Some people have such an overwhelming, irrational fear of snakes that the phobia may restrict their lifestyles. This fear - known as ophidiophobia - may cause such people to avoid all areas where there is the slightest chance that a serpent could be encountered. Some cannot enjoy gardening or their own backyards, let alone a hike in the country or a summer dip in the local pond. Many victims of this phobia cannot view a movie or photograph of a snake without experiencing acute anxiety, and could not bear to read this publication. If you know such a person, let them know that effective treatment is available. Tell them to contact their doctor or local medical clinic for a referral and get back to enjoying the outdoors!
Despite the harmless and beneficial nature of snakes, there are still some people who, for whatever reasons, want to discourage them from inhabiting their yards. Throughout the warm months - and particularly in the spring when the mating season and the need to bask causes snakes to be more obvious than usual - we get calls from people wanting to get snakes away from their homes. As with most things in life, the solution requires tradeoffs which should be thoughtfully weighed against the dubious inconvenience of having a snake or two around the yard.
While the adaptability and perseverance of our common snakes makes them extremely difficult to eliminate entirely, removing potential shelter can significantly reduce the number of snakes in an area. Shelter for snakes is almost anything close to the ground that they can enter or get beneath to avoid predators and extreme temperatures. Boards on the ground, log and leaf piles, cracks and crevices in foundations, rock walls, ground-hugging shrubbery, dense patches of vegetation and narrow spaces beneath decks and outbuildings are all popular forms of cover. The number of snakes around a home can be reduced by sealing or removing some or all of these shelters, but use common sense. A nearly snake-free yard would have a wide, close-cut lawn extending right to a tightly sealed foundation: no flower gardens, no rocks, no shrubbery. Unless you really want to surround yourself with a boring, uninviting landscape, it is much easier to live with an occasional snake in the yard.
A snake in the house is another matter. While milk snakes may live undiscovered in rock foundations for generations and the pretty little "ringnecks" may survive comfortably amid the debris of a dirt-floored crawl-space, most snakes - especially garter snakes - end up in houses by accident. They cannot live in such habitats for long. Most are victims of falls and a poor sense of direction. They usually turn up in the spring, having hibernated in the foundation and emerged on the wrong side of the wall.
A snake in the house - especially in the typically jumbled cellar - is not an easy animal to locate. If it's any consolation, the snake will probably avoid living areas. If you can find it, check to be certain that it is a harmless snake, grab it with a pair of work gloves, and let it go outside. If the snake does not present itself, it may be lured out by the warmth of a heating pad or a sunlamp shining on a damp towel (but beware of the fire hazard!) It can also be trapped by placing "glue boards" (normally used for rodent control and available at hardware and agricultural stores) against walls in an area that the snake is likely to cross. Glue boards should be checked daily; captured snakes can be released unharmed with a little help and an application of common cooking oil.
There are no safe, effective snake repellents capable of keeping snakes away from yards or pools. However, if snakes are inhabiting small, confined areas - such as that crevice behind the front steps - a few tablespoons of naphthalene ("moth balls") may temporarily drive them out so that the entrance can be sealed.