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Summer’s Unwelcomed Visitors

As every summer rolls around, we begin seeing a variety of wildlife showing up in our yards. Some of the wildlife is actually invited, like the assortment of birds that are attracted to our feeders, and other wildlife is interesting to see but not necessarily something you want hanging around all the time. Case in point; my wife and I watched a black bear cub on our camera walk by our front door last week, and I’m sure Mama wasn’t too far away either. There are some other critters that show up that are probably not welcome at all, like groundhogs, skunks, porcupines, and, oh yea, snakes.

Milk Snake (House Snake) living up to its name on the side of my house.

While an occasional Garter Snake may show up, there are two species of snakes that seem to be at the top of the list when it comes to unwelcomed visitors, the Milk Snake and the Black Rat Snake.

The Milk Snake, which is often referred to as a House Snake, is appropriately named since it likes being around houses, barns, and any other buildings that might attract mice or any other rodents. The Milk Snake is a slender snake with black-bordered brownish blotches down its back and sides, while the belly has a checkerboard black and white pattern. They are usually 24-36 inches in length. The Milk Snake is sometimes mistaken for a Copperhead by those who don’t know their snakes, but there are significant differences even in the pattern. The Milk Snake also lacks the triangular-shaped head, elliptical eyes, and the pit on each side of the head between the eye and the nostril typical of venomous snakes.

The other fairly frequent visitor to many backyards is the Black Rat Snake. This snake is very similar to a Black Racer, which has a shinier coat and is also found around here, but it doesn’t seem to show up as much. As the name implies, the Black Rat Snake is basically black, but there may be a slight pattern visible on some and white or cream on the chin and throat. These snakes can be quite large and reach lengths of up to 72 inches. I once captured one by my garage and released it into the wood pile out back; when I held it up, the snake exceeded my height by more than a foot.

Black Rat Snakes and Black Racers and both excellent tree climbers, and more than once I have spotted them on branches twenty feet up a tree. The Black Rat Snake and the Black Racer, like the Milk Snake, are considered harmless; they are non-venomous, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to bite.

Since I was a kid, I always liked catching and handling snakes (I know, I’m not normal), and I’ve picked up and relocated plenty of Black Rat Snakes. Yes, they may latch onto a finger and draw a little blood with their sharp little teeth, but they often times settle down quickly and can be easily handled.

My granddaughter, Adelle holding a black rat snake a few years ago.

Of course, my advice is if you don’t know your snakes, don’t handle them. Certainly, I don’t want them crawling around in the buildings on my property, but they are great at keeping mice away, so I’m fine with releasing them away from buildings.