I wonder how many readers we lost who quickly scrolled past after reading that title! lol I’ll admit, 20 years ago, I would have been one of them! However, I moved into the woods and had to become acclimated to my new environment. I spent the next two decades learning about plants and trees and soils and wildlife, including snakes. Truth be told, my initial study of snakes was so that I could learn to identify the dangerous ones! I wanted to be safe because my children and I spent a lot of time in the forest. In time, I developed a healthy awe and respect for God’s creatures and came to understand that certain species of snakes are helpful to homeowners, especially those who have vegetable gardens.
There are at least four types of snakes that are good to have around. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’d want them inside your house, although if you were to find one there, I’d hope you’d safely free it instead of killing it. If you’ve ever had an indoor or outdoor problem with rodents, particularly in your garden, you’ll want to learn more about these four species of snakes.
Garter snakes are friends of your garden
Perhaps you call garter snakes “garden” snakes. If so, don’t worry; you’re definitely not the only one who does this. Most of my kids thought “garden” snake was the proper name for this friendly fellow that is a terror to slugs! Slugs are enemies of your garden plants. Garter snakes will feast upon them for you but will not harm your plants in the process. There are more than 20 kinds of garter snakes in North America. Not only do they eat slugs but basically any insect or small rodent they can overpower. Most garter snakes are non-venomous, and ones that contain venom are not believed to be toxic to humans.
Does that mean you should go picking them up when you come across them in the wild? Not really, It’s always best to keep hands off all snakes because even a non-venomous bite can hurt like the dickens or become infected. However, if you’re going to have snakes around the yard or garden, a member of the garter species is a good kind to have!
Black rat snakes eat rats but not copperheads
There’s a widespread myth that, if you have black snakes in your yard, it means you don’t have copperheads. It’s not true. In fact, black rat serpents often hibernate among other snake species, even venomous ones. By the time you get to the end of this post, however, you’ll learn about a snake that DOES eat other snakes, including copperheads! A black rat snake will often lie in the rafters of your barn or right underneath a doorstep. They help keep the rodent population down, especially rats, hence their name.
Gophers, be gone!
Gophers are varmints. They’re also herbivores, which means they will eat your garden down to nothing! These pests can also leave unsightly holes around the yard. That can be a safety hazard, especially to a small child whose foot can get stuck in one, causing a fall and a sprained ankle! If you’ve ever talked to your local farmers about snakes, they likely sang the praises of a gopher snake. It’s known as a farmer’s best friend. Their diet consists of rats, mice, gophers, small birds, bats and any rodent that is attracted to piles of animal feed, fertilizer or crops.
The king of backyard serpents
The king snake species gets a bad rap because some of them (specifically, the milk snake) happen to look a LOT like coral snakes, which are highly dangerous. If you study the markings of each, you’ll notice a distinct difference between them. They also have distinctive coloring differences on their heads. King snakes are harmless and do not have venom. They are constrictors. This type of constrictor has the most power per body size than all other constrictor snakes. This is why it is called the “king” snake.
What makes these guys such backyard heroes is that their diet consists of venomous serpents, including rattlers and copperheads! (I happen to be terrified of both of those, so I’m hoping we have some king snakes on our property, although I’ve never seen one. We have seen both rattlers and copperheads, though!)
The endangered species list is growing
Because so many people have a fear of serpents, many non-venomous and helpful snakes get killed. Some species that used to slither in abundance are now endangered. Snakes are very important members of our ecosystem. Think, for a moment, what might happen if there were no more snakes. All of the things they eat would increase in number!
If you see a snake on your property, don’t rush in to kill it. Try (from a safe distance) to determine if it is a helpful snake or one that is a danger to you or your children or pets. Whatever you do, don’t buy into the myths that say if a snake has round eyes, it’s friendly or slit eyes means it’s dangerous. There are some highly venomous snakes in the world with round eyes! The same goes for stories about round head versus angular head on a snake. It’s better to learn as much as you can from legitimate sources of information to be able to identify snakes and know which ones you’ll want to get rid of and which ones you’ll want to have around!