As well as luring me and most other outdoorsy, gardening types outside after the winter hibernation, the warm weather has also brought out some of our less than welcome garden co-habitants: snakes.
After the first flush of the warm weather last month, my neighbour and I were walking our dogs down the little bush track to the Shoalhaven and encountered a huge brown snake, probably the biggest I have ever seen, sunning itself on the track. Fortunately we saw it in time to allow it space to get away and the dogs were on leads so they couldn’t get close. The next day I saw a very small red-belly black on my driveway. Yes, they’re out and about and everyone has a theory about how to keep them away from yards, pets and gardens.
Around here the most common species of snakes are browns and red-belly blacks, followed by tiger snakes and copperheads. None of which I particularly want to encounter while dancing barefoot among the petunias.
Yesterday I had a long talk with our local snake expert and here’s what I learned:
- Those solar-powered snake repellent devices that you put in your garden? Forget it. They do nothing.
- In order to deter snakes, the most effective way is to interrupt their sharpest senses: smell and taste.
- Snakes don’t have ears, they ‘hear’ via vibration.
- Snakes smell with their tongue – when you see them flicking their tongues, they’re smelling what’s around.
- The most effective deterrent is to grow plants that secrete oils and odours that mask the odours of the snakes’ prey.
- Brown snakes prefer to eat rodents (so you’ll find them around chook sheds); tiger snakes prefer frogs; red-belly blacks are opportunists and will eat anything – lizards, rodents, frogs and other snakes.
- By planting things like rosemary, lavender or peppermint around your garden, the snakes will avoid it as they can’t smell food over the odour of the plants.
- An alternative is to get essential oils of some of the pungent herbs – such as lavender, rosemary, cloves, peppermint, and in particular citronella – mix them with water and spray around the perimeter of the garden or where you don’t want the snakes to be.
- There are around 2000 snakebites in Australia every year, with only about 10% of those requiring anti-venom. On average, 2-3 people die each year from snakebite, with brown snakes responsible for around 60% of all deaths.
If you encounter a snake inside your house (this has happened twice in my house), don’t try to catch it or kill it yourself. Call in your local wildlife group or snake handling professional. The majority of snakebites occur as a result of someone trying to kill the snake. Not surprisingly, snakes take a rather dim view of this behaviour.
Watch where you walk!