For animal damage control professionals, snakes can be easy or a troublesome
By James Card
My ten-year-old son scampered up the basement stairs after yelling a word he is not old enough to say.
At the top of the stairs, he said: “Dad, a snake. A big one.”
I went into the garage and grabbed my work gloves and looked around for some stick-like tool for wrangling the snake. I grabbed a canoe paddle and went to the basement. There he was, a largish garter snake lying on the cool basement floor. I pinned him with the canoe paddle upon his first wriggle. And then I saw another one. And another one.
It was like the first Indiana Jones movie where he drops into the Well of Souls and find himself surrounded by snakes.
“Jay,” I said to my son. “Go grab your gloves, a bucket and your chicken catcher. Don’t say anything to your mother.” My wife is fearful of snakes and I didn’t want the extra drama. I had enough on my hands. The bucket would be for the dead snakes we would kill and the chicken catcher was a pole with a rubberized hook on the end that he used to round up his laying hens.
It was the start of a beautiful Labor Day weekend. I looked out the basement window. I should be shooting my bow, scouting trapping spots, fly fishing or grilling out. The weekend was shot. We were under siege.
And then the killing began. One by the washing machine. One by the stairs. One going up the stairs—almost making it to the kitchen upstairs. It was a search and destroy mission.
And then there was one on the foundation ledge where the rim joist and sill plate are located. The snake dangled off the ledge and hissed at me. I pulled him down with the chicken catcher and Jay nailed him with the paddle. Snake blood puddled on the painted concrete floor. Near that ledge area I put up a fresh roll of Fiberglas insulation a couple winters ago.
“Dad, do you hear that?”
I did. It was a soft ruffle of plastic. They were in the insulation.
“You stand to my left. I’m going to pull this down with the chicken catcher and if they come out, you smack ‘em with the paddle.”
I hooked into the insulation and peeled back a few feet. A snake slithered out and was dispatched by Jay. And then another one and another one and another one.
I noticed the Fiberglas backing was littered with snakeskins. Disgusted, I packed the entire roll away into a giant-sized garbage bag destined for the trash bin.
I thought of the famous snake house in Idaho. Type in “snake house” in YouTube and you’ll find the nightmare. A young family moves into a simple looking house only to find it overrun by garter snakes. They are the shingles, in the yard, in the plumbing, everywhere. It turns out, the house was built atop a hibernaculum—the place snakes go to hibernate over the winter. Snakes migrate from miles around to hole up there.
But that didn’t make any sense at my house. If there were a big snake problem, we would have discovered it before. When we first got the house three years ago, we painted the basement walls white and the floor gray with waterproof DRYLOK paint. It is a clean and cool place that we use as a storage area, laundry room and play area for my son. I run a mouse “trapline” and the peanut butter-baited traps haven’t been touched in years. The only signs of living things down there are a few dead bugs and an occasional cobweb.
Once it seemed like snakes were mostly gone, I inspected the entire basement. I checked out every nook and cranny and made note of the slightest crevice. There were a few suspect spots but the most interesting and likely place was right by the basement steps. It was a tiny crack, slightly smaller than a dime. It looked like it had been chipped away. Somehow it had gone unnoticed when I painted the floor when we first moved in. I jabbed a pen into the hole and it went all the way in. I got goose bumps. With a can of Great Stuff, I jammed the nozzle as deep as it could go and filled the hole until foam bubbled out. I figured that might have done the trick as over half of the snakes we killed were within 20 feet of this area.
Snake Scent Trails
I have one theory on why so many snakes appeared at once in my basement. While researching the behavior of garter snakes, I came across an abstract from the Journal of Chemical Ecology (November 1989). It was titled, “Conspecific scent trailing by garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) during autumn. Further evidence for use of pheromones in den location.” What caught my eye was that the study was performed by researcher Jon P. Costanzo in central Wisconsin, which is where I live and where the home office of Trapper & Predator Caller is located.
The study posited that garter snakes could follow scent trails of a conspecific (a fellow garter snake). It was determined that 75 percent could follow the scent trail of another snake through the use of pheromones.
What that means in snake removal is that if you find one, another may be close behind.
I tried some at the recommendation of a colleague. In her case it worked around their home when she spotted a small snake her house ,which was for sale and was being regularly shown. A snake could be a deal breaker for a buyer. Her husband spread some dust and no snakes have returned. However, I did some background checking and snake experts online usually stated that they do not work. I bought some anyway and spread it around the foundation of my house with heavy sprinkling around the basement window areas. It is a gray-colored dust with a weird licorice smell.
Snakes & ADC Work
The most important thing to consider when deciding to include snake removal services in your ADC business is to communicate exactly what is to be done for the client. If it is a case of only one snake to be removed then it is easy and profitable: grab the snake, throw it in a gunnysack and get paid. Ridiculously easy money—unless the snake is poisonous, then it’s a bit trickier.
But if the snake was spotted and last seen slithering behind a stack of boxes, then you may have your work cut out for you. And then what happens if you find more? Now we go from ADC work to a business mix of a moving company, a general contractor and being one of those consultants for hoarders like you see on reality TV shows.
Think about all of the basements you have been in throughout your life. Some are finished and nice while others look like a medieval dungeon. I remember playing in the basement of one of my boyhood friends. He lived in a turn-of-the-century farmhouse and the basement walls were mortar, hand-cut hardwood beams and carved stone blocks. Imagine trying to find a snake entrance in that kind of place.
So negotiating the snake removal project has to be upfront and thoughtful. It could be a matter of removing a few snakes, locating a very obvious entrance point and plugging it up with a $3 can of spray foam. Likewise, it could turn into a disastrous and unprofitable time suck that results in rearranging a person’s basement and doing some construction work that involves tearing an entire basement apart to figure where the snakes are coming from. The best online resource for an ADC professional is at www.snake-removal.com. They have a nationwide network of snake catchers and this website is a good starting point on how you could add snake removal to your business.
Trapping snakes is easy. You simply use the sticky traps that are used to catch mice. Put them in likely areas like bottlenecks and travel routes. If the snakes are large, tack multiple sticky traps on a board for more surface area which means more adhesive gripping power.
I can attest to the sticky traps working but not because I have caught a snake using one. While moving boxes during our snake-killing spree, I noticed one cardboard box was open because the cheap packing tape didn’t hold. The tape sprung loose and hung off the box in a coiled mess and a dead snake was tangled in it. It must have slithered around the box and touched the loose tape, which was springy, and got tangled up even more. The tape wasn’t strong enough to seal a cardboard box yet it was still sticky enough to trap a snake.
We killed 16 snakes total of all sizes. Three escaped and are currently unaccounted for which makes going down into the basement to do some laundry much more interesting. We’ll hunt them down eventually. My wife has made peace with this. I’m tempted to buy a rubber snake as a joke but that might be pushing it. My sticky traps are untouched, likewise with the mousetraps. No snakes have been observed in the basement since Labor Day weekend, nor have any been spotted outside where the snake dust was applied. I spent about $500 in spray foam insulation to fill in the rim joist area—an ugly dead space that I wanted to fill in anyway. It will make more home more energy efficient and hopefully, free of snakes.