One animal I haven’t talked about yet? Snakes.
Let’s say it’s early morning and I’m stumbling through my garage to get to my car for my morning commute. What if I see something long and slender curled up in my path? When my eyes are barely open, I don’t want to have to decide if it is a wayward engine hose, a friendly garter snake, or a poisonous who-knows-what that is ready to make it the last thing I ever see.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that snakes eat all kinds of things that I don’t like around the house like beetles, bugs, and mice. They act as free pest control in the garden. And most aren’t venomous or threatening. If they see you, they’re more likely to run and hide.
But I also know that poisonous snakes can hurt and kill you from one bite. Some of the deadliest snakes in North America including the cottonmouth, rattlesnake, and Eastern coral snake. According to the CDC, 7,000 – 8,000 people are bitten by snakes each year in the United States. Luckily, antivenom keeps deaths to only about a five.
What Are They Doing in the Garage Anyway?
Snakes normally thrive in wild areas. But when they live close to people, it’s usually in the garden. So how do they go from there into the garage?
Hunting for Food
Food is one reason. Bugs, lizards, birds, rats, and other things that snakes like to eat often find refuge in a garage. Snakes that chase a rat into a garage can follow its path through a hole or other gap.
But they don’t have to be running after something to end up where your car is. If you remember from science class in elementary school, some snakes, such as rattlers, have a special organ for detecting heat. Even if a mouse disappears under a cloth from you, snakes can detect it. If you open your garage door and they detect that animal’s heat signature, they’ll go after it for food.
Living Where It’s Easy
If a snake finds rats and other food in the garage, it may stay awhile. The location offers protection from predators such as hawks and birds and provides plenty of hiding places.
Another reason that snakes end up in your garage has to do with regulating their temperature. Back in school again, you learned that snakes are cold-blooded. Their bodies do NOT control temperature like ours can.
If it gets too hot outside, snakes can burn up. If it gets too cold, they can freeze to death. During temperature extremes, they search for protected spaces, such as your garage. In the winter, a garage shows up as warmer through their heat organ, so that’s where they go. In the summer, they know that darker spaces like your garage are probably cooler, so they go there as well.
How Do They Get In?
An open garage door or side door is the obvious welcome mat. If a hole or crack in a wall is big enough for a mouse or small animal to squeeze through, a snake can slither through there too. Check that the trim on the outside of your garage door reaches all the way to the ground outside. If not, the gap between the bottom of the trim and the ground may prove large enough for the reptile to crawl through.
Some snakes are expert climbers. (The Eastern rat snake, for example, goes after nests and birdhouses.) They can slither into a dryer vent in the middle of a wall or up into any opening under your eaves.
If your garage is already sealed tight, they may have come in through the rest of the house. Look for holes, cracks, and open gaps around the rest of your home. Also check for opening from your home to the garage.
How Do You Find Them If They’re Inside?
You don’t have to actually see the snake to know that it is living in your garage. Other tell-tale signs include:
- Skin. Snakes can shed their skin as often as once a month. A few times a year is more common, if they are older.
- Trails. A snake moving about the garage floor will leave a long trail through dust or dirt.
- Poop. Snake droppings are usually dark and look like small tubes and cords. You might think a bird left them. Snakes don’t usually leave much waste behind because they can retain such matter for months.
I don’t recommend you go hunting for the snake if you think you have one. But if you want to try and find it, dress the part by wearing closed-toed shoes, long pants, a thick shirt with long sleeves, and thick gloves. Check out dark areas, inside and under boxes, or under lawn mowers or other equipment. Snakes like heat, so look near your water heater or any appliance that generates heat.
How Do you Get Rid of Snakes?
I wouldn’t take a chance on removing a snake myself. A bite from a non-venomous snake can cause infections or an allergic reaction. And if the snake is poisonous, you could earn a trip to the emergency room or die.
Avoid Direct Confrontation
It’s best not to confront the animal directly by trying to touch it or move it. You don’t have to worry that it is going to hunt you down unless you’re a mouse. When a snake feels threatened, it generally hides in a safe place until the threat passes.
If you happen to see the snake in the middle of the floor, you can open the garage door and wait for it to leave. You might also try to use a broom or other long tool to persuade the creature outside to leave.
How about a Trap?
You can try and set out a snake trap. I’ve never done this so my best guideline is to follow its directions. Once you snare the creature, you take the trap to an outdoor location. Then, follow the instructions for opening the trap and releasing the snake as you keep safe.
One low-tech trap, says Penn State Extension, is a pile of damp burlap bags on the floor. This can draw the creatures in because they like cool and damp places. You can then lift the whole pile with a shovel and take it to a safe place.
Turn to the Professionals
The best thing you can do is to call your local Animal Control. You can also try a pest-control or snake-removal service. Any of these contacts will send a professional who knows how to deal with the situation. This expert can remove the animal without harming it, your pets, or anyone in your household.
Eliminate the Food Source
Eliminate the food sources of snakes, which would consist mostly of rats, mice, and other small creatures in your typical garage. These animals go after any food. If you must store edible in the garage put it in sealed containers or refrigerators. Avoid leaving pet food out either in pet bowls or open bags. Store it in well-covered containers as well.
You can eliminate the problem entirely by preventing snakes from entering your garage in the first place. Cover vents and drains that lead into your home with galvanized screening. Seal any gaps or spaces into your garage that are greater than a quarter-inch in diameter.
Snake-Proofing the Exterior
Minimize or eliminate bushes, tall grasses, and other foliage by keeping a well-maintained garden. Avoid leaving a pile of grass clippings or leaves. Snakes can hide in these areas, especially if they’re up against your home, and then enter your garage from there.
Remove trash, wood piles, old furniture, scrap metal, and other mounds of debris from your yard because these can act as possible hiding places.
A more expensive and time-consuming option is to hire a professional to build a snake fence around your garage or home. Such barriers are best made from vinyl to prevent climbing and can be sloped outward to make snakes fall of when they climb. The bottom is typically wrapped in concrete that is buried in the ground to prevent any gaps that snakes can crawl through.
A Chemical Solution?
Chemical snake repellents are available. But whether they work or not is still open to debate. Be careful with these substances. If you don’t use them correctly, they could be a risk to your children or pets. If you do decide to use a snake repellent, be sure to read all the directions.
Salt, vinegar, sulfur, mothballs, lye, and other concoctions do not work against snakes. These substances may also harm your kids, pets, or animals that benefit the garden.
Don’t Do This
Do not get rid of snakes using guns, knives, axes, or other weapons. You probably won’t hit an animal that can move faster than you think. And you risk hurting or killing yourself, loved ones, bystanders, or pets.