By Duane Friend
We get several calls in our Extension office each year on what to do about snakes. Understanding their habits and the varmits they control may make them less scary. The following information comes from the University of Illinois Extension website Living with Wildlife in Illinois.
Snakes prefer brightly lit open areas where they can bask in the sunlight in order to regulate their body temperature (behavioral thermal regulation). Depending on the species, snakes can benefit the homeowner and gardener by eating invertebrates and rodents. Snakes may use woodpiles or the foundations of buildings as den sites during the spring and summer and as hibernation sites during late fall and winter. Small numbers of snakes may congregate during the breeding season in preferred basking areas or in hibernating sites.
Several of the non-venomous snake species are commonly misidentified as one of the four venomous species found in Illinois. Since a number of species of snakes vibrate their tails when they feel threatened, people sometimes mistakenly confuse them for a rattlesnake. In Illinois, the Fox Snake (Elaphe vulpina) is sometimes confused with the similarly looking Massasagua (Sistrurus catenatus).. “Watermoccasin” is a general term used by the public to refer to all seven species of Illinois’ water snakes. Only one species of water snake, the Cottonmouth, is venomous.
Snakes can be safely removed alive from a site. The easiest way to capture a snake is to lay a trash container on its side in front of a snake and gently sweep the snake into the container. Set the container upright and secure the lid. The broom handle should keep you safely beyond the snake’s striking distance. Depending on the size of the snake, slide a wide flat shovel (such as a snow shovel or coal shovel) carefully under the snake, raise the shovel up quickly, and slide the snake off the shovel and into a container with high sides (5-gallon bucket or 30 or 50- gallon container). Alternatively, the tines of a potato rake or a hoe can be carefully slipped under the center of a snake to quickly lift the snake into a container. Place a lid on the container and secure it. Keep the container out of direct sunlight while transporting the snake to the release site. Release the snake in appropriate habitat as soon as possible. The habitat should be located away from roads, provide sunlit areas that are not frequently mowed, and have areas of cover, such as tall grass, logs, or rocks, under which the snake can hide.
Venomous snakes use their venom to kill the birds and mammals which they eat. Snake venom may cause tissue or nerve damage to humans, but a snake bite is usually not fatal to humans if proper medical treatment is received. There are four venomous snakes native to Illinois. These are the Cottonmouth, Timber Rattler, Massasaugua, and Copperhead. The copperhead and cottonmouth are more commonly found in Southern Illinois, while the Timber Rattler is mainly found along forested river bluffs. The Massasaugua is very rare in Illinois, and is on the endangered species list in the state.