There are 40 species of snakes in Alabama. Six of them are venomous — Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, pigmy rattlesnake, copperhead, cottonmouth or water moccasin, and the coral snake.
Most Alabama snakes are not venomous and should be left undisturbed whenever possible.
Within the last month, I have found and seen more snakes out in my yard than any other time. Luckily, all were non-poisonous.
I live in the woods, so I am not surprised to see them. Most of my encounters have been with small snakes I came across while doing yard work. But I draw the line when I find a big one on the side porch by my back door. Yikes!
Many small snakes like to hid and take shelter under rocks, old logs, mulch or plants. These are places where they can find food — earthworms, slugs, insects, lizards, mice, etc.
I uncovered a ringnecked snake and a brown snake, both about 12 inches long, while raking away pine straw and renovating flowerbeds.
Keep this in mind when doing yard work. Be careful about reaching up under plants and putting your hands where you cannot see. Small snakes may be there — and a big one, such as a copperhead, could be there, too.
Occasionally, snakes do get inside or under homes, but usually they don’t live there. When snakes are spotted crossing the yard or around the home, they are usually just venturing out looking for food, water or shelter.
The large snake on my side porch recently was a 4-foot rat snake, sometimes called a chicken snake. It was likely there looking for food.
Rat snakes are very common around buildings and barns where mice and birds are present. In fact, I see rat snakes more than any other snake. They are great climbers and often prey on chicken coops, bird houses and bird nests.
I suspect the snake on my porch was venturing toward the bird nest located up in the corner eave.
How NOT to attract snakes
The best way to lessen your chance of seeing a snake is to create a habitat that is unattractive to them.
Rebecca Christoffel, wildlife specialist with Iowa State University extension service, offers these suggestions:
• Do not feed birds from April to October. Birds do not need supplemental food at this time, and bird food draws in rodents and other small critters, which can draw in snakes.
• Keep the lawn mown short. By keeping the lawn very short, snakes are at an increased risk of being picked off by a hawk. Snakes do not like to put themselves in such situations and will generally avoid such areas.
• Keep landscaping design as simple as possible. Avoid rock walls and similar features that attract small animals, which snakes like to eat. Also avoid “ponds” and similar features that attract frogs or that hold small fish, which garter snakes like to eat. Keep plantings to a minimum, particularly around buildings, as these provide shelter for both snakes and their prey.
• Keep the property free of wood piles, debris, etc. Snakes can use these to avoid hawks and other predators, and to control their body temperatures.
• Have rubber seals on the bottom of any garage doors. This will help keep snakes out of those buildings.
• Check the foundations of buildings and structures. Snakes will often use people’s basements or old cisterns as places to hibernate, and snakes have a tendency to be faithful to those sites. Do repairs between May 1 and Oct. 1, so snakes are out and active and not trapped underneath.
Shane Harris is an extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. For help on other home and garden questions, contact your local county Extension office or visit www.aces.edu.