Spiders and snakes are predators that prey on insects and other animals that feed on many plants found in yards and gardens. Both of these backyard visitors are often misunderstood. While it is true that some snakes and spiders will bite if disturbed, generally, neither are aggressive toward humans, and actual bites in the yard are rare.
Two dangerous spiders
Two spiders found in Kentucky are considered dangerous: the brown recluse and the black widow. Both prefer to live in dark, seldom disturbed areas. You are more likely to find them hiding in garages and storage sheds than among plants in your yard or garden. For this reason, it is always a good idea to wear gloves when searching through items in these areas.
Look at pictures of these and other spiders so you can identify them. The black widow has a distinct red, hour-glass shape on her underside. A dark, fiddle-shaped mark is found on the body of the brown recluse.
Some of the more colorful spiders found outdoors include orb weavers like the large yellow and black garden spiders, funnel web spiders, jumping spiders, wolf spiders and crab spiders.
Of the 33 snake species found in Kentucky, only four are venomous: the Northern copperhead, Western cottonmouth, timber rattlesnake and pygmy rattlesnake. These four species have specialized habitat requirements and are rarely found around suburban homes and buildings.
Garter snakes, rat snakes and Eastern Milk snakes are harmless and more likely to be seen in populated areas. The beneficial species prefer damp, dark and cool areas where food is abundant. Stacked firewood, old lumber or junk piles, heavily mulched gardens, lawns and abandoned lots with tall vegetation, cluttered basements and attics, and feed storage areas in barns where rodents may be abundant, provide attractive habitats.
There are several ways to differentiate between venomous and harmless snakes. For a detailed list of identifying characteristics, go to the website: http://www.ca.uky.edu/forestryextension/publications_wildlife.php.
If you encounter a snake, the best approach is to retreat. A cornered animal is more likely to strike, but if left alone, the intruder will probably initiate its own retreat. If a problem persists, homeowners can try altering the habitat to make it less attractive. No chemicals exist to kill snakes, so cultural practices such as mowing, removing clutter and controlling rodent populations must be used to reduce opportunities for human-snake interactions.
As predators, spiders and snakes are an important part of our natural world. They provide free pest control by reducing populations of undesirable insects and rodents that can damage crops, landscaping and property.
Jerry Little is Boyle County extension agent for agriculture/natural resources.