I want more snake friends
July 23, 2019 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Our neighborhood is starting to have a mild rat problem. Would introducing some lovely garter or gopher snakes be a viable solution? If so, how do I introduce them into my urban habitat?

Context: I live in Oregon, and would like my new rat-eating buddies to be one of our indigenous species. Is there anybody selling them locally? Or do you know a great spot to gather them?
posted by ivan ivanych samovar to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, as someone who is really really afraid of snakes, I'd be incredibly upset if you introduced them to an urban neighborhood. It's not like they'd stay on your land.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 2:45 PM on July 23, 2019 [13 favorites]

I doubt your backyard/neighborhood is good snake habitat - otherwise you'd probably already have garter snakes. They need safe places to sun themselves and move around when they're torpid. They need sheltered places to hang out and digest. They probably need hibernacula. Your plan sounds dangerous to the snakes. The only times I've seen snakes in urban environments, they had been hit by cars.

Get a pet snake that lives in an aquarium if you want and pick up trash / secure garbage to deal with the rats. Maybe develop an affection for terriers?
posted by momus_window at 2:53 PM on July 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

For reasons mentioned above, it would not be a good solution, no. It's also probably worth pointing out that in most states, tinkering with indigenous wildlife is against the law (even if your intentions are good). Rats hang around because there is food, water, and shelter. Minimizing those three however you can would be the best pathway, as would reaching out to your municipal public works folks.
posted by jquinby at 3:01 PM on July 23, 2019 [13 favorites]

Contact your local animal control and inform them of the problem. They can't do anything about it (like rat birth control!) unless they know about it.

Light the rat signal.
posted by asperity at 3:05 PM on July 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

You probably have all the snakes that your local habitat can support there already. Get rid of bird feeders, pick up trash and remove places for rats to nest. Also as asperity mentioned, call your local vector control office.
posted by Dr. Twist at 3:07 PM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Opossums help control rats.
posted by jamjam at 3:19 PM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Introducing snakes to an urban environment is going to result in flat snakes, it’s a shock to the system to be released somewhere new and they aren’t going to know to avoid roads fast enough. Letting local vector control know is a smart reasonable thing to do which is likely to get you the results you want.

But have you considered owls? If you can get some owl nesting boxes up you might be able to lure some wild owls already in your city to the area, and owls eat a lot of rodents. My local urban grocery store has an owl box in the middle of their parking lot and you can watch the barn owls fly out to hunt at dusk, it’s pretty cool. If you can call your local raptor rehabilitation center and ask if they have an owl box program or help pick spots to put the boxes up.

There are so few problems in life that can be improved by having owls show up that I feel it’s imporant to take advantage of the ones that can.
posted by lepus at 3:21 PM on July 23, 2019 [54 favorites]

Kind of a long shot but you might try calling animal control and ask if they have a guy they call when there is a snake that needs relocation; then contact that person and tell them you would be glad to host a snake in need of a new home.
posted by Pastor of Muppets at 3:22 PM on July 23, 2019

Has there been an increase in backyard chickens in your neighborhood? Backyard chickens have been linked to an increase in rats in Eugene so I'm guessing this could be the cause in your neighborhood, too. The other causes are also compost piles and falling rotten fruit. If you're in Portland, you all are probably doing curbside composting, but it might be worth talking to your neighbors about cleaning up fallen fruit and not leaving rotting vegetables outside; using curbside composting (if it's available); and beefing up chicken coops to keep the rats away from the leftover feed and eggs. Here are some more ideas.

(The rat problem in my Portland neighborhood went way down when two neighbors got rid of their backyard chickens.)
posted by bluedaisy at 4:27 PM on July 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

You'd get a lot more milage out about anything but snakes. Since they are cold blooded, they only need to eat every couple of weeks.
posted by rudd135 at 4:39 PM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

You can help by creating habitat for snakes.

In general, wildlife management in human settlements (urban, rural, suburban, all of it) is best approached by starting with habitat and infrastructure. If you build it (and it’s at all feasible), they will come. This is also true for possums and any other beneficial wildlife you’d like to attract.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:46 PM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Also: I’ve seen plenty of healthy living snakes in urban areas of CA, TX, PA, OH, and IL. Let’s not pretend they aren’t out there. Sure, you see roadkill too, but that’s bullshit as evidence against their survivability. We’ve all seen roadkill squirrels, yet they are flourishing all over most of our North American cities. In fact seeing roadkill is better interpreted as a sign that there are lots of that critter around!

You can also look into encouraging owls and hawks, many of which do fine in fairly dense urban environments /ecologistrant
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:11 PM on July 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

My local humane society has a Hire A Cat feature wherein you can get yourself some kitty cats which are not able to live inside 24/7 for Reasons Determined By the Humane Society. You give them shelter of some kind, plus food and water, and they will greatly enjoy murdering your rats and possibly bringing them to you as tribute. Yours may also have this! (I think the cats will probably terrify your neighbors much less than random snakes.)
posted by Countess Sandwich at 5:56 PM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all the suggestions, everybody!

We already have plenty of full-time and part-time feral cats in our yard, and the occasional opossum and raccoon sighting.

We'll start working on owl and snake habitat, I suppose. Sigh.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:35 PM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

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