Snakes are long, legless reptiles that move by slithering along the ground. Their appearance can vary a lot depending on their specific species, with colors ranging from green to red, yellow, blue, black, or brown. Their lengths can be as short as ten centimeters to as long as dozens of feet. If you’re on this page, don’t worry, you won’t find any prehistoric titanoboas in your backyard – the most common pest snakes, like garter, ribbon, and corn snakes – are nothing to fear.
Take a look below to learn more about the most common pest snake varieties and how we can help you keep them away from your property.
Garter and ribbon snakes
Thamnophis species — nonvenomous
Upper body background color brown or black with 3 light olive green, yellow, red or orange stripes; alternating black spots on stripes; underside light green, white or yellow (pictured top left).
- Adult body length: 22 to 35 inches
- Eggs laid or young born alive: 3 to 96 young born alive per year
- Birthing season: June through September
- Activity period: Daytime
- Behavior / disposition: Mild to aggressive
- Primary diet: Earthworms, leeches, insects, fish, frogs, mice
- Ohio notes: The common garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis, is commonly found in yards by fields, woods and water
Corn, rat & fox snakes
Elaphe species — nonvenomous
Upper body background color yellow, light brown, reddish-brown, gray or black with red, brown or black saddle-blotches or stripes; underside white to yellow with dark patterning.
- Adult body length: 48 to 72 inches
- Eggs laid or young born alive: 3 to 44 eggs laid June – August
- Birthing season: Hatchlings August through October
- Activity period: Night (pre-sunset to post-dawn)
- Behavior / disposition: Threatening; will bite; moderate in captivity
- Primary diet: Frogs, lizards, birds, bird eggs, small rodents, other small mammals
- Ohio notes: The black rat snake, Elaphe obsolete obsolete, is most common by woods, fields and water (see pp.5&6)
Nerodia species – nonvenomous
Upper body background color brown, gray or black; some species with alternating dorsal and side blotches, diamonds or crossbands; underside white to yellow with variable markings.
- Adult body length: 48 to 69 inches
- Eggs laid or young born alive: 7 to 58 young born alive per year
- Birthing season: June through October
- Activity period: Anytime (temperature-dependent)
- Behavior / disposition: Aggressive; will bite
- Primary diet: Fish, frogs, tadpoles, newts, mudpuppies, salamanders, crawdads and crabs
- Ohio notes: The northern water snake, Nerodia sipedon (page 6), is occasionally encountered in and near Lake Erie and smaller lakes; it is often confused for the cottonmouth
Agkistrodon contortrix – venomous
Coppery-brown, reddish or pink head; body background color light brown or pink with dark outlined hourglass-shaped crossbands; underside white with dark blotches (top right photo, p.1)
- Adult body length: 36+ inches
- Eggs laid or young born alive: 2 to 17 young born alive
- Birthing season: August through October
- Activity period: Daytime
- Behavior / disposition: Moderate to aggressive
- Primary diet: Amphibians, reptiles, small birds, rodents
- Ohio notes: Found sparingly on rocky banks of rivers and creeks. When nearby, a cucumber-like odor can be detected.
Agkistrodon piscivorus – venomous
Upper body background color brown or black, marked with indistinct black bands that widen at the sides; head chunky; inside of mouth white; tail short; underside yellow with or without dark markings
- Adult body length: 48+ inches
- Eggs laid or young born alive: 1 to 15 young born alive
- Birthing season: August through October
- Activity period: Daytime
- Behavior / disposition: Aggressive
- Primary diet: Fish, amphibians. reptiles, small mammals
- Ohio notes: Rare: possibly in southernmost Ohio, if at all; most claims of sightings are actually the common northern water snake.
Sistrurus catenatus – venomous
Background color brown to black, marked with squarish dark blotches (sometimes indistinct) along the back; 2 or 3 series of small dark blotches on the sides; underside dark and heavily blotched; tail short, stout and ringed with dark brown and background color
- Adult body length: 24 to 30 inches
- Eggs laid or young born alive: 2 to 32 young born alive per year
- Birthing season: July through September
- Activity period: Daytime
- Behavior / disposition: Moderate
- Primary diet: Insects, frogs, lizards, small birds, mice
- Ohio notes: Rare; prefers edges of swamps, marshes, streams, ponds, meadows, fields and fencerows; possibly blamed for actual sightings of corn and fox snakes
Almost any snake that finds its way indoors or is discovered in a home garden may, unfortunately, invoke mild hysteria in persons who have no appreciation for snakes. Beyond the connection between snakes (serpents) and Satan (evil) described in the book of Genesis, much fear and disdain for snakes stems from the possibility of encountering one or more of the several venomous or aggressive species that are native to this continent; although only 16% of the species in the United States can be considered dangerous. Furthermore, the general public has difficulty in identifying snakes correctly. Two families of snakes are responsible for most of the fear expressed by the general public. Rattlesnakes, water moccasins (cottonmouths) and copperheads are the North American representative pit vipers (family Crotalidae, a.k.a. Viperidae),which possess heat sensors located in visible loreal (facial) pits between the nostril and eye on each side of the head. These sense organs mainly enable them to seek out and capture warm-bodied prey, even in darkness. It can be dangerous to pick up a recently killed rattlesnake or the head of a decapitated rattlesnake, for example, because the warmth of the hand may cause the snake’s mouth to open reflexively, with the extendable, hypodermic-like fangs ready to inject venom, if the hand is in position to be bitten. The eastern coral snake is the sole representative of the family Elaphidae – the only other family of venomous snakes found in the U.S. Coral snakes are not found in Ohio, except in captivity. Practically all other snakes commonly seen in the United States belong to the largest family, Colubridae. This group includes bull snakes, various racers, gopher snakes, king snakes, garter, ribbon, green and water snakes, coach whip snake, corn, rat and fox snakes, to name some of the more common species. Nevertheless, few people are willing to tolerate any snakes on their property, especially if children frequently play in the area. In addition, some controls may be justified during the nesting season at bird sanctuaries, in duck-nesting marshes, and at fish hatcheries to prevent loss of fry.
Communication, inspection and identification
The first step in control is to find out what kind of snake is creating the problem and to learn something of its habits, if possible. It is often quite difficult to identify snakes, especially on the basis of a description provided by a distraught parent frightened by a snake in the yard. Fortunately, some control methods do not require positive identification, although it is usually desirable to know whether the snake in question is venomous or harmless. Except for the somewhat dangerous coral snake of the South, all of the really venomous snakes in the United States have a sensory loreal pit between their eyes and nostrils and have vertical pupils. However, most people will not examine a snake closely enough to identify these features. If snakes are gaining access into a building, a thorough search should be made for cracks in the foundation, unscreened crawlspace vents and gaps around basement window frames. It is important to check clearance under doors and look for improper sealing where plumbing and utility lines penetrate the foundation of the building.
Some environmental modification methods can be used to prevent snake problems. One method is to prevent the adjacent areas from becoming favorable habitats for snakes. In wooded, rural and riparian settings where snakes are common, their presence can be discouraged by eliminating stands of tall vegetation and removing piles of rock, lumber, and debris that might attract snakes to search for prey or to seek harborage on the property in question – especially close to buildings. The closing of all entrances to rodent burrows make an area less attractive to snakes. It also helps if one is persistent in controlling rats, mice, and field rodents around residences and other buildings.
Structural gaps and crevices larger than 1/4 inch and within three feet of grade should be closed off because snakes can pass through very small openings. Crawlspace vents should not have screens with larger than 1/4 inch mesh.
Most snakes are not likely to climb or penetrate a fine-mesh fence 24 to 36 inches high. Therefore, a snake-proof fence can be constructed around a garden or child’s play area if it is assembled of galvanized 1/4 inch mesh hardware cloth with the bottom edge buried several inches in the soil to make sure the snakes cannot go under it. It is best to put the posts on the inside of the fence and make certain the gate fits snugly and has a strong self-closing spring. No fence will be effective, however, if lumber or other items are piled against the outside of the fence. In fact, a narrow strip along the outside of the fence should also be kept free of weeds and other tall vegetation.
Snakes that have entered or escaped in a residence may be difficult to find, as many people learn when a pet snake escapes. One recommendation is to place a pile of damp cloth towels, covered with a dry one, along foundation walls. Each pile must be large enough for a snake to crawl under and conceal itself. Snakes appear to like the moisture. The cloth piles should be checked daily. Snakes can be captured inside or under dwellings, in garages and warehouses by placing several giant-size or rat-size glue traps along the walls (where children and pets cannot reach them). Sticky traps can be pushed against the building foundation, beneath storage shelves or pallets, using a pole and then retrieved later by pulling on an attached length of cord. Alternatively, sticky traps can be housed in pizza-style boxes with 1- to 2-inch diameter holes cut in opposite edges, through which snakes can enter. Captured snakes can be released from the glue traps by pouring a little vegetable oil where the scales are stuck to the glue. Funnel traps using drift or lead fencing can be effective for capturing snakes outdoors. The method is time-consuming, however, because the traps must be examined daily to remove a great number of other kinds of animals which also enter such traps. Den trapping in early spring, where feasible, can be effective regionally and allows for the option of releasing nonpoisonous snakes unharmed. Some brands of live-catch wire cage traps and box traps are available for capturing snakes; however, reports of their efficacy vary.
Snake stick and hand-capture
Persons who are trained and proficient in the use of a snake stick can use this tool to immobilize a venomous snake or larger aggressive species in order to correctly grasp the snake directly behind its head. At this point, the hand-held snake is quickly placed into a cloth sack, which is then tied closed. The sack containing the snake can be placed in a box or cage and transported safely to the desired release point or containment facility. This method should not be attempted by the novice unless assisted and attended closely by an experienced snake handler. A small to medium size nonvenomous snake can be hand-captured by quickly grasping it directly behind the head in order to prevent being bitten. Even the small teeth of a garter snake or the like, can break the skin and an the resulting wound may become infected. Wearing rubber-impregnated cloth work gloves will reduce the likelihood of being bitten but may impede the dexterity required for hand-capture of smaller snakes. Some snakes, when grasped, may attempt to motivate the one holding it to let go by writhing its tail around and rubbing a foul-smelling secretion from its anal gland onto its captor. Let the novice beware.
No toxic chemicals are presently registered by the EPA for snake control. There are naphthalene-based snake repellents available for use outdoors; however, their efficacy is questionable and are not endorsed by Varment Guard.
Juvenile black rat snake
Northern water snake