Snakes in the Garden: Why You Don't Need to Panic

Posted by Mark A. Puglisi, ACE on Thu, Nov 03, 2016 @ 10:57 AM


Snakes and humans have had a complicated relationship throughout history. They've been a symbol of both evil, as in the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden, and of life, as in the Australian Aboriginal stories about the Rainbow Serpent, which created the world and humans. Many early civilizations even told stories about human-snake hybrids, like the Gorgons of Ancient Greece.

In modern times, popular culture often takes a negative view of snakes. The great adventurer Indiana Jones is terrified of snakes, his major weakness. In the animated Disney version of The Jungle Book, the giant python Kaa attempts to hypnotize and eat the main character. In the Harry Potter  series, the antagonist can speak to snakes, and snakes and snake symbolism are used frequently for evil purposes.

With all of the negative attention placed on snakes, it makes sense why many people tend to get nervous or afraid when snakes are in the area. Unfortunately, this means many people misunderstand snakes and kill them unnecessarily. Very few snakes harm humans, and many kill more problematic pests like rats and mice.

The next time you see a snake in your yard, take a minute to identify it before panicking. Once you know what it is, you'll better know how to handle it. 

Common Snakes in Los Angeles

Southern California is home to many different types of snakes, most of which are non-venomous. When you see a snake in your yard, it's probably one of these generally harmless varieties:

  • Gopher snake. These snakes are usually light brown and covered in a pattern of both large and small dark brown spots. They are often mistaken for rattlesnakes, although they are nonvenomous and rarely even bite. Their main defense mechanism is to coil up like a pit viper and strike with a closed mouth, smacking the threat with their nose.
  • Red, western, and striped racer. Each of these snakes is long, extremely thin, and faster than most snakes. Red racers are usually light red or pink, with a darker head and a mottled pattern. Western racers are solid colored and gray, brown or green. Striped racers have black scales with two thin, yellow stripes along each side.
  • California kingsnake. When domesticated, California's state snake actually makes a relatively easy-to-care for and friendly pet. The snake, which prefers constriction to biting when hunting, is larger than most California snakes and comes in many color varieties. Some may be red with yellow bands, others black with white bands, and others brown with yellow stripes.
  • Ring-necked snakes. These small, shy snakes are easily identified by their muted green coloring on top and vibrant red, yellow, or red coloring on their bellies. As the name suggests, they have a matching brightly-colored ring of scales around their neck. They prefer to hunt at night. Their submissive nature and small fangs mean they rarely bite even when handled.
  • Garter snake. These multicolored, patterned snakes are common throughout the country, especially in areas with a good water source. Amphibians make up a significant portion of their diet. Although garter snakes actually do possess a mild venom, it isn't strong enough to hurt humans even if they had a means of injecting it. Garter snakes lack strong front teeth.

When you find a snake in yard, it's more than likely one of these harmless types. However, there is one snake in California that poses a threat to humans.

  • Rattlesnakes. Because of their large, thick bodies and spotted brown coloring, rattle snakes are sometimes hard to distinguish from gopher snakes. However, rattlesnakes have a sharply triangular head and a banded tail ending in a rattle, which they use to warn away predators. These snakes strike quickly and the venom can kill if antivenin isn't administered within a few hours.

While rattlesnakes can be deadly, very few people who are bitten actually die. And rattlesnakes aren't extremely aggressive, preferring to warn people away instead of engaging. They will generally only attack if they feel threatened and the threat won't leave.

Deciding on Pest Control

It's one thing to know that a snake in your yard won't hurt you; it's another thing entirely to want to keep them around. While many snakes can keep rodent populations down, protecting you from an even more annoying pest, you probably don't want the snakes themselves near your pets or children, even if they aren't venomous. They may not know to leave the snake alone, and they may get bitten.

One or two gopher snakes in the garden probably isn't anything to be worried about, but if you notice a large population of snakes of any species near your home, look into pest control. Many companies, including Greenleaf Organic Pest Management, prefer to move the snakes to a safe location rather than kill them.

To discourage snakes from coming back, keep your grass short and keep woodpiles and lawn debris away from your home. If snakes don't have anywhere to hide, they likely won't stay in the area long.

If you're tired of snakes slithering through your yard, don't reach for the shovel. Call Greenleaf Organic Pest Management for safe, humane, and thorough removal.