Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I tell if a snake is venomous?
    There are two categories of venomous snakes in Louisiana - the coral snakes and the pitvipers (copperhead, cottonmouth and rattlesnakes). The distinguishing marks of coral snakes are described under "Coral Snake Mimics". All pitvipers have vertically elliptic pupils, a loreal pit located between the eye and nostril, and a single row of scutes, like those of the belly, beneath the tail. Pitvipers are relatively stout, whereas only a few non-venomous snakes have a similar physical aspect. Our non-vipers have round pupils, lack a loreal pit, and have paired scales under the tail. See also under "Small garden variety snakes" and "Water snakes" for additional details. The shape of a snake's head DOES NOT indicate whether or not it is venomous. All snakes are capable of changing the shape of their head to some degree because their lower jaws are attached to the skull by an elastic ligament. Through muscular action, most snakes can flare their rear jaws to produce a triangular shape to the head, which is used as a defensive posture. The presence of venom glands at the side of the cranium in pitvipers causes the shape of the head to remain somewhat triangular in shape.
  • Is there a poison that gets rid of snakes? 
    No. Snakes feed almost exclusively on living prey, and will not, therefore, take poisoned bait. Placing noxious chemical agents such as mothballs and lime around yards may or may not deter snakes temporarily, and these agents create a health hazard to children, pets and other wildlife. Most chemical agents and pesticides that could be used to repel snakes are dangerous to humans as well, and have restrictions that make use by the general public prohibitive.
  • Is there any way to keep snakes out of a house or yard? 
    The best method of reducing or eliminating snake numbers around yards is to remove cover: mow grass and vegetation, and remove trash, lumber and brick piles. Most snakes that enter houses are of non-venomous varieties: rat snakes, brown snakes, etc. Entrance seems most often to be gained through open doors or holes leading from the foundation or crawlspace. Holes cut in washrooms and beneath sinks for pipes are often big enough to allow entry by snakes. Rat snakes are excellent climbers and can get into attics and chimneys. Eliminating access points for snakes is the best prevention. Snake-proofing yards would be difficult and expensive. Snakes can burrow and climb, so that fencing would need to be sunk 1-2 feet into the ground, and be tall and slick enough to prevent snakes from climbing. Fortunately, Louisiana's venomous snakes rarely climb. See also the section on Control of Snakes. 
  • How do I keep snakes out of my house?
    Most snakes that enter houses are of non-venomous varieties: rat snakes, brown snakes, etc. Entrance seems most often to be gained through open doors or holes leading from the foundation or crawlspace. Holes cut in washrooms and beneath sinks for pipes are often big enough to allow entry by snakes. Rat snakes are excellent climbers and can get into attics and chimneys, as well as into walls via gaps in exterior siding. Small snakes are sometimes brought indoors by pets. Eliminating access points for snakes is the best prevention.
  • How do I remove a snake that is in my house or car? 
    Snakes are experts at hiding themselves, and once inside of a home can be nearly impossible to locate. They will tend to remain concealed during the day, or when there is activity in the house. They may leave cover only when the lights are out and human activity stops for the night. At that point, they may be discovered in the open by quickly going through the house and turning on lights. Snakes that are seen to crawl into the underside of a vehicle are usually excluded from entering the passenger compartment. Snakes can usually be driven out from the undercarriage of a vehicle by parking it in direct sunlight for several hours.
  • Is a snake's tongue dangerous? 
    No. The forked tongue of snakes is used to "taste" for odors, thus providing snakes with information about their surroundings. The fork in the tongue allows the snake to determine direction of odors such as the direction that prey has moved, which is accomplished through independent sensitivity to odors of each of the tips.
  • Are all snakes poisonous? 
    No. Roughly one tenth of the worlds' snakes are venomous, and seven of Louisiana's 45 species are venomous.
  • Can snakes sting or roll into a hoop? 
    No. These fables are explained in the Mud snake account.
  • Can snakes hear? 
    Snakes lack ears, but are sensitive to vibrations in the air and on the ground. These vibrations are transferred to the lever arm of a snakes' jaw upon which an ear bone, the columella, rests. Thus, snakes feel vibrations rather hear them.
  • Do snakes swallow their young? 
    No. A snake that is swallowed would be subjected to the digestive enzymes in the stomach that break down prey. These enzymes and the lack of oxygen in the stomach would rapidly kill anything swallowed by a snake, including its own young. This fable may have stemmed from the fact that many snakes give birth to living young. Cutting open a pregnant snake would reveal young in the uterus, which could be thought by some observers to be the stomach.
  • Do rattlesnakes gain a rattle each year? 
    Rattlesnakes add a segment to their rattles each time they shed their skin. This occurs 2-4 times per year in younger snakes, and once or twice per year in older snakes. Thus, a ten-year-old rattlesnake may have added 25 segments to its rattle during its life. However, the rattles tend to break off periodically by getting caught on logs or other debris. Therefore, adult rattlesnakes often have only 8-12 segments remaining on their rattles. A complete rattle has a button on the tip, while a broken rattle does not.
  • How long does snake venom remain dangerous? 
    Snake venom breaks down rapidly, especially upon drying, so that it is rendered impotent within a matter of hours. The belief that dried venom can cause death or illness after a year or more is unfounded.
  • Can snakes whip a person? 
    No. See the account of the active diurnal snakes for more information.
  • Do venomous snakes crossbreed with harmless snakes?
    No. Venomous snakes are too distantly related to harmless snakes to be genetically compatible. They are about as related as cats are to dogs. Thus, the stories of "bull-rattlers" and other hybrid snakes are mythical.
  • What are glass or joint snakes? 
    Glass "snakes" are a type of limbless lizard. The body may be 4-12 inches long, while the tail is twice that length. As with most lizard species, the tail can be broken off or broken into numerous pieces. The fractured pieces wriggle through nerve action for several minutes to draw the attention of potential predators away from the glass lizard's head and body.
  • Do repeated bites from venomous snakes cause immunity?
    In some cases repeated bites can create a buildup of antibodies. However, the buildup can also lead to anaphylaxis, serum sickness and increased sensitivity to bites. The latter condition greatly increases the chances of a bite being fatal. Under no circumstances should repeated bites be considered beneficial.
  • Do snakes die only at sunset? 
    No. Snakes that are killed or run over may exhibit writhing, twitching or biting movement for some time. The movement is the result of involuntary nerve activity which may persist for hours after a snake is actually dead. However, there is no specific timing of this activity so time of day has no bearing on when a wounded snake will die.
  • Can snakes bite underwater? 
    Yes. Demonstrations have shown that cottonmouths will bite underwater.
  • Do snakes hypnotize their victims? 
    No. Snakes lack eyelids, so their gaze is seemingly locked in a stare. Staring at a snake's eyes will not cause a person or animal to become hypnotized. However, some animals may freeze their movements or exhibit strange behavior around snakes due to fear, curiosity or for defensive immobility.
  • Do snakes consume agricultural products? 
    Snakes feed only upon animals. Thus plants, seeds, fruit, milk, etc., are not consumed. Snakes will, at times, feed on chicken eggs, chicks, small rabbits, and farmed crawfish, catfish and frogs. Whether or not an economically noticeable quantity is consumed remains to be determined.
  • Do snakes spit? 
    Certain species of African and Asian cobras can propel venom from their fangs, but no American snakes are able to do so. Clumps of foam found on shrubs and vines in Louisiana are sometimes thought to be "snake spit", but this foam is produced by spittle bugs.
  • Do snakes travel in pairs? 
    Two snakes may often be found together, or a snake will be found where one had recently been killed. Such associations are sometimes based on male attraction to female snakes. During the breeding season, female snakes produce pheromones that attract, and can be trailed by, male snakes. If a female snake is located or killed during the breeding season, a male may trail to the female or to where she was most recently. However, snakes tend not to be social, and congregate only when food is localized, to mate, or to den-up during cold weather.
  • What about nests of snakes?
    Snakes lay eggs in warm, damp areas such as within rotten logs and old sawdust and leaf piles. Live bearing snakes give birth in secluded spots within the home range of the female parent. Once the young are born or hatched they are on their own, and tend to disperse within a few hours or days. It is rare that anyone encounters such a group of snakes. Louisiana snakes lay eggs from May to July, and these hatch between late July and late September. Live-bearing snakes give birth in July to October. Most Asnake nest@ stories are the result of several snakes being seen together, which is an infrequent event. Lack of suitable hibernating sites may force snakes to congregate in favorable spots such as cavities in embankments, old foundations, walls of abandoned buildings, etc. In such cases the snakes are temporarily utilizing a resource, and are not congregated for social purposes. As soon as weather conditions permit, the snakes will disperse over a wide area. There is little reason for anyone to believe that he or she will Astep on@ or Aswim into@ a supposed nest of snakes.
  • Why am I suddenly seeing snakes in my yard? 
    Snakes may periodically travel in search of new resources such as food, water and mates. They may move during periods of drought or heavy rains, or when a particular prey source changes such as when nestling birds fledge or tadpoles metamorphose. Snakes may enter yards seeking new resources, but will often leave within a day or two when they are unable to find favorable food and shelter. Most snakes have territories of several acres or more, and will not remain long within an area as small as a yard.
  • Do snakes go blind at specific times? 
    No. A snake's eyes are covered by a transparent scale that becomes blue-gray within several days of shedding its skin. Snakes see poorly when ?in shed?, but can detect movement of nearby objects and light. Snakes shed up to several times each year, depending on their growth rate.
  • Do all snakes have fangs? 
    Only venomous snakes possess a pair of highly modified hollow teeth, or fangs, towards the front of the upper jaw. In Louisiana?s non-venomous snakes, all of the teeth are relatively short, and roughly equal in length.
  • Do snakes make holes? 
    Most snakes use holes dug by other animals, or cavities left by rotting tree roots, for shelter. Holes of 1-3? diameter that appear in yards are usually the results of crawfish or small mammals such as moles. Few Louisiana snakes burrow, and those that do must burrow in soil that is loose enough that it collapses behind the snake.