I live in a part of the country where bull snakes thrive. The prairies are prime habitat and so are the towns that dot them. So, from time to time one decides to take up residence in our yard.
We lost a seasoned bull snake last year when it became entangled in some deer fencing. That one was one of the largest bull snakes I ever came in contact with. Over six feet long and as thick as my fist. Our newest inhabitant is much younger.
While not a fan of snakes in general, I understand the importance of snakes such as bull snakes in the ecosystem. So, identification is important. Bull snakes closely resemble rattlesnakes. As long as rattlers stay away from my yard, they are free to be. But venomous snakes are too dangerous to co-exist in close proximity.
As a young child I was taught to stay clear of certain snakes. The first I learned to identify was the coral snake followed by Eastern Diamondback and Timber rattlesnakes. On the High Plains of North America, I mostly encounter prairie rattlers although massasauga rattlesnakes can also be found. The latter snakes tend to be smaller. Both are venomous.
Markings of bull snakes and rattlesnakes are similar. The heads are both triangular although the rattlesnake is more so and narrows at the neck. As a defense mechanism, the bull snake can flatten its’ head making this factor unreliable. The eyes differ as well, but I wouldn’t want to get that close. So, the default is the tail. Beware of rattles.
Sophie and Bull Snakes
Sophie the cat is quite the hunter. From time to time, she has competition from the bull snakes. She stays clear of the larger ones but sometimes challenges and even conquers the smaller ones. She was challenging the latest bull snake this week.
When bull snakes are confronted, they take on the characteristics of a rattlesnake. They coil as if they will strike, puff up and hiss. Sometimes they will mimic a rattle with their tails by shaking it against dry leaves. In the case of our latest visitor, only green grass was nearby.
However, we wanted to make sure. In the photo above, the eye is rounded as for a bull. But I did not get close enough to see in real life. It was the striped tail without a rattle that saved this particular reptile.
Water and Bull Snakes Don’t Mix
As you can see in the following videos, this bull snake did not want to get wet. After determining the snake was not a rattler, we wanted to discourage it from hanging around the patio. Spraying water in front of it was a surefire way to change its’ direction.
I believe this snake has been around for about six weeks. The grasshoppers that had ravaged my herb garden suddenly disappeared about that time. Additionally, I have heard rustling sounds lately on trips out to the compost pile. And a snake-sized hole appeared burrowing into one of the raised beds in the same area.
Since this is not a baby bull snake, my hope is Sophie will leave it alone. Then, I will have two hunters of mice. Bull snakes certainly have a place in my garden. I just wish they didn’t startle me so much.