What's worse than a snake in the grass?
May 24, 2019 6:45 AM   Subscribe

I have a very small back yard. Twice last year I found a decapitated garden snake back there. This seemed disturbing, unusual, and improbable. I just found another one this morning. What is going on? How do I protect the snakes?
posted by papergirl to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Lawnmower kill, most likely. Use a push mower or take a pass around the yard swashing with a rake just prior to mowing: that’s a good way to generally reduce the carnage; ‘traditional’ power mowing kills tons of stuff.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:54 AM on May 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

My inlaws for a couple years had a spate of decapitated chipmunks; the culprit was a hawk who had taken up residence and liked the tasty, tasty heads -- or ate the head and accidentally dropped the rest.

Ground cover for the snakes to hide under is a big help -- I was recently painting trim at a house we own, and the garter snakes seemed like they were all over the place, but it was more that I could actually see them because the leaves on the bushes haven't grown in yet. Other than that, the wild is a deadly place, you may not be able to prevent the circle of life from happening, though.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:56 AM on May 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I have noticed some predators (cats, chickens) like the bird or snake heads best. Some to the exclusion of the rest of the carcass. If you have cats hanging around, they'll often make a kill and then only eat a tiny bit if any of the prey.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:34 AM on May 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

I am in agreement with the bird theory. They get the snake, land in a tree (or just start to fly off with it), sever it as they're holding it, drop the rest. It is also very distressing when it is a small rodent that gets dropped.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:42 AM on May 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have seen multiple decapitated garden snakes (black racers) my Florida neighborhood. We have lots of red-tailed hawks. Probably not as uncommon or improbable as you think.
posted by gnutron at 7:59 AM on May 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Cats and chickens have good reasons to kill snakes that are not related to eating, but rather defense. A medium North American snake won't be able to eat an adult chicken, but it can surely eat eggs and chicks. Likewise a venomous snake is a danger to a cat, even though cats are not its prey. Even resource competition can lead to animals killing each other, this is why e.g. bluejays will happily slay baby songbirds. They don't really want to eat them, but the passerines will eat a lot of the same food the jays want. Red it tooth and claw, indeed.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:17 AM on May 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lawnmowers tend to get snakes in the mid-section IME.

Cats will take off just the head, so that's my inclination as well.

If you're in the lower 48 US, this time of year the other likely candidate is actually robins. They're everywhere and they will kill any smaller snakes they see. They kill them by pecking them to death and often eat the head.

Other possible culprits would be a bird of prey that likes to perch somewhere around your yard (hence why they end up in that specific spot). A possum will generally eat the whole snake, as will dogs.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:19 PM on May 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

We had acreage and outdoor cats. So many headless animals.
posted by bongo_x at 2:11 PM on May 26, 2019

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