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Watch out for snakes

There have been many reported snake encounters in Pueblo West this summer, and Dan Gates, a pest and critter expert in the area, said that number of snake sightings is likely due to an increase in the available food sources for snakes.

Populations of small animals and insects are cyclical, said Gates, of Colorado Rid-A-Critter.

And while there are probably no more snakes in the area than normal, citizens are possibly seeing more snakes because there is more food available, making the snakes more active.

“We have an uptick in rodent population every few years,” Gates said.

“And depending on what rodents there are, when you have more rodents, there’s a bigger food source for snakes.

“So you see more snakes,” Gates added.

“I remind people that without a Country Buffet, there would be no people,” he said. “And it’s the same with snakes.”

Mice and other small critters that make tasty meals for snakes need food sources of their own. And when there is a large amount of insects available for mice consumption, for example, the mouse population thrives, meaning there are then more mice active for snake consumption – and so continues the circle of life.

“We try to tell people that mice need a food source, and they’ll eat insects. So to take care of insects, it takes care of the mice, which helps take care of the snakes,” Gates said.

He noted that there are many places – debris piles, equestrian easements or even just yards in a neighborhood – that accumulate more things and areas of weeds.

Those areas don’t just harbor snakes, but mice, as well.

“It’s not necessarily that you have to kill everything, but you’ve got to start somewhere to decrease populations,” Gates said.

Gates said he’s heard many people say they believe there have been more rattlesnake occurrences in the area this year, but he said he believes it to be an anomaly.

HE SAID ACTIVE sightings for both rattle and bull snakes over the past decade remain consistent.

One of the biggest problems he runs into in his profession is people misidentifying bull snakes, thinking they’re rattlesnakes.

He stressed that rattlesnakes have a triangular-shaped head and a rattle on the end.

Bull snakes, when threatened, can puff and hiss, but don’t rattle.

Other than rattlesnakes, Gates said the other snake to particularly steer clear of is a red racer.

They don’t have a venomous bite, but they are extremely aggressive and fast snakes.

If threatened, they will stand up and come quickly toward a person.

“I tell people that are particularly scared about snakes, have a shovel handy on the outside of the house that you could use,” Gates said.

“People have fire extinguishers for fire, so why not have a shovel for a snake? Cold water from a garden hose is also often though to make a snake leave an immediate area.”

However, Gates noted that if a snake continues to return, there is a food source attracting it, which needs to be mitigated.

FOR ENCOUNTERS WITH a red racer, take small, slow steps backward until the snake doesn’t feel threatened anymore, and leave it alone.

“The biggest things I tell people are to do property mitigation for habitat and food,” Gates said.

“That would also include maybe a rodent and insect mitigation as well. Vaccinate your dog for the rattlesnake vaccine – it’s a cheap way for your vet to give your dog a little ounce of help.

“And be cognizant of your surroundings and what is going on. Don’t leave little pools upside down to generate heat and moisture, and don’t leave your garage doors open. Try to modify your little piece of heaven so it’s not attracting the things you don’t want.”

Gates also said that many people are under the impression that if they mow down their yards to be very short that it will take care of a snake population.

But very short vegetation is attractive to rats and prairie dogs, so then snakes are attracted to those food sources.

High ground cover attracts different kinds of rodents, like field mice and pocket gophers.

A mid-range cover, around four to six inches, is usually best, he said, for the least amount of pests.

“I tell people to make sure their kids understand that snakes are hard to identify and that it’s best to just stay away from them,” Gates said.

“If they see a snake, let an adult know. Don’t tease a snake, and if you get cornered, try to put something in between you and the snake.”

When a professional, such as Gates, is needed to help with snake or other pest removal, he said a big problem he encounters is, “People will call and say they saw the snake on Thursday, and now it’s Sunday. Try to keep an eye on it and know where it is or was.”

Gates has a snake-trained dog, Trapper, who can alert Gates to where a snake is or has been. Trapper is the only dog-trained snake in the state and is very accurate and “particularly smart in his trade.”

Colorado Rid-A-Critter does snake detection for many large organizations and projects in the area, including the SDS pipeline project and St. Mary Corwin Hospital.

The office is located in Canon City, though Colorado Rid-A-Critter has two trucks in the Pueblo area every day of the week. Colorado Rid-A-Critter can be reached at 719-275-4077.

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