Monday, April 15, 2024

High waters can force snakes from their usual habitat

The Cottonmouth or Water moccasin is one of the venomous snakes in Virginia Beach (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the Virginia Herpetological Society)
The Cottonmouth or Water moccasin is one of the venomous snakes in Virginia Beach (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the Virginia Herpetological Society)

VIRGINIA BEACH — The high water and flooding that has occurred recently doesn’t impact only people. Wildlife too can be affected and driven from its natural habitat.

And often into contact with human beings.

Deer, rabbits, and other mammals can be forced to flee the high water, as can reptiles – such as snakes.

“Snakes will seek refuge on higher ground during flood events and they will retreat back to their typical habitat as water levels drop,” said Kathy Owens, deputy manager at the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. “A good rule of thumb for snake sightings is, if you leave them alone they will leave you alone.”

Snakes serve an important role in the ecosystem, such as keeping rodent populations in check. So it’s mutually beneficial to be patient while they escape the high waters, she said.

“It’s also important to remember that there are many species of snakes in this area and most are not venomous,” said Owens, with Copperheads and Cottonmouth/Water moccasins being the main exceptions locally.

The Copperhead is one of the other venomous species of snakes common in parts of Virginia Beach (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the Virginia Herpetological Society)
The Copperhead is one of the other venomous species of snakes common in parts of Virginia Beach. (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the Virginia Herpetological Society)

Residents should take extra care when outside their homes and pay careful attention to where they are walking.

Brush and other debris could hide snakes and should be handled and moved with caution.

Owens said the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has a website with a wealth of information on Virginia snake species and identification, including a link for nuisance wildlife with helpful hints and guidance regarding safety concerns.

Some tips they offer:

  • Eliminate habitat near your home. Remove all rock and brush piles and keep grassy areas mowed short near the house. This will eliminate attraction for mice and cover for snakes.
  • If a snake is known to have entered the structure, examine the foundation of the house thoroughly. Seal all areas around pipes, vents, or other places that may provide small openings both for rodents and snakes. Also, check the roof for overhanging vegetation. Snakes are good climbers and can also enter through the attic where trees or shrubs provide access.
  • If a snake is found in the house or other structure, identify it. Once it is known to be non-venomous, carefully place a bucket or wastebasket over the snake. Then slip a board carefully under the bucket or basket and carry the snake outside and release it. Remember, if you have not sealed the holes in the foundation, the snake may return.
  • Have your house checked for rodent problems. If you can eliminate the food source, the snakes will go elsewhere.

If someone is not comfortable removing a snake from a home or other structure, there are pest control companies that advertise snake removal services. The Virginia Herpetological Society offers a snake identification guide online.

Owens said at Back Bay the recent high water has led to increased sightings of some wildlife, including crayfish and snakes, on higher ground and that anyone walking the refuge’s trails should watch where they’re stepping.

She also said there is some concern that the high waters could cause some erosion of the trails there, and that there are some relatively young plantings along the bay’s living shoreline that could be impacted.

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