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Snakes and Snake Control

by James B. “Jim” Kea
Area Extension Forestry Agent – now retired
Thursday, February 9th, 2006

Snakes are one group of wild animals that cause many problems for people just by their presence. Snakes make people very uncomfortable, especially when they are surprised by the sudden appearance of a snake in the yard or even in the home.

It is not necessary to kill every snake that is seen as most of the 37 species of snakes in North Carolina are non-poisonous and are, in fact, extremely beneficial due to the large number of rodents that many eat.

There are only 6 species in North Carolina that are poisonous: copperhead, water moccasin (AKA water rattler, no shoulders), coral, timber rattlesnake, diamondback rattlesnake, and the pygmy rattlesnake. Telling poisonous from non-poisonous can be done simply by observing the eyes or the tail of a live snake or its skin. Eyes of poisonous snakes have cat like slitted pupils. Poisonous snakes have a single row of scales on the tail following the anal opening. Non-poisonous snakes have round pupils and double rows of scales. Coral snakes have round pupils and look a lot like the scarlet king snake, but red bands touch yellow bands (yellow touches red, you’re dead). Coral snakes are usually south of Wilmington. The triangular shape of the head is not always a clear indicator of a poisonous snake as many species of snakes can, when disturbed, make their head and neck swell. All snakes can bite!

Why are the snakes present in the first place? Primarily because they are looking for food or their habitat has been disturbed. It is almost as distressing for some homeowners to discover they have snakes because it may mean they have mice.

There is no known chemical repellant that can be sprayed, or otherwise put out to prevent snakes from entering a house or even a yard. Control is best accomplished by cleaning up any areas that snakes or their rodent prey could live in or under such as piles of boards, trash, or bushy areas.

If you do get a snake in the house, you need to check for areas where it could have entered, perhaps around the foundation or where utility lines enter. It doesn’t take a very big hole to allow a snake access. Block off this access, and if necessary, use rat size glue boards, available at some hardware stores, to catch any animals remaining in the house.

Seek medical attention if bitten. Remember what the snake looked like. Death is rare for bite victims, but complications from swelling can result in limb loss. Try to stay calm. Walk, don’t run to the doctor.

Revised 2/16/2006.