Fall brings greater chance of man, snakes crossing paths

Sunday, September 9, 2001

The mere thought of a snake makes many of you shudder. The reality of seeing one near your house may even upset you. As autumn approaches, the likelihood to encounter a snake increases. Many urban dwellers are moving into territory already considered home by snakes. Knowing what attracts snakes and where to expect them may reduce your anxiety this fall.

Snakes visit areas for very specific reasons. Yards and other properties may be a source for food, shelter from predators, or a place to adjust their body temperature. The heat of summer encourages most snakes to become active at night. Extreme heat is difficult to fight for an animal that does not sweat and can easily overheat. Sun-baked pavement and rocks are crucial to avoid.

Snakes prefer shady brush piles, logs, and cool animal burrows. Summer nights are a much safer time to seek food and water. For this reason snake encounters are less frequent in summer. Autumn brings cooler air, shorter days, and, with it, a need to regulate body temperature.

Things that used to be hot are now simply warm. Warm nights become cool nights and now present a new challenge. . . staying warm.

The places that were deadly hot in summer are now highly sought after. Gravel lanes, black top roads, concrete patios and rock slopes all receive milder solar heating. A chilly snake can lay on such things during the evening or early morning hours to warm themselves. Stone rock and asphalt tend to hold the heat making them desirable places to hang out.

While this works great for the snakes, it increases encounters with people. People often perceive the presence of a snake as something evil. They are certain that the snake is up to no good. Truthfully the snake is just trying to warm up. Ill intentions are not in the scope of a snakes thoughts.

If you want to reduce your chances of seeing a snake this fall, consider things from a snake's perspective. Sunny places with rock or pavement are crucial for snakes in fall, but they need to be near shelter and food. For example, a wood pile near a patio is a perfect place to hide, find food, and quickly slip out to warm up. A brush pile near a gravel road at a grown up area of the yard is attractive to snakes; especially if they are near a sunny place.

Moving brush, wood piles, and stacks of lumber or tin away from yards and homes is a good way to discourage snake occupation. A sunny spot with no hiding place is too risky for a skittish snake. If you decide to move a pile in the fall, use caution where you place your hands and feet. Snakes may already be using the pile. Keep in mind that the majority of snakes are harmless but don't take chances, leave them alone.

Snakes become more active during autumn days. They seek out a few last meals for the year and sunny spots to bask. If you see a snake this fall, leave it alone. Most snake bites happen during intentional dealings. Trying to move or kill a snake increases chances for a bite.

Examine the area to see what is attracting the snake. Is it a sunny spot? Would the ground hold the heat well? Is there shelter for a snake nearby? Snakes are not evil, and are not out to get you.

Knowing why snakes visit your yard can help you tolerate them or modify your yard to discourage their presence. Be smart about snakes and you will be able to coexist.

A.J. Hendershott is an outreach and education regional supervisor with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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