see one..... and have already warned neighbors that if I do...... they'll think I was being attacked by a bear!! can HAVE THEM ALL.. lol

    Bookmark   June 30, 2005 at 10:27AM
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wardw(z6 NJ)

Most of our local snakes end up like box turtles, flat in the road. Just in my lifetime, and especially in the past 20 years or so the decline has been drastic. It's getting to the point where you don't even see road kills any more. The snakes I do see are the ones that don't seem to travel much like worm snakes and the like.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2005 at 4:55PM
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lyn_r(z6 OH)

The black rat snakes all have found MY yard in Southern Ohio! How many dozen do you want? Can send any size from babies to six footers. I used to have an abundance of toads until the snakes moved in. Now it is rare to even see a toad.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2005 at 6:25PM
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wardw(z6 NJ)

I'll take several hundred black rats if you have them, any size. Black Racers would be good too. Incidentally, at the same time we lost our local snakes we also lost most of our toads. Always liked those little buggers except at lawn mowing time.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2005 at 1:19PM
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I'd love to share the snakes in my yard! Up until yesterday the only one I'd seen was a green striped one about 2 ft long I see from time to time. I've always known they were around, have seen their skins when they shed.
Yesterday I was going to let my dog out & there was one about 5 feet long crawling on my standing angel bird feeder, also about 5 ft tall about 3 ft from my back door! I watched it crawl up the angel feeder into a hanging basket, then into the gutter on the house!
So now I have to worry about them being overhead as well as wearing rubber boots & paying attention where I step?
They scare me to death, took all I had in me to make myself go out to water my plants this morning. I live in a city subdivision but at the end of a dead end street with an open field on one side & behind my property.
I thought they came out at night to hunt, guess I was wrong!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2005 at 10:18AM
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ltcollins1949(9a TX)


I live in the country on a salt water bay, and have sooooo many snakes. I know poisonous from non-poisonous, but they still all scare me.

More than likely the green striped ones you see are the ribbon snakes, non-poisonous. If I had to guess the large one you saw yesterday crawling all over is probably a rat snake. If you haven't been to the Texas Forum, you might want to check out Visitor from Above.

Also check out Texas Snakes which has lots of good information on it.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2005 at 1:51PM
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We have our share of rat snakes. I can't say I'm wild about them but I've learned they are true to what I've read in that they'll do their best to stay away from ME. I went to turn off the faucet outside the house yesterday and disturbed one in the grass against the house. It flew away, it actually looked like it was leaping it was in such a hurry to leave. A few months ago we had one sunning itself on the upper branches of shrubs outside our bay window. I showed it to our cat through the window inside the house and it scared her senseless. Our other cat would actively play with them and bat them around. I guess there are snake lovers (and the opposite) among cats as well as among people.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2005 at 5:13PM
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Thanks for the links. I looked the pictures as long as I could stand to, not very long. Guess it's just crazy but I can't even stand to look at pictures of snakes.
I agree the green striped one is probably a ribbon snake but don't know about the big one, it was not black, are all rat snakes black?
The way the sun what shinning I can't describe it real good but it was brown & had a pattern to it every few inches or so, any ideas? Thankfully I have not seen the big guy today - at least yet!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2005 at 6:56PM
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Meant to mention - the whole time the big snake was crawling up the angel feeder my Mockingbird was dive bombing it, can always count on it to try to protect my yard. :-)

    Bookmark   July 10, 2005 at 9:17PM
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ltcollins1949(9a TX)


Check out rat snake. The rat snakes that I've seen down here have a pattern. So maybe it was the sun playing a trick on you. But then again there are lots of black snakes in Texas including the Indigo snake.

And check out one of my prior posts:

My neighbors noticed the purple martins going crazy around their birdhouse. So they went outside and saw that a big rat snake had coiled its way up the pole and had his head inside one of the compartments going after the baby birds.

David took a wooden broom stick (they are a great snake "getters"), and took a very large fishing hook and stuck it into the end of the broom, leaving the barbed end to be used. He reached up with the broom handle and stuck the fish hook into the snake and secured it good and brought him down, with a baby bird in his mouth. The baby bird didn't make it, but then the snake didn't either.

So maybe the snake was going after some baby birds.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2005 at 9:46PM
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The new link looks very much like the snake best I can tell. I talked to my sister that lives in the country out of Elgin & she said they have been having what her husband called rat snakes & they have a pattern.
Also I notice they mowed the field behind me, maybe that's what brought the snake to my yard yesterday?
It's very dry here, haven't had a drop of rain in over a month. Years ago when it was very dry one day I was out pulling a few dead leaves off one of my hanging baskets only to have a snake come slithering up out of the basket, nearly scared me to death!
The only picture I enjoyed at the link was the Green Anole, I have them here & love them.
I know snakes go after birds, their eggs & baby birds but can't imagine a Mockingbird having a nest anywhere near where it was crawling. My Mocker usually nests in my Pyracantha in the front yard.

Thanks again for your help in identifying the snake.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2005 at 11:19PM
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ltcollins1949(9a TX)


You are welcome. We haven't had any rain since May 29, and I think that the snakes are coming up around the houses looking for water. I've noticed that when we get a drought, we see more snakes than when we don't have a drought.

Where do you live in Texas? I have lots of the anoles and geckos. Every now and then a gecko will get into the house, and we have to say him from our cats. They are so fun to watch on the windows at night. When the lights are on, the bugs come up and the geckos go after them. And we also have lots of tree frogs that go after the bugs at night too.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2005 at 9:07AM
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dirtgirl(So. Illinois)

Ahhh, of my favorites. I haven't seen any of the bigger rat snakes in some time here, but it's probably just that they are holed up during the 95 degree heat and drought and then venturing forth in the evening. I need to go find a nice large one and bring it to the house so it can convince the chipminks that my crawlspace is not a good place for them to burrow. We had a wonderfully docile giant living in the old pumphouse two years back. It was always right there in the same corner and never once tried to nip when you picked it up. It's long gone but it did leave me the very nicest shed I have ever was still dampish when I found it so I was able to pull the rest of the tail out straight and get it all in order before it dried.
And I guess I am getting older and sloppy in my snake handling skills. I stopped my bike to get one of the road not far from here a week had just come out of the brush on the shoulder and was soaking up the heat off the asphalt and there was a car coming from way down the road so I had to be quick about it. Normally I try to gently secure the head but with the car coming I just took my chances and scooped it up. It was laid back like a lot of rat snakes are(lucky this wasn't a water snake)but it still took a quick nip at my hand. I had on my biking gloves and one little razor sharp tooth caught the second knuckle on my index finger. Those bites are so weird...they feel no worse than a bad move in a blackberry bramble but they bleed and bleed!But the worst is snake poop. If one end doesn't get you then the other one certainly will. It smells like skunk lotion and I know it's coming every time I pull one off the road, but it's never so bad that I'd leave a snake to the cars.
Anyway, moments after I gathered up this snake, the car came around the curve and this lady was peering out at me while I stood there off the shoulder, propping up my bike with one leg, large snake dangling from both hands. I couldn't believe it...she gave me a big smile and a nod. That's a change. Only about 1 in 10 people understand.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2005 at 4:03PM
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Good for you! I know what u mean id rather get bit than get smeared by a water snake or racer them really stink. Rat snakes dont smell a whole lot better. I try to keep the tail on the ground so it won't smear itself or me(if your not in a hurry beep beep).I recently learned that some snakes have anti-coagulants in their saliva and thats why some bites bleed more than others,but not for more than a few minutes. Its good to see there are people like you out there that are saving our precious wildlife and not killing them with broom sticks and fish hooks.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2005 at 7:24AM
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dirtgirl(So. Illinois)

Doing my saving every chance I get, jamez.

Yes, the smell is much worse than the bite, especially when you're in a hurry and get it on your cycling gloves with 15 sweaty, brow-wiping miles yet to go.
I have found that toothpaste does a good job of getting rid of the stuff if you do get smeared.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2005 at 2:53PM
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Great tip! I'm going to take some with me next time I go out. Thanx!

    Bookmark   July 16, 2005 at 4:38AM
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About a year ago I was thinking the same thing. I had seen all these animals in my backyard, a townhouse, but no snakes. Shortly there after I saw the first black rat snake. It was a baby crawling around my living room. The second black rat snake was a month later, another baby this time slithering around my kitchen. The third black rat snake was five feet long, I spotted its head sticking out of one of my closets.


    Bookmark   October 5, 2005 at 5:42PM
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garden4wildlife(z8 GA)

One other possible explanation for not seeing snakes - it may be evolution in action. It's entirely possible that this snake-hating culture is actively creating snakes that are better at hiding from and avoiding humans.

For example, it's documented that rattlesnakes of different species are producing more and more individuals that don't rattle. The rattle evolved as a defense mechanism to keep the snake safe from being stepped on by large animals; the snake would rattle, the approaching deer or bison or whatever would hear it and walk the other way. Well, that rattling mechanism has the opposite effect when snakes encounter people with the mentality, "the only good snake is a dead snake." Consequently, so many rattlesnakes have been killed over the years when they were rattling a warning to people who stepped near them, that people have caused nature to select AGAINST the rattlesnakes that rattle. The ones that are silent have a better chance of being overlooked and therefore are more likely to live to reproduce. It's possible that species other than rattlers are being affected in a similar way by people. So many people kill snakes of any species when they encounter them that many species may be evolving defense mechanisms that hide them more effectively from people.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2005 at 10:02PM
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Recently, one of my neighbors spotted a 5 foot black rat snake around our yards. The snake has been relocated. Initially my neighbor was going to kill it (I wasn't present at the capture) but another neighbor volunteered to relocate it. Hopefully there are still black rat snakes in the neighborhood. The fact that we just recently developed a rat problem leads me to believe that that might not be the case.


    Bookmark   October 6, 2005 at 12:36PM
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