A Terrifying Infestation of… Garter Snakes?

This article caught my eye in the morning paper today: it describes a young couple who discovered a horrible infestation in their new house in rural Idaho. They describe it as being like living in a horror movie… the man was worried his pregnant wife would miscarry from the stress… now that they’ve left they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

What was their house infested with? Garter snakes. Small, nonvenomous garter snakes. Garter snakes = horror movie? Really? Even the term “infestation” seems like a bit of a stretch, since the article only describes one incident where they actually found a snake inside the house (the wife found it in the laundry room, and naturally she panicked, screamed, and jumped onto a counter to escape it). Apparently they were mostly in the crawl spaces in the walls, and in the yard.

I mean, I can understand not wanting to live in a house infested with snakes. Really, I can, especially since the article mentioned that their well water smelled like garter snake musk (ew – although the more I think about it, the less sense that makes; snake musk somehow permeated the groundwater???). But if you really, truly think about it, which would you rather have in your house, garter snakes or mice? Which one carries hantavirus, nibbles on the food in your cupboards, and shreds the clothes in the back of your closet for nest material? Not the snakes.

I don’t know. Some people.

11 replies on “A Terrifying Infestation of… Garter Snakes?”

No kidding. I have cats, so snakes in the house wouldn’t fare too well. Not sure I’d like to find them inside (outside I see them often and get excited every time), but I’d DEFINITELY prefer them to mice (again, cats in the house- not an issue here).

We once, long ago, had a house full of garter snakes. Of course, the difference was that 10-year-old I brought them in, in a cardboard box. They escaped. Mom was not pleased, but we didn’t have to move out, nor were we entertained by her screaming and climbing on counters.

Good times!

We have cats (3) but we’ve still had two instances of Black Rat Snakes (Pantherophis obsoleta) in the house. I wasn’t there for the first finding but I found the second one and summoned help to remove it. I’m a bit squeamish about snakes in the house. It’s the thought of stepping on one in the dark that gets to me. I think I might scream.

I’ve stepped on one in the dark! I didn’t scream, but it was more of a loud internal gasp, a big GULP and an expletive! I’d been looking for an electrical extension cord, and I thought, “But I don’t leave cords on the bedroom floor”. I carefull stepped back, looked down, and there was an alarmed (i.e. standing up with mouth open) Australian brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis). I didn’t know what species it was at the time, and that it was “mostly harmless” as it has back-facing fangs and so doesn’t get a chance to inject much venom. They are listed in the snake guide as aggressive, but I thought this one was being incredibly kind not to bite me after such provocation!
I knew snakes worked on vibration (having done a snake-handling workshop with the local wildlife rescuers), so I vibrationlessly (though quivering inside) moved to the top of the bed, and the snake backed away and slid under the dresser. I called out to my husband, who called a neighbour, declined their offer of a shot-gun, and then called the wildife rescuers. After getting a verbal description to make sure it wasn’t a red-bellied black or a brown snake (those you don’t want to mess with unless a hopsital is next door), they recommended opening the window, putting a broom out the window so the snake could escape, and sleeping elsewhere for the night. Unfortunately, the snake was still there next morning, although fast asleep. A rescuer came and swept it up into an empty garbage can, and we tossed it in the bush out back.
When it came back in a few days later (behind the printer in my office!), we knew what to do this time. Then we found the small gap it was getting in by, sealed it up, and have had no problems since.

It’s interesting the effect that some animals have on some people. Even when I stepped on that snake, I was not terrified – alert and just enough alarmed to take care but not unduly so. I knew enough about snake behaviour to not cause the snake to strike. I imagined it was terrified and just defending itself from a giant ‘thing’ it was worried about.
I’ve had bees swarm in my house – they had a reason; the queen was looking for somewhere safe for her swarm. Fair enough. She could have picked a better place than my bathroom, though. Once again, I had a fair idea of why she was there and the probable behavour to keep both myself and the bees out of trouble (I phoned a guy who was advertising that he would collect bees, for his own hives, and he was pleased to come and take them all away; he educated me more about bees in the process).
I’ve had a screaming argument in the street in town with a guy who was trying to kill a harmless snake. He was convinced it was a brown (one of Australia’s deadly ones), and I knew it wasn’t. If he had been right, he would have been dead already – brown snakes don’t suffer fools lightly. Of course the snake was terrified – wouldn’t you be, surrounded by twenty threatening things hundreds of times taller than you are? (We had quite an audience :) )
Anyway, my point is that if we know the behaviour of animals well enough, we can work around them and share space to each other’s advantage. No need for hysteria and senseless killing. Even the attitude to shark attacks in Australia has changed over the years from revenge to “well, we were in their world and got mistaken for a seal [or whatever]. Just bad luck.”
So thank you, nature interpreters and TV educators (even Steve Irwin, who was a bit over the top for my taste, but did great services for conservation). The more we know, the less harm we cause ourselves and other animals.

Well, maybe the house is also infested with rodents or frogs which are the favorite preys of garter snakes. Garter snakes live in places where their foods are very accessible. Maybe this explains why they’re all around the US. Source:

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