June 11th, 2008
I’ve been busy with Snake Removal calls lately, and thought it was about time to address that issue here. I joined the team in 1994 as a Field Herpetologist. A good friend’s mom had seen a tiny classified ad for that job title with an 800 number, and today I’m Senior Field Herpetologist and VP Marketing for Snake Removal, Inc. We’re based in Galesburg, IL and we’re the only nationwide company specializing exclusively in snake problems. With a team of experienced field staff across the country we currently cover 26 states coast to coast with site service, and can assist almost anyone anywhere with accurate information and solution strategies over the phone.
With all of our field herpers handling a radius of 150 miles, it’s impossible to do site service work on an emergency basis. Scheduled service happens at the earliest mutually possible time within a 24-96 hour framework, so a distraught caller with a message like “I’m looking at a snake right now, get over here immediately!” is let down as gently as possible by a rather elaborate voice mail system. It explains (in my voice) what we do (inspect, remove, evaluate, educate and provide situation specific, long term solutions) and what we don’t do (emergency on-site service, treat with ‘repellents’) and even includes our pricing structure.
As you can imagine, this position created more than a few interesting stories.
As the senior guy, I get flown to anywhere the need is large and the closest current staffer is too far away. A power company in New England flew me in over a rat snake. Problem was, the power station had bus assemblies that separated large amounts of power from one another – but were made of pipes that were hollow at the ends. Birds nesting in these were safe, and then a natural offshoot of that situation – a Rat snake climbing to raid the nest in the end of assembly A – also no big deal.
However, said snake climbing across to raid the nest in assembly B – big problems. Fried snake (they had a picture – he was a crispy critter) and thousands of homes without power. Enter the expert to assess the surrounding area and formulate prevention strategies.
I’ve been in sweltering hot attics and wet, muddy crawlspaces to remove snakes, so the client can move out of the hotel room and back into the house. It’s not a job too many people are lining up for, and fewer still can actually do it. Our minimum requirements are ten years’ experience in the field, and knowing the local snakes like the back of your hand. This leads to gaps in our nationwide coverage, but fortunately we have an inexpensive solution available for callers who are out of range.
The challenge when it comes to fixing a snake problem is getting accurate information, which is harder to do than it sounds. Most of the “common knowledge” about snakes and their behavior is completely incorrect, yet has been around so long that very few know the difference. Snake “repellents” are a good example. A major home improvement store chain will tell you the repellent they carry is a best seller, but even they don’t seem to know that it doesn’t work. It’s a combination of mothballs and sulfur – the two most popular wives’ tales – right behind lime, kerosene, diesel fuel, chicken blood and horsehair rope.
If a snake repellent were actually proven to work, we’d sell and recommend it. Meanwhile, as problems go, snake problems are generally quite fixable, given the correct information and procedures to follow. That’s why we created an inexpensive alternative to on-site service. Everything we teach homeowners when we are physically there, specific to the snake species native to their particular area, can be imparted over the phone in about 45 minutes. This service includes access to us for questions that arise after the consultation (at no additional charge) ditto for emailed digital photos, whether for snake identifications or for features on the property that need to be addressed.
The cool thing about the telephone snake consultation is that it CAN be done on an emergency basis. That caller who is looking at a snake when they call can be told exactly what can safely be done to diffuse the situation without injury to humans or damage to property.
That’s one of the reasons we went to a voice mail system to handle the huge volume of incoming calls. Many people are in an extreme state of agitation when they call in, and back when we had operators, we used to burn through them at an alarming rate. They weren’t herpetologists and couldn’t answer many of the questions people wanted addressed, and sometimes callers would literally interrupt themselves with shotgun blasts – because they thought they heard a snake in the attic (and now they had a new sunroof).
It is not safe to try to kill the animal. Eight out of ten snakebite victims were trying to kill the snake at the time. The other two were usually white males with a drinking problem. With the cost of treating an envenomation currently over forty thousand dollars in the US, it’s definitely something to avoid. Venom isn’t meant for self defense, it’s meant for getting lunch. It’s meant for getting lunch to stop running away. They only use venom in self defense when they perceive that something is trying to kill them.
Besides, most of the snakes people freak out over are extremely beneficial to mankind, eating rats and mice that chew through wires and burn down homes, or contaminate food supplies and spread disease. One dead snake can mean hundreds of live rats. As wild animals go, how many perform such a service for humans? Rabbits and squirrels are cute, but what have they done for you lately?
We always safely relocate the snakes to unpopulated areas just far enough away that the client won’t be seeing them again. The only exceptions would be cases involving escaped exotics – which should never be released into the wild. They are found proper placement with experienced keepers.
To contact Snake Removal, Inc. call 1-800-339-9470 and follow the prompts. You won’t get a live operator, but the live person who calls you back shortly will be a bona fide expert.
Meanwhile, here are some free tips:
1. Do Not try to kill the snake. Get a picture instead. Lots of folks own digital cameras (at least the ones on their cellphones) these days but few seem to realize that a snake sighting is one of the very best reasons to use them. When it comes to snakes, a picture is worth two thousand words.
2. The fastest snake in the US goes about 6.5 mph. A human who has seen the snake can usually do 15.
3. Your footsteps are your best way to avoid a direct confrontation. A snake can feel a mouse walking by, so ordinary human footsteps are very big and loud to them. In the snake’s world, everything too big to eat is trying to eat him. From his point of view, even a child is a towering predator. A seven foot snake is an inch tall. I always tell kids, if you see a snake, take two steps back – and go play somewhere else.
4. Don’t grab the shovel, grab the camera. Get the picture. Keep your distance, but the snake can only strike half its body length.
5. In an emergency situation involving a snakebite, proper first aid is: Go To The Hospital. No cutting, no sucking, no ice, no heat, no tourniquets, no whiskey, no stun guns. All of these will make the problem worse. The sooner the antivenom is administered in the ER, the better – but even delayed treatment will save tissue if not a life. In the US, the antivenom is the same for the bite of a Copperhead, Water Moccasin or Rattlesnake, but that digital picture will help the ER decide how much (it’s really expensive) to administer initially. Also, a few Rattlesnake species have a neurotoxic component, and knowing which one was involved will help them decide if they need to have airway support ready and waiting.
6. Coral snake bites are another matter. They’ve stopped making the antivenom for it in the US. With less than 1% of venomous snakebites in the US involving this species, it seems there’s no profit in it. The 100% effective way to avoid being the victim of a Coral snake bite: If you see a Coral snake, even though it’s very pretty, DO NOT PICK IT UP.
7. If you know that the bite is from a non-venomous snake, apply hydrogen peroxide topically. In most cases, there won’t even be a scar to show for it in a couple of days.
8. Armed with all of this new knowledge, take a deep breath. Snakes are as natural on planet Earth as butterflies and hummingbirds. When you have some of the food chain, you have all of the food chain. If you refuse to let the fear feed on your previous collection of popular misinformation, it will lose its power and melt away.
9. Brake for Snakes.