How to keep snakes away from your property

Oriental Rat Snake (Ptyas mucosa)
Snakes make well-calculated decisions about where they are heading next. If you rather not have them visit your garden, make sure the grass at the neighbours is always greener.

Table of contents

This will be a long post, so perhaps you wish to skip to specific parts. Though, I like to believe it is all interesting information that is important in the context of the subject.

  1. Summary
  2. Introduction
  3. Why snakes visit your garden
  4. How snakes move about in your garden
  5. Measures to make your property less attractive to snakes and safer to move around
  6. Pets versus snakes conflicts
  7. Other measures to reduce the risk of snake bites while gardening
  8. Final note
  9. Links to useful resources

Summary

Here follow the measures you can take to make your yard less attractive for snakes.

  • Create wide (> 1m), clear pathways for the most used routes on your property, and install lighting for safe usage at night. Not a measure to reduce snakes, but simply to increase safe usage of your yard.
  • Maintain your yard, keep grass short, and remove/ reduce vegetation.
  • Remove rocks, wood, debris, and anything under which snakes or their prey can hide.
  • Fill up any holes in the ground, cracks in walls and floors, and openings under any buildings.
  • Remove any water bodies from your property.
  • Remove any garbage, food scrapes, and pet food from your property.
  • Avoid keeping pets outside.

For more details, read the rest 😉 .

Introduction

Together with a bunch of snake enthusiasts, I help out in a number of snake identification groups on Facebook to identify snakes and share knowledge about them with our members. Often, the question pops up: “How to avoid getting snakes in my garden?”
The short answer is: “You can not!”
But follow the recommended measures and you will likely reduce the amount of snakes visiting your property.

Hermetically closing off a property is virtually impossible in real life. Chemicals, natural remedies like lemon grass, lime, cinnamon oil, you name it, and ultrasonic snake repelling devices often don’t even make snakes think twice.

It’s unfortunate. I wish I could recommend an easy solution, but it simply doesn’t work that way.

But what can you do?
Personally, I hope you are willing to welcome snakes and rather just choose the option of just adding a few safety measures to reduce the risk of a snake bite incident. That way you can still have a beautiful garden, pleasant to the eye that is not like a waste land lacking any biodiversity. But of course it is your choice to use these measures as rigorous as you wish, depending on the levels of risk/ fear you have.

I will add a bunch of images. My own garden is the perfect example how NOT to do it if you wish to deter snakes.

To understand why these measures make sense, it is important to know more about snakes and their ecology.

Why snakes visit your garden

There’s just a couple things that are important to snakes.

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter
  • Reproduction

Diet

The most important reason for snakes to move around is the search for prey
The most important reason for snakes to move around is the search for prey. This Oriental Rat Snake (Ptyas mucosa) is feeding on an Asian Black-spined Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus).

Thailand has a very high diversity of snake species. Currently, about 230 snake species are known to occur in Thailand, and more species are being discovered every year. And with such high diversity also comes a diversity in diet. Rodents and frogs are probably some of the most common prey species taken by a large number of the species. But there are snakes that specialize on totally different prey species. Some primarily feed on geckos, others on birds, or fish. And perhaps more unusual, some snakes feed on termite larvae, or spiders, or e.g. the King Cobra almost solely feeds on other snakes. So, King Cobras are on your side, 😉 .

Any measures you take to reduce the amount of prey species, especially mice, rats, frogs, and geckos, will make your property less attractive to snakes.

Water

Like for all living creatures, water is essential to snakes too. However, most snakes do not need a large water body to provide their needs. More often than not, snakes drink water drops from plants after rain, or from morning dew. In the dry season they might have to put some more effort in it to find water puddles to drink from.

Removing water sources from your property is nonetheless a wise thing to do. Because water attracts frogs and other prey species.

Shelter

Monocled Cobra (Naja kaouthia) hiding between rocks.
A large Monocled Cobra (Naja kaouthia), highly venomous, hiding between rocks.

Snakes are often quite passive and try to save their energy only for the times when conditions are absolutely perfect to find food. Many species spend more time in hiding than that they spend moving around.

Being cold-blooded, digesting their prey takes quite a bit of time. Usually during those times they tend to hide too.

Also, the days before shedding their skin, are often spend in humid hideouts which offer the best conditions for the skin to come loose.

Reducing shelter possibilities on your property is therefore another important measure to take.

Reproduction

Even though this might be something that is less important as a basis for any measures you take, perhaps it is still interesting to know a couple things about it.

Some snakes lay eggs, others give live birth. But none of them will take care of the young after they are born/ hatch. The young will all go their own way and have to fend for themselves. The young of venomous snakes will be equipped with venom from birth.

The scary world a hatchling Monocled Cobra needs to survive in
A hatchling Monocled Cobra (Naja kaouthia) needs to fend all for itself from the day he is born. And especially in those early stages of his life, the whole world seems to be after him. Poor little thing!

So, if you find a baby snake in your yard, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a whole bunch of them around. They remain quite small for the first months. Even a days old specimen might have covered already quite some distance from its place of birth.

A question often asked is if snakes make nests. Only one species is known to do so, and that is the King Cobra. The female actively gathers leaves with her body to pile them up. She lays her eggs in this pile and even sticks around for quite some time to protect her nest. But she will leave a little while before the eggs hatch. Some other snake species do stay with their eggs even though they do not really build a nest.

Holes in the ground, or underneath your house might offer the perfect conditions to lay those eggs. So, that is one thing to keep in mind when taking measures to prevent snakes staying in your garden.

How snakes move about in your garden

Most snakes can climb, though some like this Paradise Flying Snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) are more specialized in it than others.
Most snakes can climb, though some species like this Paradise Flying Snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) are more specialized in it than others.

The elongated body shape of a snake is very suitable to get into the smallest spaces. They can move through cracks in rocks, little holes in the ground, and so on. The lack of limbs will allow them to move easily even through dense vegetation. This allows them to hide easily and also get to prey species that are out of reach for most other predatory animals. Most snakes are capable of climbing, and swimming. Some are more specialized in this than others.

But despite being well-adapted to their environment, when it comes to defending themselves they are actually quite poorly equipped.

The spitting cobras are the only snakes that can sort of defend themselves at somewhat of a distance. Yet, even that is no sure way to prevent them from being harmed. Quite often, we see spitting cobras that have been killed by domestic dogs posted in our snake identification groups. So, that spitting capability was not enough to keep them safe.

Large pythons arguably have the power to stand a bit of a chance in a fight with largish predators/ attackers. But pretty much all other snakes (including the younger, smaller pythons) actually do not stand much chance at all when it comes to a physical fight. Even with relatively small carnivorous mammals and birds of prey.

Snakes generally lack significant jaw power, and the lack of limbs doesn’t help them to fight off an opponent.

You might say: “But they have venom!”
True, in our region roughly 20% of the species have venom potent enough to cause severe injuries or even death in humans, and other medium to large mammals.
But venom often is not going to save their life in an actual fight.

In our Facebook groups it is quite common to see images of highly venomous snakes like cobras and vipers being posted that were fatally injured or killed by e.g. domestic dogs or cats. Some of these pet animals were bitten by the snake during the fight and in some cases eventually suffer from severe symptoms, sometimes even die. But usually those symptoms are not instantly severe. It can take hours before the venom really starts working in a way it could stop these animals from continuing their attack on the snake. So, venom is not enough to stop the dogs & cats from attacking and fatally injuring the snake.

It seems like snake venom is evolved primarily to bring down their prey and assist in digestion of that prey, much more so than for defensive purposes.

What I am trying to explain here, is that this shows that snakes are highly vulnerable to attacks from even smallish predators. Therefore they have to move around with utmost care. Various birds of prey feed on snakes, and so do all kinds of small to medium-sized mammals.

Even though snakes have come up with all kinds of defensive displays to hopefully scare off a threat and avoid getting into a fight, still, their primary way to avoid conflict is simply by keeping a very low profile. Out of sight, out of mind.

For that reason, snakes don’t like to cross large open spaces.

So, any measures you take on your property to create an environment that makes the snakes feel exposed and vulnerable due to the total lack of cover, is going to reduce the likelihood of snakes visiting your garden. They will think twice before crossing and will likely opt for other routes which leave them less exposed. If no other option, they will try to cross as quick as possible to reach the safety of cover.

Of course, the snake might have a reason it really feels like it needs to cross your property, even if it means it is exposed. It might know or expects there is a food source, or maybe they sense a mate in the area on the other side of your property.

The additional advantage of exposing them, is that you yourself are more likely to see the snake on time rather than possibly treading on them accidentally.

I am even a bit worried that after you have implemented my suggestions, it might actually turn out that you start seeing more snakes than you used to, simply because they are more visible now, haha. Even if the numbers of snakes passing through your yard might actually have gone down. But keep in mind, as long as you see the snakes, they are posing no danger unless YOU decide to get closer and possibly interact with them. Surely, that can be done in a safe way too, but anyway, stepping back is always safer.

Measures to make your property unattractive to snakes and safer to move around

“Finally!” I hear you thinking.
Yes, here follow some suggestions to make your garden a safer place.

Make pathways

This is not a measure to avoid snakes from visiting, but I think regardless if you fear or actually welcome snakes, it is just good practice.

Create wide paths (I’d suggest at least 1 meter in width) for the most walked routes in your yard. For example, from the front and/ or back door to your property’s gate, and from the door to the shed, etc.

Snakes are more likely to be hanging around in the vegetation where you might not see them. If the path is wide enough that your feet and legs don’t get too close to the vegetation along the path, it reduces the chance of accidentally spooking a snake and potentially trigger it to strike.

Secondly, the pathway should be even in color and pattern, and kept clean at all times. Avoid elaborate brick patterns and the like. Keep it as simple as possible. Plain tiles of a single color would be an option, or a concrete slab pathway. Or even just a well-trodden dirt path would be fine. The key is that it appears as one evenly colored surface. So, also remove leaf litter, vegetation, etc. at all times. That way it will make a snake that is crossing the path really stand out and easier for you to notice on time so you can avoid any accidents from happening.

The example image shows how a normally well-camouflaged snake species like a Malayan Pit Viper is easy to spot on a plain, evenly colored and clean dirt path, but becomes much harder to spot between the leaf litter. Even when it is basically right out in the open as in all these four showcased situations.

Malayan Pit Viper's camouflage in different situations
The venomous Malayan Pit Viper (Calloselasma rhodostoma) is a terrestrial species that relies much on its camouflage. But when you create wide pathways in your garden that are evenly colored, and keep it tidy with no clutter and zero leaf litter, even these masters of camouflage will be easy to spot. Much reducing the risk to accidentally tread on one.

Also, it is highly recommended to install lights along these pathways to make it safer to walk in the darkness. Make sure the lights don’t blind you when walking around and cast bright light on the footpath.

Maintain your yard

Grow taller bushes without ground covering plants to reduce snakes.
Snakes and their prey generally prefer plenty of ground covering vegetation. If you don’t want to remove all vegetation from your garden then the second best option is to grow plants that stand a bit taller, and only remove low vegetation beneath them.

Turning your entire garden in one large concrete slab would probably be the best option if you prefer to keep snakes out, haha. But maybe not the most visually attractive. If you have a lawn, make sure to keep the grass really short at all times. As mentioned, snakes don’t like to be exposed as it is too risky for them.

For the same reason, removing/ reducing vegetation that provides shelter for both snakes and their prey will also make it less attractive to snakes.

If you do not want to get rid of all your vegetation, one option is to remove all the vegetation low to the ground, but only keep bushes growing a bit further of the ground. That means the floor is still not offering much cover for snakes to move around.

Remove any rocks, logs, debris

Logs, rocks, and debris offer the perfect hiding spots for snakes.
Logs, rocks, and debris like concrete constructions blocks offer the perfect hiding spots for snakes and their prey. If you wish to avoid snakes residing on your property, removing all such materials is important.

Snakes can hide in the smallest spaces. Better even, they tend to prefer relatively cramped locations over spacious holes. The smaller it is, the less likely predators larger than them can reach in to get them. Their body shape makes it easy to get into tiny spaces under or between rocks, logs etc. Removing all such hiding possibilities will reduce the chance of snakes hiding out for long in your yard.

Fill up cracks and holes

Openings under buildings offer the perfect humid conditions for shedding for snakes
Openings under buildings offer the perfect humid conditions that snakes require when they need to shed their skin.

In Thailand it is quite common to have a concrete slab around the perimeter of the house. Often there are cracks in the slab, or simply holes under it washed away by rain or dug by other animals. This offers the perfect hideout for snakes (or their prey species). Also, often such places provide the right humidity levels to make it a suitable place for snakes who are close to shedding their skin, or for snakes to lay eggs. Even though they won’t do much harm when hiding under there, obviously if you do not want them around, it’s better to close off all such entrances.

Make sure you regularly check around your house, because new holes might appear at any time.

In that regards, for those who happen to read this and have yet to start building a house. I would recommend building the house a bit off the ground. Kind of like it’s on stilts. The common way of building in Thailand with concrete posts and beams as a skeleton is actually very suitable for this. You do not have to go meters high up. I’d probably suggest to have the bottom of the concrete beams that carry the house’s ground floor to be about 30 – 50cm above the garden soil level. By leaving all sides open and just have open space under the entire building, most snakes won’t like to hide there (remember, they prefer cramped places). This type of building will also significantly reduce the chance of having terrestrial snake species and other critters like centipedes, scorpions, and the like end up inside your house.

Obviously, filling up cracks and holes extends to any other places at your property. Another common place to look for such holes and cracks would be along the property’s perimeter wall, if you have one.

Perimeter walls

Perimeter wall to avoid snakes
A tall perimeter wall with plastered surface and an overhanging beam will make it more complicated for snakes to get into your property.

This is a bit of a complicated one. As it has advantages, but also a disadvantage.

Perimeter walls around your property when constructed well, could definitely reduce the chance of snakes getting in. But there’s a couple things to keep in mind.

First of all, arboreal (climbing) snake species won’t be bothered by it. And that said, almost all species have certain levels of climbing skills. But I’ll admit, most of the more potently venomous snakes are likely not going to try to climb. Unless surrounding vegetation makes this easy.

But keep in mind that usually around the entrance gate of your property, there are likely to be spaces where snakes can enter. Surely you might reduce the number of snakes entering when there is only a relatively small area where they can get in. Then again, the walls will be somewhat of a ‘drift fence’, so, snakes that hit the outside wall, will likely follow that wall. And then they do have a fair chance to end up at that gate of entry. So, it probably won’t be rare for snakes to find their way in.

One of our readers suggested to add a strip of fine mesh netting at the bottom of your gate to close the gap under your gate (and any other openings around your gate). Make sure to install this on the outside (the road side, not your garden side) otehrwise the snakes can just push their way in with ease. See the example image. This is available in different materials like plastic or even stainless steel. I guess a solid rubber strip would also be suitable. Make sure the material is sturdy but not too stiff that it might cause gaps that allow for easy entry. It should be perfectly flat on the ground surface over the entire width of the gate.

Strip to stop snakes from getting under your gate.
Applying a strip at the bottom of your gate could make it more complicated for snakes to get in. In this example a fine mesh, plastic netting has been used. I know there is similar netting made of stainless steel, and even just a solid rubber strip might do the trick. I guess you need to test a bit which material is most suitable and sturdy enough and yet is not too stiff to leave open gaps that snakes can get through.
Photo credit: Jackie Crawford

The following image shows a gate which offers easy access for snakes.

Often gates in a perimeter wall will allow easy access for snakes
Often, the entry gates in a perimeter wall will allow easy access onto your property for snakes.

And then we get to the disadvantage. Because once you have a snake in your walled property, it might take a bit of time for the snake to find its way out. Chasing it away will be more complicated than without walls obstructing them. A situation you’d probably wish to avoid.

If you do decide to construct a wall, make sure the wall continues a fair bit underground to avoid rodents from digging holes under your wall into your property. The higher it is, the better. Obviously there should be no cracks or holes in the wall. And you always need to keep an eye on the vegetation near the wall so it does not start growing against or hanging over the wall. The wall needs to be of a smooth surface, the majority of the significantly venomous species in our region would typically not climb over a high, plastered wall. To make climbing over it even more complicated, having a wider beam at the top of the wall, causing for overhang, will further complicate it for the snakes to get in. A plastered wall won’t stop some of the harmless species like Golden Tree Snakes (Chrysopelea ornata) which are amazingly well adapted to climbing even smooth surfaces, but well I guess the main worry is to keep medically significant species out.

Remove water bodies

As pointed out earlier, it is not so much that water attracts snakes for drinking purposes (even though they might). But more importantly, water attracts life in general. Prey species are often found in higher densities near water, and the water also provides dense vegetation which allows the snakes to move around safely. Certain species might hunt in the water for fish. So having e.g. a pond in your yard is a no-no.

A swimming pool might be ok, generally the way those are built, frogs and other critters do usually not really reside around them. Still, you might every now and then end up with a snake in your pool that needs to be rescued unless you provide a way for them to climb out.

Remove food scrapes, pet food and garbage

Rodents are a very important prey for many snake species.
Rodents are a very important prey for many snake species.

Don’t dispose your food scrapes in/ near your yard, and remove all garbage. Also, don’t leave pet food outside, and avoid feeding your pets outside. Garbage, food scrapes and pet foods attract rodents and the like, and that in turn… well, I don’t need to explain that anymore.

Pets versus snakes conflicts

Pets and snakes generally do not go well together. Having pets is probably only going to increase your chance to get snakes in your yard. Often, pets drop food that attracts mice and rats which in turn will be sought after by snakes. So, if snakes are really a worry to you, perhaps it is wise to think twice before taking any pets.

There are different ways to look at it, though. For example, you could argue that having a dog running around the house will be safer for you, because dogs are much more likely to notice snakes entering your yard than you would. The dog’s barking will notify you. A noticed snake does not pose a danger. Well, not to you, if you keep a safe distance. But for some reason most dogs don’t back off when they encounter snakes. Often, they go dangerously close. The snake won’t just wait peacefully until the dog hurts or kills him. The snake will defend itself.

As mentioned earlier, snakes do not really stand a chance in such a physical fight. But the dogs might not walk away unharmed either when it turns out to be a highly venomous species.

Most people have an emotional bond with their dogs, so this is unlikely the outcome people hope for. Even if you could argue the dog ‘saved’ your family from the snake. If you do care about your dog you probably want to jump in between such a fight to pull your dog away before things get out of hand, and that might actually put you in a more dangerous position.

Also, judging from the plenty dog-snake conflicts we see posted online, I guess it is safe to say that the scent of having dogs around is not preventing snakes from entering your property.

In some countries training courses are available for dogs to teach them how to act whenever they encounter snakes. But to my knowledge no such thing is on offer in Thailand. Perhaps an interesting commercial niche for a professional dog trainer to jump in? Anyone? Let me know if you know of such course within Thailand. I’d be happy to recommend it here.

Other measures to reduce the risk of snake bites while gardening

Rubber boots and welder's gloves
Rubber boots and welder’s gloves for safe gardening in snake country.

If you do need to do some gardening, especially in the more densely vegetated areas of your yard, a few precautions will go a long way.

Tall rubber boots (wellies)

Wearing tall rubber boots is likely going to save you from any bites when accidentally treading on a snake.

Welder’s gloves

And if you need to put your hands in the vegetation where you can not clearly see what is around. Or if you need to remove debris/ logs/ rocks etc. it is best to wear welder’s gloves. These thick leather gloves will reduce the chance of the snake’s fangs to penetrate and potentially envenomate you if it happens to bite in your hands. Surely these gloves are not 100% snake bite proof, but will significantly reduce the chance of a bad outcome.

Welder's gloves significantly reduce the chance the snake's fangs will reach your skin.
Welder’s gloves, although not 100% snake bite proof, they significantly reduce the chance the snake’s fangs will reach your skin.

Using a long stick to disturb the vegetation before you move in, might be a good option to disturb and scare off any snakes hidden in between. But beware. A disturbed, agitated snake is more likely to get defensive.

Final note

Even though I wrote this article, because I understand that in certain situations it is not preferable to have snakes around. Please, keep in mind that they are not the evil ‘monsters’ as they have often been portrayed over the ages.

Us humans have managed to destroy a lot of the natural habitat on this planet, the least we can try is make our gardens a bit more wildlife friendly to allow biodiversity to thrive even in areas with higher human population densities.

Snakes take care of rodents that otherwise might get out of control and cause diseases or more damage to crops. And always remember that snakes by nature want nothing to do with us. Give them space, and they will do their best to stay away from you too.

Perhaps you can try to use the above suggested measures sparsely. Depending on how large your property is, assign a part of your property for the local wildlife and another part kept well-maintained for your own safety/ use. Perhaps you can create a natural ‘corridor’ a bit away from your house (if you have the space) where the snakes and other animals can feel more safe and move around to get to other habitats around your property.

I know people with kids have a bit more to worry about (at some point I will write a post more specifically aimed on living with kids in snake country), but especially if the household only consists of teenagers or adults, perhaps you could consider being more tolerant to the presence of snakes and other critters. Create the suggested clear paths for your own safety, but allow the rest of the garden to flourish and be proud to be a host to the amazing biodiversity that still exists in this beautiful country.

And no matter how much you fear them, try to be open minded, and most importantly educate yourself about snakes. Find out how they are almost always misrepresented in the media and local stories. I will link the Facebook groups mentioned earlier. These are a great resource where you can learn more about the common snake species through actual real-life experiences by other people living in this same country.

The list of links to snake identification groups on Facebook for various regions in Thailand. You can get acquainted with the most common species posted by members, ask for identification of the snakes you find yourself, and ask any questions related to this subject.

Facebook group: Snakes of Bangkok
Facebook group: Snakes of Chiang Mai
Facebook group: Snakes of Hua Hin
Facebook group: Snakes of Isaan
Facebook group: Snakes of Koh Tao, Phangan & Samui
Facebook group: Snakes of Pattaya
Facebook group: Snakes of Phuket

3 Responses

  1. Jeff says:

    Good stuff, thanks for taking the time to put this together. One experience I had regarding the food scraps/garbage section, is the storage of bulk rice in the typical large size sacks, stacked on the floor – common out in the villages. In my case, it attracted loads of mice/rats and the wife’s family being very Buddhist, did nothing to intervene. It got really bad, rodent feces and urine all over the place, and this rice was for our consumption. Wasn’t long before snakes arrived, so that’s another one for the list.

  2. James says:

    Amazing for putting this together. Thank you very much and I’ll share as much as I can. I came across this on snakes of Phuket FB group, FYI.

  3. Duncan Loynes says:

    Thanks for this very helpful article. My 13-year-old son is fascinated by snakes and would love to go herping in the Bangkok area sometime. We live in Sammakorn village, to the west of the city, so preferably somewhere nearby. Do you know anyone who organizes herping for beginners?

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