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How to Get Along with Snakes

A majority of Florida snakes are harmless. Of the 50 established species and 45 subspecies found in Florida, only 6 species are venomous. You may be able to safely feed small mammals and birds in a city park (however I do not recommend feeding any wildlife), but if you grab one of the mammals and birds, chances are it will bite and/or scratch you out of fear. Most people would not condemn mammals and birds because they defend themselves by biting and scratching. Snakes defend themselves mostly by fleeing, but they may bite if captured, handled or harmed. However, biting is not a sign that they are dangerous; it is just the only way that most snakes have to defend themselves.

If you find a snake and do not know whether it is non-venomous (harmless) or venomous.

  • The safest thing to do is leave it alone.
  • Regardless of what some people say, Florida snakes are not aggressive, and unless they are cornered, most will flee when they see you.

If you have snakes around your house

  • You should be thankful as they are there for a reason.
  • All snakes are carnivorous and a benefit to humans. For example, ratsnakes eat rodents such as mice and rats, and kingsnakes eat these rodents as well as other snakes, including venomous snakes.
  • If you find a snake in your backyard, swimming pool, or garage, do not try to kill it! Instead, try to identify it and if it is non-venomous, appreciate it and leave it alone just as you do with songbirds in your garden. However, if you are uncertain or it is a venomous species, either leave it alone or call Dixie Trapper to catch and release it in an appropriate location.
  • Although Dixie Trapper recommends leaving all snakes alone, catching most snakes around your house can be safe and easy we recommend you call someone with years of experience to handle this job for you.
  • Species such as North American Racers and Coachwhips are fast-moving and may be difficult on your own.
  • If it is a small species like a Ringneck Snake or Crowned Snake, it should be tuned loose in a garden where it can do its job eating little pest insects.


If you are bitten by a snake

  • Most people are bitten on the hands and arms when they are handling or trying to kill a snake. Therefore, if you are uncertain of its identity do not try to catch or even kill a snake.  Call the Dixie Trapper and we have the tools to safely remove the snake with minimal risk to the snake, our clients and ourselves.
  • For a short time after a snake is killed, its reflexes may continue to work. Those reflexes typically cause the body to twist and squerm slowly, but poking or prodding a freshly killed snake can cause a convulsive contraction and even a bite, so do not handle a newly killed venomous snake.
  • Stay calm, Call 9-1-1 remove any rings that could restrict circulation if tissues swell, keep the bitten limb below the level of the heart.
  • The only acceptable treatment for venomous snakebite, involves the use of antivenin. So if you or someone else is bitten by a venomous snake, seek immediate attention at the nearest hospital or medical facility. Call 9-1-1

While many people enjoy watching wildlife, sometimes wildlife interferes with other human activities. Wildlife eat our birdseed, dig up our gardens and landscape plants, and eat or damage our fruit, flowers and vegetables. When wildlife populate a place where they are unwanted or cause damage to valuable plants or structures, they become a nuisance. This publication discusses some basic principles for dealing humanely with nuisance wildlife.
  State and federal laws protect nearly all wildlife. These laws regulate which species can be, harvested, trapped, hunted or harmed.   You should learn the laws if you work with nuisance wildlife. These laws can be found on the Web site of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

All native birds are federally protected in the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (

Help Is Available

Homeowners seeking assistance for dealing with nuisance wildlife have several avenues available to them.

Animal Control

In most counties, animal control will provide advice on nuisance wildlife control, damage prevention and individual removal. He or she may also lend you traps and can supply information for many problems a homeowner is likely to encounter.

State Wildlife Biologists

State wildlife biologists may offer advice and programs. Conservation or law enforcement officers (game wardens) may issue permits for taking nuisance wildlife.

U.S. Department of Agriculture — Wildlife Services

This federal agency deals with nuisance wildlife in both municipal and agricultural settings. Wildlife Services offers two support levels: technical advice, including handouts, videos, verbal support, traps and field demonstrations; and operational support, in which they will perform certain work for landowners for a fee. A signed contract is required. Contact Wildlife Services at 706-546-563

Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators

(NWCO; pronounced “newco”) — These individuals own and operate their own wildlife control business and charge for their services. They are licensed by the state and can often be located on line. These individuals are different from common termite control service providers and county animal control officers. Animal control usually will not catch a skunk or snake for a homeowner, but there is a lot of variability here and each county and situation is different. A list of local NWCOs is available from most county Extension agents and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  These independent businesses are licensed by the state.  Anyone contracting with these businesses should exercise normal caution when hiring a contractor – check references, ask for proof of license and insurance, get estimates and have a written contact before beginning any work or committing to pay any fees.
Basic rules
Wildlife need three things: food, water and shelter. Remove any one of these and the animals will go somewhere else. Remember: Treat the problem not the symptom.
Example No. 1:
There is an opossum in the shed eating the dog/cat food.
     Wrong Answer:
                                              Trap the opossum and relocate it. This will provide a short-term solution but not solve the problem. In a few days,
                                              another hungry animal will be back in the shed.
     Right Answer:
                                              Seal the pet food in a container with a tight-fitting lid, seal openings to the shed and relocate the opossum.
                                              This removes the problem (pet food in an open and accessible container) and the symptom (a hungry opossum).
                                              Problem solved.
Example No. 2:
 Moles are digging up the yard.
Wrong Answer:
Trap the mole. This kills one mole.
Right Answer:
Treat yard for grubs, trap the mole and reduce watering. This will remove the offending
animal, the food source that attracted the mole and the conditions that favor the grubs.
Learn the biology of the animal. Moles eat insects and earthworms. Watering may lure the
insects and earthworms near the surface where moles look for food.
Animal Signs
When diagnosing animal damage problems, you should look for signs left by the animal. Almost all animals leave signs. Some are more obvious, and some are easier to identify, but the sign is usually there somewhere.
Droppings are often readily observed, especially for mammals. Fresh droppings are black, shiny and moist. Old droppings are dry, brown or gray. Black and white droppings could be from a bird, snake or lizard. Size is important for identification. Rats, mice, chipmunks and toads leave droppings the size of a rice grain. Rabbit droppings are pea size and usually brown. Deer droppings are large ovals and could be deposited loosely or in a large clump, depending on diet. Even in a clump, individual pellets can be easily recognized.
Digging is another obvious sign of animal damage. Here again, there are important clues to identify the culprit. The diameter of the hole is a clue to the size of the animal. If a dirt mound is present, this could be a sign of a woodchuck, turtle, armadillo or coyote. If a dirt mound is not present, this could indicate a chipmunk, skunk, mole or vole. Armadillos dig an inverted, cone-shaped hole, 3 to 4 inches deep and 1 to 2 inches in diameter.
Tunnels in the dirt but near the surface are likely from a mole or vole. Remember, moles eat insects, earthworms or grubs. Voles eat plants and plant parts like bulbs, roots, tubers or bark. Try this simple procedure to distinguish moles from voles.
Apple Test:
Place a piece of apple in the tunnel under a board. If the apple is eaten, the culprit is a vole; if not, it is a mole.
Another sign is gnawing. Look at the size of the tooth marks and the size of the stem or root gnawed. This will be a clue to vole, chipmunk, squirrel, beaver or rabbit. Also consider deer browsing. Deer lack upper incisors, so if leaves are pulled and have a ragged end, then deer are likely to blame. However, if leaves are clipped or bitten with clean, sharp ends, then the offender is likely to be a rabbit, squirrel or wood rat. If branches are cut, then consider a squirrel or rabbit as the responsible party.
Finally, ask “What was the height where damage occurred?” Deer can easily reach 4½ to 6 feet up the stem while rabbits and woodchucks reach about 1 foot or more. Vole and chipmunk damage is usually close to the ground and could be restricted to roots.
There are others signs of nuisance wildlife as well. One annoying habit of wildlife invaders is noise. Noise inside a wall could be mice. Noise inside the attic or crawl space could be mice, bats, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, opossums or birds. Noise in a chimney often suggests the culprit is a squirrel, raccoon, bird or bat. Attic noise at night could be mice, bats or flying squirrels, while attic noise during the day could be gray squirrels.
Do not overlook some simple clues such as time of day. A nocturnal (active at night) animal like a wood rat, raccoon, skunk or opossum causes holes or other damage to appear overnight. Holes that appear during the day are caused by diurnal (active during the day) animals such as squirrel, chipmunks or woodchucks. If damage to a birdfeeder is due to squirrel activity, try moving the birdfeeder away from house, deck rail or tree limbs. You could also mount the feeder on a slick pole or add a predator guard.
Options for Nuisance Wildlife Issues
Before you panic, spend a lot of money to hire someone or sell your house, think of the model we will define as H-E-R-L. Work through this model and you may be able to solve most problems yourself. The letters in the HERL model stand for specific actions you, as the homeowner, can take to deal with many nuisance wildlife situations: habitat modification, exclusion, removal or repellents, and lethal control. The steps in the model are outlined below.
Step 1: H - Habitat Modification or Harassment
Take steps to make a habitat unattractive and discourage wildlife from the area. Note that it is often difficult or impossible to both create habitat for wildlife you want to encourage and, at the same time, remove habitat to discourage wildlife. The animals cannot tell the difference and you will often both attract wildlife and deal with nuisance species in the same habitat. By following these rules of thumb, however, you can enhance your enjoyment of wildlife around your home.
Know Your Wildlife.
Learn the habits, preferences and requirements of the offending animal(s) and remove or modify the habitat to make your yard unattractive to wildlife pests.
Remove attractive habitat.
Without cover to hide in or food to eat, the animal will leave. Remember this simple equation: No cover = no mice = no snakes.
Tidy Up.
Mow tall grass — many pest species (such as mice) like weedy, unmowed areas. They also attract predators (such as snakes) to this food source.
Remove piles of brush, logs, firewood, rocks, debris and trash, bricks, stones, concrete, buckets and flower pots, cars, tires and toys. Spray an herbicide such as Roundup®, Spectracide®, Weed-B-Gone® to remove tall weeds, briars and vines. Be sure to read and carefully follow all label restrictions when working with herbicides.
Cut dead trees and limbs to remove roosting and nesting places for bats, flying squirrels and woodpeckers. This will also remove food (insects) for woodpeckers. Also clean out old birdhouses and discard old nests.
Harassment.  Homeowners can often harass wildlife into leaving an area.  Effectiveness of harassment depends on the diligence of the homeowner.  An example of a harassment technique would be to hang a scarecrow in a garden.  Generally, harassment is not effective because homeowners install the device and forget about it.  Wildlife soon become accustomed or habituated to the object and ignore it.  To be effective, harassment techniques must be applied regularly and must be changed or moved every one to two days.  An effective example is a motion-activated device that rotates and sprays water at the offending animal.  The offending animal (for example, a rabbit in a garden) receives a shock of water, hears the noise and does not become habituated to the device because the device is motion-activated and sprays a harmless shot of water each time the rabbit enters the motion detection zone.
Other forms of repellent work with tactile or visual senses.
Water spray, motion-activated sprinklers are relatively new to the market and not yet widely tested.
Bright lights, strobe lights or lasers have been suggested as repellents for deer, rabbits, roost birds (especially pigeons) and other wildlife. They may work for a time but the long-term effectiveness is unknown.
Eye balloons, scarecrows, silhouettes on windows, an owl or snake figure, and pyrotechnics (noise makers) will provide some relief in some circumstances.
Generally, success or failure depends on the size of the animal population, palatability or growth stage of the plants, type of damage, and the animal’s hunger and conditioning.
Step 2: E -- Exclusion
This option includes using fencing or other solid materials to exclude wildlife by creating a physical barrier. Fencing and other exclusion methods are likely the best option for solving nuisance wildlife problems. For large animals such as wild pigs or dogs, use welded wire or “hog” wire with a 2" x 4" mesh size about 48”to 60” tall. Chain link and wooden fence also works but is more expensive. Stake or secure the fence firmly to the ground.
For deer, fences should be 8 feet tall or higher. Remember that deer can crawl under a fence, fences can be damaged by falling limbs, and trees or other factors can allow deer inside.
For small animals such as opossum, woodchuck, raccoon, fox or squirrel, use chicken wire, hard-ware cloth or electric fence. Chicken wire is usually 2 feet tall and buried 6 to 12 inches for diggers like rabbits, skunks, opossums and armadillos. Hardware cloth (a ¼- to ½-inch mesh) is usually 1 to 2 feet tall. Burying it 6 to 12 inches will exclude chipmunks, moles, voles and other small animals from gardens and flower beds. These barrier options can be combined with decorative fence around flowerbeds and shrubbery.
For certain large animals, like deer, use an electric fence. Many brands are available, including single strand “hot-tape,” which consists of vinyl webbing imbedded with fine conducting wires. This is usually hooked to a 12-volt battery or 110-volt household current. Some models use solar power or D-cell batteries and are very effective.
Spreading peanut butter on the wire or wires (or on aluminum foil attached to the wires) will encourage the deer (or other animals) to contact the fence and receive a mild shock, which should deter future contact. These fences will deter some animals but do not have enough energy to injure animals or people.
Also remember to exclude animals from entering dwellings through the following common locations:
  • Chimneys — Cap chimneys to prevent raccoons, bats, squirrels and birds from entering the house.
  • Soffit vents — Keep vents in good repair since they are often used as an entry point for insects, bats and birds.
  • Gabled end of the house/barn — Block animals by using hardware cloth or screens that still maintain airflow to the attic and buildings. Gables are often the entry point for flying squirrels, gray squirrels, bats and birds like pigeons, wrens, house sparrows, European starlings and swallows.
  • Windows and doors — These are entry points for snakes, bugs, mice and some large animals like raccoons and opossums if the doors on garages or sheds are not closed or properly sealed. Close doors and windows, repair screens and maintain a proper weather seal.
  • Dryer vent — Vents are a common entry point for snakes and mice. Cover the vent with screen large enough to vent hot dryer air but exclude animals. Clean the screen regularly to prevent lint accumulation. Seal around the vent with expanding foam or weather seal.
  • Pipes and cables — Mice and bats can enter through the dime-sized holes where electric lines, phone lines, and satellite or cable TV lines connect to the house. Seal these holes with expanding foam or weather seal.
Step 3: R - Removal or Repellents
Relocating nuisance wildlife is generally discouraged and may be illegal.  Check with local wildlife conservation officers and health department officials before moving any wildlife off your property.  In general, it  may be acceptable to remove an animal from your house and release it outside on your property.  However, you must prevent it from re-entering your home or buildings. Remember: You must have the landowner’s permission and possibly a permit issued by Georgia DNR before relocating wildlife. Check with your local conservation officer. In many states it is illegal to relocate animals. Check with the state wildlife agency before moving animals.
Removal simply moves the offending animal to someone else’s property only treats the symptom, not the problem. Generally, it is illegal to release animals onto someone else’s property, and they likely don’t want the animal in the first place. Furthermore, some research has shown that translocated animals rarely survive the stress of being inserted into a strange habitat because they wander about looking for a territory or are killed by vehicles or resident animals. It is often better to solve the problem using a humane but lethal trap.
If live trapping is a solution, then there are several safe and effective trap designs. Traps such as Hav-a-Hart® or Tomahawk® are live capture traps. Glue boards allow mice and snakes to be released unharmed. Simply pour vegetable oil on the trap to dissolve the glue and release the animal. Traps and glue boards can be purchased online, at home improvement stores, farm and garden suppliers, sporting goods stores or from forestry supply companies. Your county agent or wildlife Extension specialist will often lead you to appropriate suppliers or they may have traps you can borrow.
Always wear gloves, and do not attempt to handle snakes or other animals if you cannot positively identify them. Use a bucket or boxes to remove the animal from the trap or encourage the animal into a box with a stick or broom. Place the bucket over the animal and then slide a piece of cardboard under the bucket before turning the bucket right side up.
Use a net to remove frogs, birds or small mammals from garden ponds, window wells or holes.
Research strongly suggests, and in some cases has clearly shown, that sound wave devices are not effective in deterring unwanted animals. Car-mounted deer whistles and various ultrasonic sound producing devices are NOT RECOMENDED. While there are many types of repellents, and some claim unbelievable success, remember the old adage — “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!”
Repellents that work with sound waves are generally not effective. Effective repellents work through taste, fear or odor. Taste repellents render a plant unpalatable to the animal. Fear-invoking stimuli are said to elicit an instinctual response, such as a deer reacting to predator urine. Odor repellents smell bad to the animal. Since most animals have a sense of smell hundreds or thousands of times better than our own, even small amounts may prove effective. Some odor repellents
may be useless and little more than “urban legends.”
Many repellents work in some situations and not others, or work for a time and then loose their effectiveness. Success seems to depend on timing, animal density, hunger and the animal’s prior conditioning. It is better to prevent an animal from browsing your plants than to stop them once they have learned to enjoy the taste.
Fertilized plants or plants in the early stages of growth are usually damaged more than older, coarse or sick plants.
Most animal repellents are available in ready-to-use form; some require mixing with water. Most are sprayed on plants; however, some are not labeled for use on edible crops or vegetable gardens. Read and follow all label restrictions.
Human hair, soap, cat urine, garlic and many other remedies have been suggested with varying degrees of success. In general, it seems that a combination of repellents and physical barriers provides the most effective solution to preventing damage to landscape and garden plants. Table 1 lists some of the commercially available products, some of which have been tested in controlled experiments.
I NEVER recommend using Moth Balls for other than there intended use! Moth Balls are a pesticide that when placed outside in flower beds or in the yard,  looks like white marbles to small children….see where I’m going with this? Children see them and the first things small children do is put it in their mouth. HAY! It’s poison people. Think about it!
Step 4: L -- Lethal Control
Lethal control methods may require permits from federal and/or state wildlife agencies, but generally is allowed for homeowners dealing with a small number of pests. Remember that wildlife, especially birds, are protected. Even if only one animal is causing damage, a federal (and possibly state) permit may be required.
Live trapping is not recommended for homeowners dealing with animals such as raccoons or skunks, which can transmit rabies. Generally, the animal is disposed of, and many localities require testing for rabies. Leave this type of trapping to professionals. Generally, homeowners should not attempt to live capture wild animals. If, however, you are prepared to undertake live trapping, then consider these guidelines.
Several brands of traps are available for live capturing animals. Most are wire but some are solid or fully enclosed.
Place traps near burrows or runways. Face the trap into an opening or hiding cover. Cover the trap to provide a dark area more attractive to animals. Protect the trap from children and pets. Protect trapped animals from harassment by pets or exposure to sun, rain or snow. Use simple baits similar to natural foods. For predators or carnivores, use canned cat food or sardines. For herbivores, use peanut butter or sliced apples. Peanuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter and oatmeal balls, walnuts or pecans may also work.
Kill traps, mouse and rat traps are readily available to most homeowners. They are simple to use and relatively harmless to humans. Bait traps by placing a small amount of peanut butter on the bait pad. You can use these if you like; I do not and will not. I do not and will not use sticky traps. Kill traps are messy and sticky traps are in-humane.
Other types of traps include multi-catch mousetraps, pigeon traps with swinging, one-way doors and numerous other designs. Consult Dixie Trapper for details.
Many homeowners can use a poison bait to control rats and mice or other small rodents. These baits are sold at home improvement stores, lawn and garden stores, hardware stores or Feed and Seed Stores.
Protect children and pets from poison baits. Baits are best used in an outside building or under careful observation. Pets that hunt or kill small animals could be harmed by these baits.
Powders such as naphthalene or sulphur may have some limited effectiveness in confined situations but are not likely to be effective when broadcast over a large area. In fact, these common chemicals can be harmful if used incorrectly. Always read and follow labels.
Other products that claim to be effective may not have been tested in controlled environments and should be used with caution. Do not apply pesticides or toxicants without proper safety equipment and training. Do not use in a manner inconsistent with the safety label.
Additional Resources
Numerous books deal with wildlife control in home and garden situations. Wildlife professionals are an excellent source of information, knowledge, reading material and, sometimes, they sponsor classes or clinics for gardening and landscaping.