Snakes in the grass on the move

Snakes and small animals nursing babies are more active as the weather heats up

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Even with some scattered rain and snowstorms, the hint of warmer weather leads to more sightings of snakes and other small animals as they prepare for the hot summer months.

Isaac Mertens, owner of Castle Rock Pest Control, said he has been receiving calls for a variety of issues since early April. Mertens said snakes and other small critters start emerging in spring.

Jason Clay, of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said snakes follow a predictable pattern. Sheltering during the winter and resuming activity in April and early May.

“Pavement and other hard surfaces such as trails are often sought out for basking. Many times, this leads to negative encounters with people and automobiles,” Clay said. “Hunting (for food) usually occurs in the late afternoon and evening once the snakes have become warm enough. When temperatures allow, rattlesnakes may also prowl for food in the early afternoon or night.”

Merten has been operating in the Douglas County region for about two years. He said he mostly gets calls about bull and garden snakes, noting he recently removed a six-foot bull snake from a family’s front yard.

“They are mostly coming out into the sun and passing through yards,” he said. “They do not want to be near you as much as you do not want to be near them. In most cases they will just keep passing through on their way.”

In cases where the snakes are inside the home, Merten said it is be better to call local animal control offices for removal.

Merten said rattlesnakes are also coming out. Rattlesnakes near homes are mostly seen in areas with nearby fields, and hills with a lot of rock ledges, he said.

Clay said there are two species of rattlesnakes in Colorado, the wester, also known as the prairie, and the massasauga. Both species can be seen around developed homes or near neighborhoods on the fringes of open spaces.

Wildlife experts warn residents not to touch the snake or take pictures and selfies. Whether they are near a home, or on hiking trails, Clay said it is important to follow safety rules.

Some safety measures to follow include:

Stay on designated trails and pathways.

Do not wear earbuds so you can hear if you come up on an angry, rattling snake.

Keep pets on a leash.

Leave the snake alone and keep a safe distance — Rattlesnakes can strike to half their body length. A good rule is to be at least five feet away.

Freeze in place — Snakes are often heard before they are seen. If there is a rattling sound, freeze in place until the animal is located.

Wear sturdy leather boots when hiking.

Avoid stepping over rocks and logs and reaching into holes that could serve as snake shelter.

“Rattlesnakes are basically creatures of habit and often bask, hunt, migrate and den in the same areas year after year,” Clay said. “Be prepared. Hikers in rattlesnake country should be knowledgeable and prepared to minimize the chances of a snake encounter.”

In addition to snakes, Merten said some common calls he receives this time of year are about small animals like squirrels and racoons finding small spaces inside or near homes to have offspring.

“When you find these animals, it is important to call in an expert to get them out,” Merten said. “You get a raccoon mom that just had babies — she is already tired and won’t be in a very good mood if you try to mess with her or her babies.”

In most cases, Merten said animal control experts can come and get the animals to leave on their own. If not, Merten said he will take them to a new location where they can go on their way safely.

Merten said almost all animals, including snakes, are not euthanized. Unless the animal has a health issue, Merten said they are relocated in areas like Franktown or Elizabeth.

Skunks are the only animal pest-control experts euthanize because state laws require it. Skunks are known carriers of rabies and other diseases.

To prevent small critters from taking up residence in or around the home, Merten said a good measure is to cap the chimney and check to make sure open spaces are sealed up.

Besides the small animals, Clay said bears are also a lot more active in spring.

“Residents need to make sure they do not have attractants around their homes,” Clay said. “The biggest ones are trash and birdfeeders.”

Trash needs to be kept in a secure enclosure and should not be placed outside until the morning of collection. To be extra cautious, don’t keep birdfeeders outside from March until after Thanksgiving. Bird seed is one of the easiest meals a bear can find, and the availability of bird seed teaches the bears that homes are a place for food, making them associate humans with food, Clay said.

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