Platte County

Friend or Foe? It is snake season

By Stacy Buchholz - 4H and Youth Development Educator
Posted 5/21/24

PLATTE COUNTY – Over the last weekend, my family and I were traveling some backroads and found that our creepy, crawly friends have come out of hibernation. Many of these backroad snakes were, …

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Platte County

Friend or Foe? It is snake season


PLATTE COUNTY – Over the last weekend, my family and I were traveling some backroads and found that our creepy, crawly friends have come out of hibernation. Many of these backroad snakes were, fortunately or unfortunately, dead. I understand that not every snake is a friend, in fact some varieties are terribly dangerous and unfriendly, particularly for our active youth who are headed outside to play in the sunshine. However, some varieties, bull snakes in particular, can be a friend to the farmer.

Why might we consider the bull snake a friend? Bull snakes differ from the more venomous variety of snake in how they hunt as well as their lack of venom. According to University of Nebraska Extension, it is true that the bacteria contained in a bull snake’s saliva include some that may cause some serious infection. However, rarely does a bull snake bite occur, or lead to serious health risk. The same is rarely said for its venomous counterpart that occupy much of Southeastern Wyoming.

So, how do they differ? Bull snakes actively pursue their prey, which include small rodents, birds and eggs. These snakes are such adept hunters many people have witnessed them climbing walls in barns and outbuildings to get to nests located in the rafters. So, why are these creepy, crawly, creatures considered a friend on our farm?  Research shows a medium sized snake will eat over a dozen rodents in a single week. Larger ones would obviously eat more and be more beneficial than that lazy tom cat we all feed for the same purpose, particularly on the farm. Since bull snakes are such adept hunters, they control the rodent populations decreasing the likelihood that other, more dangerous varieties of snakes will make a home in the same hunting area. This is not a tried-and-true fact, however we all know predators will go where the hunting is easier. While some of the most aggressive bull snakes may earn the right to be dispatched on rare occasion, the experience on our farm has been that while they are startling, a good bull snake will leave you alone quickly.

However, as the weather gets warmer and we begin spending more time outside, it is important to be aware and take precautions for all snakes. If you are sending your small children outside, keep play areas mowed short and walk the area on the lookout for snakes before turning the little ones loose. On our farm, we teach a healthy respect for all the creepy crawlies that we encounter, and my kids know to back away quickly and get an adult if they encounter any snake. 

Other ideas to keep you safe, particularly when working on the farm, include wearing thick leather boots that protect your calves. Carry your shovel and leave the earbuds in in the house while doing chores so you can hear their warnings. Additionally, don’t reach your hand anywhere you can’t see and don’t pick up any sticks or branches while swimming in lakes or rivers, as they might not be sticks. While these steps won’t always work, being snake aware will help. According to the Billings Clinic, if you get a snake bite or suspect a snake bite, seek medical attention immediately and keep the affected area still, below the heart level.

Animals are usually very adept at finding snakes, last year we had 3 companions bitten by the venomous variety on our farm. What we relearned from these situations was having a good relationship with a veterinarian and helpful neighbors will expedite service. By the third event involving our sons pony, a phone call to our veterinarian and direction was all that was needed. Shout out to our neighbors who got us through the first snake bite. Of course, none of this is veterinary advice, the advice I will pass on is to please visit with your trusted veterinarian so you have a plan in place to prevent and quickly respond to snake bites should they occur on your farm.

Friend or foe, please know it may not be a one size fits all. We have young children who spend most summer hours out of the house. While we do not eliminate every snake we come across on our farm, particularly bull snakes, that may not be the solution for your family. I encourage you to do your own research about the impacts bull snake populations have, and make the decision that best fits your family’s needs. In the meantime, be snake aware, and make sure you are keeping yourself and your family safe.

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