With spring in full bloom in Louisiana, it certainly isn’t uncommon to see snakes in many places. Louisiana is home to 47 native snake species but only seven of those are venomous.
Human nature is to fear snakes. However, snakes are an important and valuable part of every ecosystem and should be left alone. They prey on pest species such as rodents and insects, keeping populations of these nuisance animals in check. Several snake species feed on fish, particularly injured or diseased fish, which keeps waterways and fish populations healthy. Those fearful of venomous snakes might be surprised to learn that some nonvenomous snakes, like king snakes, actually eat venomous snakes. Rather than feared, snakes should be respected.
Snakes emerge from their winter hibernation spots in search of food, mates and areas for basking. Like other reptile species, snakes are cold-blooded, meaning they are unable to maintain their body temperature without external heat. Therefore, they bask in the sun and use their surrounding environment to regulate their body temperature. Because roadways retain the sun’s heat, snakes will often use roads to warm themselves, leading to one of the most significant causes of mortality – vehicle strikes.
Spring and summer (April-July) is a heightened time for snake encounters. Although snakes may be active throughout the day during spring and in the summer, snakes tend to avoid the extreme temperatures of midday. In summer, activity is reserved for early mornings, late evenings and night.
The vast majority of snake sightings are of nonvenomous species. However, nonvenomous snakes are very often misidentified as venomous. In fact, some common species, particularly the several types of water snakes, will flatten their heads when frightened. Such behavior may lead observers to believe that an otherwise nonvenomous water snake is a venomous cottonmouth. Instead, those who find themselves in the frequent company of snakes should learn to rely on multiple field marks rather than one. Knowledge can go a long way towards tempering fear.
Contrary to popular belief, snakes do not seek out humans or pets for food. Snakes would prefer to never come into contact with people. As urban development increases and encroaches on natural areas used by snakes, the chance of snake encounters will increase. If a snake is sighted in your yard, the best thing to do is to observe it from a distance and let it be. Most often, it will leave on its own to avoid a human encounter. Killing snakes around your home may increase rodent populations, ultimately increasing the number of snakes in your yard.
The most productive way to minimize encounters with snakes in residential areas is to make homes and yards unattractive to snakes. Inspect your home’s foundation, windows, doorways and attic, sealing any holes or cracks that may provide entry ways for rodents and snakes. Be sure to trim any tree branches overhanging the roof of your home as some snakes and rodents are great climbers.
Minimize piles of debris of any kind in your yard and keep such debris a good distance away from your home. Address rodent issues in or around your home by non-toxic methods. Keep your lawn cut and the perimeter of your home free of dense shrubs or tall vegetation, which provides hiding places for rodents and snakes.
Unfortunately, the removal of vegetation and the maintenance of a lawn makes your yard almost useless for all other wildlife, too. One must weigh the opportunity costs of ridding a yard of its native wildlife.
Snakes only bite to defend themselves when they feel threatened or provoked. If a bite occurs from a suspected venomous snake, seek medical attention promptly at your local hospital or by dialing 911.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries does not remove nuisance wildlife, including snakes. But LDWF has permitted nuisance wildlife control operators to respond to reports of nuisance wildlife. There are more than 100 operators across the state. Nuisance wildlife control operators do charge fees for their services. To find a nuisance wildlife control operator, go to https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/page/nuisance-wildlife-control-operator-list.
It is important and helpful to become familiar with Louisiana’s snake species in your area and the difference between nonvenomous and venomous snakes. Please visit https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/assets/Resources/Publications/Rare_Animal_Species_Fact_Sheets/Reptiles/2022-Snakes-of-LA_17x22_poster.pdf (updated in March of 2022) for the LDWF Snakes of Louisiana poster to aid in identification on most Louisiana snake species. Go to http://www.louisianaherps.com/ for additional help with identifying Louisiana’s snakes.