You're outside, you see a snake, you don't know much about them, and frankly, you may be afraid of them, too. Because of this, you are probably unable to identify the snake as venomous or non-venomous but you don't really care anyway. The snake is either in your backyard, your front yard, your driveway, even on the road, or in some cases inside your home. You feel that you have an obligation to protect yourself, your family, and those around you.
Maybe you even feel an obligation to protect your pets or livestock.
So, you do what you assume is the natural thing and in response to your apparently unwelcome ￼￼￼intruder.
You find the nearest object capable of butchery.
Your Facebook friends may sing your praises and offer congratulations in the comments.
Social media or television may reaffirm your belief that you have a right to take the life of anything that appears to threaten you, your land, or your family.￼ However, what you may not know is what you've just done has severely upset the balance of the ecosystem and food chain around you.
What you also may not know is that the very same snake that you killed was almost guaranteed to not have been in "your space" to cause harm.￼￼
The entire ecosystem relies on a balanced food chain, and often that very same food chain influences the rate of disease, population growth or decline,￼ and the health of natural resources. Shockingly, snakes are integral influences and support for both the rate of population growth and decline and the incidence of disease.
You may also be surprised to know that this influence does not change whether or not the snake is venomous.
Snakes tend to control the rodent population, which is well known to be a common carrier of serious diseases. They can all be spread indirectly and directly, including through the parasites they carry. Snakes tend to be immune to these diseases, as well as their propensity to almost exclusively feed on rodents. When the snake population begins to go down because of human interference then the rat population tends to go up. When the rodent population goes up, then the rodents need somewhere to live, and often they bring their fleas and ticks with them￼. Rodents tend to favor living in places such as homes which is why snakes often end up nearby. When the rodent population goes up it also increases the numbers of their parasites and since the population rate of fleas and ticks is so much faster than that of the rodents they begin to overwhelm their hosts. With their life sources depleted, they will look for a new host, and that can often be humans. Oh, and they bring their diseases with them.
With the proper amount of snakes around within the local food web, the population of rodents and their parasites is kept in balance.
Another argument that many people have about killing a snake is that the snake "appeared aggressive" or that the snake "was trying to hurt" them. There is only one snake that is documented to be￼ intentionally aggressive and to chase humans. It is called the bushmaster and is native to the jungles of Central America. When a snake appears aggressive it is almost always because they feel that their life is threatened.
You have to remember that snakes are prey too, and when you stand there lording over them and being excessively loud, it tends to scare them and they feel a need to try and defend themselves.￼￼￼
Imagine facing a predator as big as a blue whale that has come into your personal space uninvited and is acting aggressively towards you. Now imagine you have no limbs, just a mouthful of sharp teeth and the ability to hiss and bite. If you feel like your life is threatened then you would most likely do whatever it took to defend yourself right? Snakes are no different. You should always consider how your behavior affects the sense of security an animal has, especially if that animal is in its own environment or acts defensively.
Another important thing to note is that non-venomous snakes eat venomous snakes.
Not knowing the difference between something that's venomous and something that isn't could allow for a better-armed guest to make an appearance. You should always become very familiar with which snakes live in your area and how to tell the difference between them. Venomous snakes are ambush predators and well camouflaged. Therefore most people could walk right over or past one and never know. To cause one to hiss, rattle, posture, strike, or bite takes a very severe kind of threat; including being stepped on. Non-venomous snakes are more active and do more seeking than waiting, which leads them to be seen and killed more than their better-equipped brethren.
Regardless of venom status, no snake you would find in your yard sets out with the intention of hurting you.
Next time you find a snake in your yard, driveway, home, or in the road, leave it alone. That means don't chase it, don't harass it, don't pick it up, and definitely do not kill it. If you fear for your own life or the life of others, then simply go inside and leave it alone. I would have to note that nine out of 10 times you have no reason that you absolutely need to be outside. You especially have no reason to intentionally run over or kill a snake on the road as it is not your property, not your place, and can be a crime in many places.
If a snake happens to be in your home or in one of your buildings, give it a chance to leave. Perhaps employ the use of a broom to guide it outside. I promise that the snake doesn't want to be around you as much as you don't want it in your home. If you are certain it is a venomous snake or are unable to help it get outside, again, do not try and kill it. Even when a snake's head is cut off it is capable of biting you sometimes hours after decapitation.
Call your local wildlife removal specialist or fish and game officer to help you. Always remember that snakes are almost never in your space￼, rather, you are almost always in theirs. It isn't cute, cool, or funny to post pictures of the poor snake that you killed in your backyard yesterday on Facebook. It isn't something you should brag about or be proud of either.￼ I can promise you that it wasn't threatening your life by sitting on a paver stone to warm up in the sun or by moving across the grass when you walked along and scared the daylights out of it. Be considerate of their instincts and right to be scared of us, and remember that they probably lived there first.
Keep an eye on your kids and your pets, too, because as humans we have a responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves — snakes included.