For Release May 11, 1999

A Friend in the Grass

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

In my work, I all too often run across some very strong hatred. A hatred that is quickly expressed with no attempt to hide it. While I have yet to formulate a complete hypothesis about this hatred I do have some strong ideas as to where these feelings originate. Unfortunately, all too many of these attitudes are formed without an attempt to look at the true facts. We have irrational decisions being made on fear, rumors and superstitions. You see, for far too many of these otherwise fine folks, the only good snake is a dead snake.

This attitude, from otherwise fine, upstanding folks, leaves me speechless. I’ve seen fine strong men run in unabashed terror for a building at the sight of a snake. I’ve seen calm, sedate and loving housewives and mothers grab a hoe or shovel and take after a snake with such fervor and determination that would make a professional football player humble. These people don’t just despise snakes, they loathe snakes to an extent that is unfathomable.

Dear readers, we live in snake country. We always have and we always will. They were in these Flint Hills and Great Plains long before the first humanoid settlers arrived. We are not being invaded by snakes, we are invading the snakes. All of the snakes that we have in this area are inherently good. Let me repeat that: snakes are good. Even those few that we call poisonous are very adept consumers of insects, mice, rats and other vermin.

Snakes are not aggressive creatures. Given their choice, they would stay a nice respectful distance from us. But we are giants, with big, long legs and we sometimes overtake them far too quickly and they react in surprise and fear. They coil, they hiss, they sometimes shake their tail pretending to be a rattlesnake. They’ll even strike out at you if you push them too far. But they are shy and reclusive creatures, not at all aggressive.

They are not trying to "get you" every time you walk out the door. They are not trying to get in your house at every opportunity. If you regularly find them around your yard then you have created the kind of habitat that they prefer. They like a source of food, cover in the forms of rocks, shrubs and groundcover and sunny areas where they can bask and gather warmth. You can alter your habitat and reduce the chance that they’ll be in your yard, but you can still have an occasional snake.

You can erect very elaborate fences and probably do a good job of keep most snakes from getting in. But these fences are very expensive and not very attractive. And if a fence keeps a snake out of your yard, won’t it also keep one in your yard? There are no magic potions that you can spray in the yard and around the house to drive the snakes away or kill them. All you can do is keep the foundation of your house sealed tight and make sure doors and windows fit tight to help keep snakes excluded.

Learn to identify snakes, or at least how to tell poisonous from nonpoisonous. We have a very good bulletin on that in the Extension Office, 119 East 9th, Junction City. We have about 17 species of snakes in our area, three of them are poisonous. I spend a lot of time outside and I see a lot of snakes. In 18 summers in this area I’ve yet to find a poisonous snake. They’re out there, they just aren’t overly common.

Snakes are all around and they always will be. We should be glad because otherwise we’d have a lot of other problems, like more insect and rodent. Just because you see a snake you needn’t run in fear or kill it. Watch it, observe it, learn from it and learn not to fear it. After all, when you get right down to it, snakes are just a friend in the grass!


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