How to Catch a Snake in Your House
I was taking a nap when I heard my wife Julia say, “honey, can you come here?” I walked into the kitchen and saw Julia looking at the cookstove. Our cookstove is a two-burner camp stove hooked to a twenty-pound propane tank. It’s black and greasy. I didn’t see anything. Then I saw the black snake next to the pot we boil our coffee in.
The bottom of the snake’s head was white and so was its belly. It turned toward me and stuck out its forked black tongue. My eyes followed the rest of its body past the pot, over the first stove burner and across the second burner. The snake’s body just kept going and going- down the other side of the stove, across the counter and down across one of the cast iron pots we hang next to the stove.
The snake flicked its tongue at me. The rest of it didn’t move. It was stuck in the stove.
How to Catch a Snake
I grabbed the snake’s tail with one hand. It surged and tried to crawl away. I squeezed the snake’s tail so hard that I felt the vertebrae snap and pop in my fist. The snake slapped a skillet off the counter with its tail. It writhed and wriggled and pulled the stove away from the wall.
I eased my other hand slowly toward the back of the snake’s head. It looked at me and stuck out its skinny tongue. I grabbed the snake’s head, missed and it bit my fist.
Crap that scared me! I snatched back my fist but didn’t let go of the snake’s tail. Luckily, it was a rat snake, a non-venomous snake.
I made another grab for the snake’s head and this time, I caught it. The snake pulled back in my fist. Its jaw got wedged between my thumb and forefinger and I had it.
Now I just needed to untangle it from the stove.
How to Untangle a Snake
Julia and I started unwrapping the snake from the stove. A rat snake is a constrictor. That means it kills its prey – voles, mice and rats – by strangling them to death. The snake squeezed with all its might. Every time I tugged on it, I heard the bones and ligaments inside it crackle and pop. I wasn’t hurting it. It was just squeezing really hard. We got the end of the snake’s tail untangled and then the middle of it would wrap around one of the burners. We’d get the middle section off the burner and the tail would wrap around one of the stove knobs.
Soon, Julia, the snake and I were covered in grease. The snake finally gave up doing its boa constrictor thing and we got it untangled from the stove. I held it up to see how long it was. It was about four feet long. The snake had come in through either the front or back doors. Both of them were open.
About Rat Snakes
Julia and I abide by a live-and-let-live existence but we don’t want too many rats, mice or other rodents around. They eat our horses’ and mule’s grain. They crap in the hay. They nibble on winter blankets.
Mostly, rats and mice aren’t a problem. We keep our rodents under control by keeping our feed room swept out and our barnyard tidy. When we start seeing too many mice turds around, we set traps. But we don’t set out poison baits.
First off, death by rat poisoning is a terrible way to go, even if you’re a mouse. If I was a mouse, I’d much rather be eaten by a rat snake than go through the horrible convulsions that come on when you eat one of those waxy green poison baits. The other problem with poison baits is all the untargeted animals they kill. We don’t want to kill the owls, hawks and other predators that eat poisoned rodents.
The best way to keep the rat and mouse population down is a few rat snakes. That’s why we never kill them. An average-sized rat snake eats about 9 pounds of rodents per year. That’s about 190 mice. And that’s just in one year. A rat snake can live ten to fifteen years
After I measured the snake, I carried it out of the house and turned it loose behind the garage. Fifteen minutes later, it slithered through the grass to the shed. That’s why I keep the shed door closed.
Living With Open Doors
Julia and I say that it’s hard to tell where the outside stops and the inside starts at our place. Our cabin is small, only about five hundred square feet. We have hummingbird feeders on the front and back porches. Some days, when the front and back doors are open, hummingbirds fly right through the house to get from the feeders on the front porch to the ones on the back porch. Flying through the cabin is shorter than flying around the house.
If we shut the front and back doors during the day, maybe that would keep the occasional snake out. But then how would the hummingbirds make their shortcut between feeders? How would the evening breezes cool us down? How would we hear the titmouse fussing at the snake?
We have no plans to start closing our doors. Even if it means, on occasion, untangling an invited guest.
Snake update: We saw the snake again today, two days later, as we were eating lunch. We did not invite it to join us.
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