Believe it or not, snakes can be great to have around. After all, they love to eat rodents! But when they move inside our homes, often something must be done. Here’s what you need to know when dealing with a possible rat snake on your property.
Background information on the Texas Rat Snake
Some mistake the Texas rat snake with the western rat snake, but they are not the same sub-species. They are constrictors and non-venomous. Threatened, most bite readily, though the pressure of the bite is so weak and short-lived that they usually just cause a scratch. They vary greatly in color and patterning, but they are usually yellow or tan in color, with brown to olive green saddle-shaped blotches from head to tail. Texas rat snakes can reach 6’ long.
This species can be found in the eastern half of Texas, in a variety of habitats, especially where there are plenty of mice and rats. Ideal habitat for this species can be found in and around barns, chicken houses, brush piles, old junk piles, and other similar structures. They can be found in both woodlands and open fields. A large portion of their time is likely spent high up in trees, either coiled in hollows or stretched out on branches. When found in homes, they are most often in the attic.
This species, due to its larger size (can reach 6’ long) and need to actively forage, spends a good portion of time basking. The dark dorsal coloration facilitates absorbing heat from the sun quickly. Favorite "hot" spots are under loose pieces of tin and (to the detriment of the snakes) highway blacktop.
They are abundant in both coastal swampy areas and pastures. Rat snakes prefer to hunt rats and mice, moles and voles, geckos and lizards, but will also go after songbird nestlings and other small birds.
Texas Rat Snake Control
A first step in snake control is to identify what kind of snake you have. This can be difficult, however, for non-experts; adding to the difficulty is that in some species, juvenile snakes may look very different from the adult, sometimes mimicking poisonous snakes. As their name implies, yellow rat snakes are a mustard yellow (sometimes greenish, if there’s been interbreeding with black rat snakes) with four brown stripes running the length of their body. Juveniles are grey with brown splotches, slightly resembling copperheads.
If you’re ever bitten by a Texas rat snake, make sure to get it checked out. Rat snakes are not venomous, but with any wild animal bite there’s a risk of infection.
After identification of the culprit, there are several steps to dealing with snake problems: making your property less inviting to snakes, which means making your property less inviting to the rodents they feed upon; and dealing with any snakes that are already there.
Habitat modification. In wooded, rural and riparian settings where snakes are common, their presence can be discouraged by eliminating stands of tall vegetation and removing piles of rock, lumber, and debris that might attract snakes to search for prey or to seek harborage on the property in question – especially close to buildings. The closing of all entrances to rodent burrows make an area less attractive to snakes. It also helps if one is persistent in controlling rats, mice, and field rodents around residences and other buildings.
Exclusion. Structural gaps and crevices larger than 1/4 inch and within three feet of grade should be closed off because snakes can pass through very small openings. Crawlspace vents should not have screens with larger than 1/4 inch mesh. If snakes are gaining access into a building, a thorough search should be made for cracks in the foundation, unscreened crawlspace vents and gaps around basement window frames. It is important to check clearance under doors and look for improper sealing where plumbing and utility lines penetrate the foundation of the building.
Rodent Proofing Your Home
- Repair or replace damaged ventilation screen around the foundation and under eaves
- Provide a tight fitting cover for the crawl space.
- Seal all openings around pipes, cables, and wires that enter through walls or the foundation.
- Be sure all windows that can be opened are screened and that the screens are in good condition.
- Cover all chimneys with a spark arrester.
- Make sure internal screens on roof and attic air vents are in good repair.
- Cover rooftop plumbing vent pipes in excess of 2 inches in diameter with screens over their tops.
- Make sure all exterior doors are tight fitting and weatherproofed at the bottom.
- Seal gaps beneath garage doors with a gasket or weatherstripping.
- Install self-closing exits or screening to clothes dryer vents to the outside.
- Remember that pet doors into the house or garage provide an easy entrance for rodents.
- Keep side doors to the garage closed, especially at night.
- Keep your trees trimmed, and your bushes and vines thinned. Make sure trees are trimmed
- back from the house at least 4 feet.
- Keep lids on garbage cans.
- Clean up all debris in the yard and storage areas.
- Seal around your attic.
- Don't leave pet food outside, especially at night.
- Pick your citrus as soon as it is ripe. Remove any fallen citrus from the ground.
- Store wood at least 18 inches above the ground and 12 inches away from walls.
- Eliminate standing water and fix leaky faucets.
Texas Rat Snake Removal
If you’re confident that you do indeed have a rat snake in your house, and you want to deal with it yourself, try this: place a trashcan on the side of the snake, and use a broom or a similar tool to gently sweep it inside the trashcan. Relocate it well away from residential areas, and seal up any openings in your house where it can get back in.
If you have any doubt about which kind of snake you have, or if you suspect several, a call to a pest control company is warranted.
We have more information on other types of rat snakes here