Rattlers

Asked November 3, 2014, 6:39 PM EST

We just moved to the Hill Country and my wife is worried about the diamondbacks and other venomous snakes - both for her and our Aussie Shepherds. Clearing the land, keeping the grasses low, is not possible. Any forms of control you can suggest? Is there any domestic fowl that kills snakes or is that just myth? Thanks

Travis County Texas

1 Response

You're quite right that removing snake habitat from your property is the best way to discourage venomous (and other) snakes from being there. If this is not an option, my best advice is to learn how to identify the venomous snakes in your new area. Contrary to popular belief, your chances of being bitten by a venomous snake are quite low if you leave them alone. Trying to kill venomous snakes that you see drastically increases your chances of being bitten. See:

www.livingalongsidewildlife.com/2013/10/the-only-good-dog-is-dead-dog-why-it.html

Importantly, I do NOT recommend killing or purposefully interacting with venomous snakes in any way. This is how 2/3rds of snakebites happen. Venomous snakes don't really want to bite you. They would rather save their venom for killing their prey, and they know that you are much too large to be prey. This is why they don't inject venom sometimes when they are striking a perceived predator. The best way to get one to bite you is to try and kill it, because it will feel threatened and defend itself.

As to what you specifically can do, I'd recommend always wearing close-toed shoes outdoors (especially at night), using a flashlight at night, wearing gloves during yardwork, never putting your hand somewhere that you can't see, and in general avoiding areas where snakes might be. There are several things you can do to your property to discourage them from being there, including cleaning up brush, woodpiles, rockpiles, and trash that they hide in or under, removing water sources, and keeping any lawns or grassy areas that you can mowed so that you have good visibility.

In the Texas Hill Country, you'll encounter Copperheads, Western Diamondbacks, a few Cottonmouths in wet areas, and rarely Eastern Coralsnakes (as well as over two dozen species of non-venomous snakes). The Coralsnakes are so secretive that you really don't need to worry about them - unless you pick one up, it's practically impossible for one to bite you. The three vipers are more common and more likely to be encountered, but if you learn to ID them then you should be able to avoid them. As for your dogs, there is a new Western Diamondback Rattlesnake venom vaccine on the market that you could try. See:

http://www.redrockbiologics.com/

It's also possible to train your dogs to avoid all snakes. If you can obtain a snake shed or two, you could do some aversion training with them.

If I were you, I'd consider getting this book:

http://utpress.utexas.edu/index.php/books/dixtep

and bookmarking this website:

http://www.herpsoftexas.org/view/snakes

Additionally, you can submit photos of snakes that you see for ID to a Facebook group called 'Snake Identification':

https://www.facebook.com/SnakeIdentification

Most of the time you'll get a verified ID by an expert within 1-2 minutes.

As far as birds that kill snakes, there are probably already lots on or around your new property, if there are snakes there. Ravens, crows, wild turkeys, owls, and hawks all eat snakes in the wild, and many raptors will eat venomous snakes. You've likely got a few wild mammals that also do this, including possums, foxes, coyotes, and skunks, as well as some native snakes, like kingsnakes and indigo snakes, that eat venomous snakes. I don't have a lot of personal experience with domestic fowl that kill snakes, although I've heard many times that chickens will kill snakes that they see.

Some things that won't work but that I've commonly heard people ask about include applying commercial snake repellents and introducing ratsnakes, kingsnakes, or other nonvenomous snakes to your area. There's no evidence that either of these things influences venomous snakes at all.

Please feel free to get back to me with further questions if you have any.