I seem to be finding Kirtland snakes as I am cleaning my gardens. There seems to be an increase of grubs, beeetles and worms but have not seen the small lizards yet. We have an abundance of chipmunks. Is there something I can do to discourage the snakes from taking up residencey in my yard?
Many people have questions about snakes and this post addresses the two most common – what is it and what can I do? The answer to the latter is, in part, related to the first so I’ll address that one first. Indiana is home to a diversity of snake species. Identifying snakes to species can be tricky. First, geographic location often can easily differentiate among similar species or subspecies. Check the distribution map of the species in question and that of similar species. This may not resolve all issues since the distribution of similar species often overlap, distribution maps are not 100 percent accurate (i.e., they are a “best guess”), and some species and subspecies share similar characteristics where their ranges overlap. Second, scale configuration and appearance differs among some groups of species. For snakes, the texture of the body scales (keeled or smooth) or the presence/absence of a divided anal plate (the large scale that covers the cloacal opening) are key. Finally, physical characteristics including size, color, and pattern can be used. For some species, conclusive identification is easier with the specimen in hand although handling venomous species (which are rare in Indiana) is not recommended. With practice, one can become quite adept at identifying all of them.
Kirtland’s Snakes referenced in the homeowner’s question are endangered in Indiana. They are generally found near or along the margins of water bodies, but they can also on occasion be found in some urban areas. Due to these facts and since Kirtland’s Snakes are generally quite secretive in behavior, this homeowner’s garden visitors are likely another species. Common garden visitors in Indiana include DeKay’s Brownsnake (pictured right) or Eastern Gartersnake. Red-bellied Snakes (pictured below) have a pinkish-red belly similar to Kirtland’s Snake. They are more of a woodland species, but it could be a possibility. All of these snakes can eat slugs and other garden pests.
Is there something homeowners can do to discourage snakes from taking up residency in their yards and around their homes? There really is no fool proof method to discourage snakes from utilizing a property. Reducing mulch layer thickness; removing brush piles, rock piles, or other refuse; and keeping vegetation low are all steps that may help. Keep in mind that this may also reduce use of your property by wildlife you desire. There have been some repellents developed for snakes, but research results on their effectiveness have been mixed at best. In general, you should be wary of repellents that promise to keep animals out of an area. Lastly, there is plastic mesh fencing that you can purchase. Fencing can be used to exclude animals from small areas – it is generally cost-prohibitive for larger areas and I am not aware of studies that test the effectiveness of fencing for snakes. Snake fencing is generally designed to exclude larger venomous snakes opposed to the typical garden species that can be quite small. Snakes can also get stuck and die in mesh fences when their head fits through but the body gets stuck. The scales “catch” the mesh when the snake attempts to back out. Mesh fencing is also susceptible to damage from trimmers, falling limbs, and rabbits and rodents that can chew holes in it. Thus, regular inspection and maintenance is required to maintain its function.
Remember, while many folks are afraid of snakes or don’t want them around. The vast majority of species are harmless and can actually help homeowners by preying upon animals that actually are a nuisance and cause damage. Before taking any action, consider their benefits to you and how your actions affect other wildlife that call your yard home.
Snakes and Lizards of Indiana
The Education Store, Purdue Extension publications, cds and videos.
Brian MacGowan, Extension Wildlife Specialist
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University