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Shed your misconceptions about snakes | Sandy Beck

Tallahassee Democrat logoTallahassee Democrat 5/1/2020 Sandy Beck, Guest columnist
a close up of a reptile: Grey rat snake tongue The non-venomous grey rat snake is a common species found only in the panhandle and northwestern peninsula of Florida. © Sandy Beck Grey rat snake tongue The non-venomous grey rat snake is a common species found only in the panhandle and northwestern peninsula of Florida.

St. Francis Wildlife is getting a lot of frantic calls about snakes that are emerging now to bask in the warm spring sunshine.

We rescue and rehabilitate injured, orphaned and sick wildlife and teach the public how to live in harmony with their wild neighbors. St. Francis Wildlife is not in the wildlife removal business.

But 99% of the time, it's just a small snake, such as a harmless black racer or a grey rat snake (aka oak snake), that entered beneath a door.

There are 44 species of snakes native to Florida. Only six of these are venomous. None, not even the venomous species, are the aggressive animals portrayed in some movies, but many people still have an irrational and deep-rooted fear of them.

The grey rat or "oak snake" is a harmless, non-venomous, native snake that helps maintain the balance of nature by preying on rodents. © Sandy Beck The grey rat or "oak snake" is a harmless, non-venomous, native snake that helps maintain the balance of nature by preying on rodents.

It is always best to observe and appreciate snakes from a distance. A snake, like most wildlife, will attempt to escape if it feels threatened. If you corner, provoke or touch a wild animal, it will try to defend itself. A snake can’t kick or scratch; its only defense is its bite.

Catching or trying to catch or kill snakes in your yard is actually the easiest way to get bitten, and it will not deter other snakes.

According to Stephen Johnson, herpetologist at the University of Florida, you are nine times more likely to die from being struck by lightning or from a bee or wasp sting than to die of a venomous snake bite.

a snake in the grass: The southern black racer is a common, native, non-venomous snake is our area that is easily identified by its slate black body and white chin. © David Cook The southern black racer is a common, native, non-venomous snake is our area that is easily identified by its slate black body and white chin.

Wild, native snakes help maintain the balance of nature by preying on rodents and other small animals. They are also an important prey species for other wildlife. If for no other reason than this, they deserve our respect.

When we learn to appreciate snakes’ remarkable adaptations, their usually docile nature and the crucial role they play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, and we learn how to safely deal with snake encounters, negative feelings and behaviors will, hopefully, change.

How to live with snakes

     
  • Keep brush and wood piles, which are important wildlife habitat, well away from buildings and areas where children play. Trim tree branches several feet back from your house.

     
  • Seal gaps under doors and in walls and screens. Keep garage and shed doors closed, and close or remove pet doors. Snakes, as well as the rodents they may be after, can squeeze through holes as small as a pencil.
a group of people standing in front of a tree posing for the camera: In one of St. Francis Wildlife's Wild Classroom programs, students learn how a grey rat snake is able to travel up a tree while using camouflage to protect itself. © David Moynahan In one of St. Francis Wildlife's Wild Classroom programs, students learn how a grey rat snake is able to travel up a tree while using camouflage to protect itself.
  • Install a chain-link fence to keep unaccompanied children and pets away from the edge of lakes and wetlands.

     
  • Most snakes found inside your home or garage are non-venomous. You can easily and safely remove one using a trashcan with a lid and a broom. Tip the trashcan onto its side, and use the broom to guide the snake into the trashcan. Then, tip the trashcan upright, carefully replace the lid and release the snake outside.

     
  • If a snake has retreated to an unreachable spot, such as beneath a bookcase, soak a rag in white vinegar or ammonia, wrap it around the end of a broomstick, and push it into the snake’s hiding spot, giving the snake enough space to escape the offensive smell. When it bolts out, be ready to guide it into your trashcan.

Sandy Beck is the education director for St. Francis Wildlife. Contact her at stfranciswildlife@comcast.net.

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Shed your misconceptions about snakes | Sandy Beck

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