A variety of reptiles (snakes, lizards and turtles) are found locally. However, compared to the wetter, warmer regions of the country (East and South), we have relatively few.
Only three species of snakes are common: western terrestrial garter snake, bull snake and western (or prairie) rattlesnake. Fortunately, the only poisonous one is the western rattlesnake.
The most common snake by far is the western terrestrial garter snake. Over 90% of the snake calls we get are about garter snakes. They are rather slender snakes with the head roughly the width of the body. They are typically 18” – 24” long, with a few over 36”. The predominant color is an olive gray-brown, often with pale yellow stripes running the length of the body. Juvenile garters look very different with brownish splotches on a cream background and a dark head. Garter snakes like water or damp, lush habitat, but can be found some distance from water. The heavily irrigated lawns in residential areas have greatly improved local habitat. They emerge from hibernation as early as March and remain active through October. They feed on earthworms, insects, small fish and amphibians, and small rodents. They are live-bearers, usually giving birth in August/September. Except for emitting a foul-smelling anal fluid when handled, they are perfectly harmless and rarely bite.
Bull snakes are rather thick, muscular constrictors that can be found in a variety of habitats locally. They are fairly common in places. They can be quite large, typically 36” – 72” long. The head is roughly body width. They are brightly colored tans and yellows with distinct brown to black splotches the length of the body. They eat a variety of small rodents and birds, even other snakes. They lay 15-20 eggs midsummer. When threatened, bull snakes can be passive to highly aggressive: raising the head, spreading the head, vibrating the tail and hissing and striking. They will bite but are not poisonous.
Western rattlesnakes are still common locally in places, especially short-grass prairie and rocky areas along the foothills. However, development and people have reduced their numbers substantially. They can occur up to 8500 feet in altitude. They are rather stocky, thick snakes with a wide triangular head and narrow neck, and the classic rattle on the end of the tail. Vertical pupils make them look fierce. Typical length is 24” – 36”. Color is generally a light gray or tan background with large, distinct darker splotches the length of the body. They are active from May to October. They feed on lizards, small birds and small rodents and rabbits. Western rattlesnakes give birth to 4-20 young in late summer.
Rattlesnakes are not aggressive, but if cornered or harassed they will vigorously rattle and strike. Their bite can be very serious but fatalities to people, livestock and pets are rare. The best treatment is to administer anti-venom serum at an emergency room as soon as possible.
Our normal approach to resolving conflicts with most snakes is to carefully live-capture them and relocate them to suitable habitat away from people. On occasion we will use lethal measures on rattlesnakes. We sometimes use glue-board traps to capture snakes in hot-tub units, garages and crawl spaces when we suspect snakes are still present but not visible. In addition, commercial snake repellents have applications under decks and sheds and along foundations and property lines. The ultimate solution is to snake-proof a site or structure by blocking or sealing access points, especially under concrete slabs and along foundations. Communal dens can sometimes be sealed as well.
Most other reptiles are not a problem to people. The lone exception is eastern fence lizards (or swifts). They are found in a wide range of habitats and elevations locally, most commonly in rocky areas along the foothills. They can be a problem when they gain access to human structures and decide to move in for the winter. Capturing them by hand or with glue boards works well in most cases. Sealing cracks, crevices and other entry points is the long-term solution. Note: Glue boards, when properly used and tended, do not harm snakes or lizards. They can be safely removed with vegetable oil as a solvent.
If you need help with a snake or lizard problem, call us at 719-636-1014. We’d be happy to help.