How to Get Along with Snakes

A majority of Florida snakes are harmless. Of the 50 established species and 45 subspecies found in Florida, only 6 species are venomous. You may be able to safely feed squirrels in a city park, but if you grab one of the squirrels, chances are it will bite and scratch you out of fear. Most people would not condemn squirrels because they defend themselves by biting and scratching. Snakes defend themselves mostly by fleeing, but they may bite if captured and harmed. However, biting is not a sign that they are dangerous, it is just the only way that most snakes have to defend themselves. Some snakes might also exude a smelly musk or defecate on the human or other animal that is threatening them.

If you find a snake and do not know whether it is non-venomous (harmless) or venomous.

  • The safest thing to do is leave it alone.
  • Regardless of what some people say, Florida snakes are not aggressive, and unless they are cornered, most will flee when they see you.

If you have snakes around your house

  • You should feel lucky as they are there for a reason.
  • All snakes are carnivorous and a benefit to humans. For example, ratsnakes eat rodents such as mice and rats, and kingsnakes eat these rodents as well as other snakes, including venomous snakes.
  • If you find a snake in your backyard, swimming pool, or garage, do not try to kill it! Instead, try to identify it and if it is non-venomous, appreciate it and leave it alone just as you do with songbirds in your garden. However, if you are uncertain or it is a venomous species, either leave it alone or carefully catch and release it in nearby woods.
  • Although we recommend leaving all snakes alone, catching most snakes around your house can be safe and easy using a plastic garbage can and household broom. See photographs below.
  • Species such as North American Racers and Coachwhips are fast-moving and may be longer than the garbage can, but with a little patience these snakes can be guided into the garbage can.
  • If it is a small species like a Ringneck Snake or Crowned Snake, turn it loose in your garden where it can do its job eating little pest insects.

If you are bitten by a snake

  • Most people are bitten on the hands and arms when they are handling or trying to kill a snake. Therefore, if you are uncertain of its identity do not try to catch or even kill a snake.
  • For a short time after a snake is killed, its reflexes may continue to work. Those reflexes typically cause the body to writhe slowly, but poking or prodding a freshly killed snake can cause a convulsive contraction and even a bite, so do not handle a newly killed venomous snake.
  • Stay calm, remove any rings that could restrict circulation if tissues swell, keep the bitten limb below the level of the heart.
  • The only acceptable treatment for venomous snakebite, involves the use of antivenin. So if you or someone else is bitten by a venomous snake, seek immediate attention at the nearest hospital or medical facility.

How Capture a Snake

Figure 1. This young cottonmouth was discovered on the deck of the swimming pool, and the property owner does not want to kill it, but would like to remove it safely.
Figure 2. After laying a plastic garbage can on its side, the property owner stands safely back and reaches out with a long house broom to sweep the snake into the can. Slow but firm brush strokes are best. Flailing at it will only agitate the snake. A snake can strike up to 2/3 its body length.
Figure 3. The snake has been swept into the garbage can without any danger to the property owner.
Figure 4. Once the snake is inside, the garbage can is stood up and the lid put on it. Notice the property owner's fingers are safely behind the lip of the can.
Figure 5. The young cottonmouth is safely in the bottom of the garbage can. The snake cannot bite through the plastic and cannot climb the smooth sides.
Figure 6. Once the snake is in the garbage can, the property owner puts the lid on the can to keep everyone safe. The snake does not need to be killed and you do not have handle it.
Figure 7. The lid is snapped on the garbage can and tied or taped securely in place. Neither the property owner nor the snake are harmed.
Figure 8. Secure in the garbage can, the snake can now be removed from the property. Most snakes can be safely removed this way – they should never be killed.

All Capture photos © F. Wayne King