Warm weather in Illinois means snakes will emerge. How to keep them away from your yard

As warmer weather encourages gardening, hiking and other outdoor activities in the metro-east, you may want to be aware of increased snake activity between April and October.

A variety of snake species can be found in the metro-east and St. Louis region, a majority of which are harmless, Dan Zarlenga, St. Louis region spokesperson with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said in a recent interview with the News-Democrat.

One common local species is the Eastern garter snake, which is often found in yards and gardens. Another is the western or black ratsnake — some people find this species scary because they are long and large.

“But they’re really harmless, and they just basically eat rodents,” Zarlenga said. “They’re one of those snakes that’s actually probably a good thing to have around your house because they’ll consume rodents.”

A rare two-headed western rat snake has been spotted in Missouri recently.

You’re also likely to find a ring-necked snake in southwestern Illinois, which Zarlenga described as “almost like a glorified worm.” These are much smaller than the ratsnake at around 10 to 15 inches in length, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

One local species, the milk snake, is commonly mistaken for a venomous species native to Florida. The milk snake looks fairly similar to the coralsnake, but does not have its dangerous venom. Snakes can be venomous, not poisonous, as venom is injected and poison is consumed or absorbed.

While none of these common local species are venomous, any snake may bite in self-defense when it feels threatened.

There are a couple venomous species local to the region. The Eastern copperhead is found in the metro-east and southern Illinois, and Zarlenga said it would be unpleasant to be bitten by one, but the venom is not typically fatal unless the person bitten has a compromising, pre-existing condition.

The other venomous species found in southwestern Illinois is the timber rattlesnake. These are 36 to 60 inches long on average, IDNR reports, and have wide, flat heads.

While it is possible to encounter a venomous snake while hiking in the metro-east, even if you see one, it’s not going to chase you down to try to bite you. The Eastern copperhead and timber rattlesnake are nonaggressive, and their venom’s main purpose is to immobilize prey, not attack humans. They will try to flee before biting as a last resort in an attempt to protect themselves.

Best practices for how to avoid snake bites

The majority of snake bites can likely be mitigated by following best practices around the creatures.

“Most snake bites occur on hands and arms because people are trying to kill them or pick the snakes up or handle them,” Zarlenga said.

If you see a snake in the wild, you should avoid it and assume it’s not going to come after you. If one finds its way into your home, Zarlenga recommends using a stick, cane or similar pole-like object to lift it up and put it into a net or plastic bucket. Then you can relocate it to a more suitable habitat, such as a wooded area away from the home.

You may consider wearing sturdy leather gloves as an extra precaution when moving a snake; this will provide some protection if you accidentally get too close and the snake does try to bite.

There are also steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of interacting with snakes around your home. Snakes are attracted to piles of brush, wood and debris because they provide shelter to them and their prey.

You can mitigate the chances of harboring snakes by keeping your grass trimmed, your weeds at bay and covering any wood piles with tarp. People are sometimes bitten by snakes when they reach into a pile and accidentally scare a snake, Zarlenga said. Even if you cover your lumber, it might be a good idea to wear leather gloves and be aware that you could come across a snake when taking out a piece of wood.

Another precaution is to check your foundation, doors, windows and any other place where there may be cracks or crevices. These entry points allow in not only snakes, but other kinds of critters. Zarlenga recommends people make any necessary repairs to close up gaps in the home.

If you’re worried about your dog interacting with snakes, it’s a good idea to create a buffer between any woods that back up to your home, Zarlenga said.

You can also protect your pet by leashing it on hikes to make sure it doesn’t wander off and unwittingly stick its nose into a snake habitat. Using a leash has many safety benefits and is also required by several metro-east municipal codes.

Most snakes you’ll come across in Illinois are harmless, and it’s generally a good sign to see one.

“As the ecosystem as a whole is concerned, they provide a lot of benefits,” Zarlenga said.

Snakes play an important role in the food chain by eating rodents and insects, Zarlenga said, and some actually eat other snakes. The kingsnake is not only nonvenomous, but immune to venom and eats some venomous snakes, for example.

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