Cottage Q&A: Water snakes under the dock

A northern water snake swimming in a lake By David Byron Keener/Shutterstock

We have been unable to enjoy our waterfront due to a huge number of water snakes under our dock. How can we deter them?—Stacey Wagler, Spanish River, Ont.

We assume that you want the good news first. Your waterfront is so snakealicious because it’s in fantastic shape. “The fact that the snakes are there means that it’s great habitat,” says herpetologist Andrew Lentini. “You have a healthy lake.” Fist bump! Okay, now the bad news: anything you do to make the area undesirable for the snakes—say, blocking their under-dock access with chicken wire or removing logs or rocks where the water snakes might want to hang out—probably requires a permit and, more importantly, also makes it undesirable for fish, frogs, and turtles. “The only way to get rid of the snakes is to get rid of the other creatures,” says Lentini. Is that really a trade-off that you want to make?

Water snakes aren’t dangerous. They’re not venomous, and they’re generally not aggressive. They are, however, curious, and “they will investigate humans,” says Lentini. Which is too bad, because water snakes are not adorable like chipmunks or golden retriever puppies. “They don’t do themselves any favours,” Lentini admits.

15 surprising facts about Canada’s snakes

Ironically, the best way to discourage the snakes might be to spend more time in the water. “They’re certainly capable of learning,” says Lentini. If they’re repeatedly exposed to human activity, they may start to avoid you. They’ll discover that all your splashing doesn’t result in an opportunity for food.

Sorry. We know that “just try to live with them” isn’t the answer that you were hoping for. But after many years of Cottage Q&A, we’ve realized that while it’s very hard to evict animals from your cottage, it’s damn near impossible to evict them from their own homes.

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This article originally ran in the Fall 2018 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

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