• ljmarkson

Connecting the Rodenticide and Backyard Ecosystem Dots

Updated: 4 days ago

My biophobic, eco-clueless neighbor found dead snakes in her driveway and posted in our neighborhood group because she wondered if anyone else had this problem before calling the police to look at her security footage. Calling the police for anything other than a crime is a bit extra so she obviously feels threatened in some way by this situation. Unbelievably, I watched this same neighbors’ husband and his father violently hack a harmless black rat snake to death with a shovel in their driveway back in June. It even inspired me to write a post about coexisting with snakes in your backyard. It took great restraint to not ask the obvious question – maybe her family members are the culprits?

I almost stepped on this harmless black rat snake last year when I went out to see why all the birds in my yard were going crazy! I fear with the ongoing snake carnage next door, the beneficial snakes in my yard like this one are now gone.

Whatever the reason, it is likely any dead snakes she finds are connected somehow to the constant assault on nature in her yard. The weekly mow, blow and go crew decimates everything in sight with gas-powered leaf blowers, the “organic” lawn service uses a hose on a truck to liberally spray herbicides and pesticides, a service spreads some kind of weed and feed, and a pesticide service generously sprays pesticides around the perimeter of the home,

I seriously can't anticipate what service truck will roll up to my neighbor's to bring a fresh slice of destruction. Pictured are three gas-powered leaf blowers on a .2 of an acre yard, an "organic" lawn truck, a weed and feed truck, and a pesticide sprayer.

A pest control company also routinely refreshes the black rodenticide bait boxes. In this case, my bet is on the black bait boxes being responsible for the dead snakes, not some satanic cult member, junior neighborhood psychopaths, or another ticked off neighbor these folks may have worked their charm on.

My heart sank when I looked out my window and saw this truck filled with rodenticide and rat bait boxes in my neighbor's driveway...and she wants to know why she's finding dead snakes in her yard? Connect. Dots.

If a rat or mouse eats the poison in the black boxes it dies a slow, horrific death. Rodenticides use blood thinners to cause internal bleeding and it takes days to die. In the meantime, the rat moves too slowly around the landscape to escape urban predators such as hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, opossums, snakes, or even domestic cats and dogs. The predators in turn also die a slow, gruesome death - and may continue the cycle of death if they also fall victim to other predators in the ecosystem. It’s disheartening to know this kind of animal cruelty and environmental destruction is legal and widely accepted as normal, but this may be slowly changing.

I have to admit when I took this photo with a telephoto lens of a rat in the very back of my backyard it didn't occur to me that he may be poisoned. If he was, all the predators in my yard were at risk for also being poisoned. Btw - I never saw a rat in my yard until this summer after my neighbor killed a huge rat snake then had a pest control company put rodenticide bait boxes around his home...and who knows what else! My yard sanctuary ecosystem has been out of whack ever since.

I held back on the snark on my neighbor who appears to have main character syndrome, and responded to the group in a helpful way as part of my new effort to find a positive way to respond to negative circumstances. Wildlife such as beneficial snakes don’t see property lines and are also part of my healthy ecosystem. It is so frustrating to not be able to protect them from being killed by the poisons in neighboring yards. I don’t think the black boxes are unique in my part of the world where service trucks are omnipresent. I'm hoping the homeowners who use these boxes don’t know the grisly way they could also be killing wildlife including owls or hawks. My neighbor obviously doesn’t. I’ll admit we had the boxes around our home years ago. When I nervously asked about them harming the other critters in my yard, the service person reassured me they were environmentally safe because only rats and mice were both interested in the bait and could fit inside the box. I try not to think about my willful ignorance on the subject. My only slight excuse is that the internet was not the go-to resource it is now to explore answers to these kinds of questions.

Once you connect the horrendous damage rodenticides can do to creatures like this barred owl I saw in my yard back in August, it's hard not to become passionate about stopping people from using rodenticides.

This was my response to the group after I rewrote it a few times to keep it as anodyne as possible: The ecosystem of our neighborhood is interconnected, and snakes will die if they eat rodents that have rodenticide in them. Poisoned rodents don't die immediately, move slowly and are more likely to be eaten by predators like snakes. If you have those awful black rat boxes around your house, you're undoubtedly killing all the beneficial snakes in our area with poison. Birds of prey such owls and hawks will also die if they eat rodents that have eaten the poisons you put around your yard. Such a sad situation.

This majestic juvenile hawk (coopers?) was scoping my backyard for prey. I hope there weren't any slow moving poisoned rats around!

To this my neighbor responded to the group that she failed to mention that one of the snakes had also been almost cut in half with a “blunt object” that was “not a car”, which is a weirdly specific detail to leave out.

The plot thickens. I seriously had to walk away from my computer for a bit because the temptation to again ask the obvious question was too strong – is it possible the "blunt object" was a shovel used by one of her family members who has a history of doing this sort of thing? Back in June, when I saw the snake being killed, I contacted the Georgia Department of Natural Resources because I feared my neighbors would continue to kill any snakes that came into their yard. I was not comfortable confronting two grown men with shovels! (I also had a terrifying incident with the husband harassing me over a knocked over survey stick so I try to stay as far away from him as possible.) Maybe this time her family members aren't telling her they did the deed because now they know it’s illegal in Georgia to kill nonvenomous snakes but still think it's the right thing to do?

The day after my neighbor and his dad hacked a black rat snake to death THREE pest control trucks showed up and spent the day doing something around their home. It appears their fear of wildlife is a motivating force in their efforts to sanitize their yard of anything living. I would imagine snakes are still not welcome in their yard!

It's likely the snakes died from poison and her "landscraper" crew ran over one of them with an oversized lawn mower or weed whacker then didn't notice when the multiple gas-powered leaf blowers moved the snakes to the driveway. The timing of the death would match up. I’m a bit like a dog with a bone when I get going, so I sent one more response to the group and worked hard on editing it to keep it helpful and impersonal: Just a gentle reminder that we want non-venomous snakes to be in our neighborhood because they eat the pests we don't want. Killing them is illegal in Georgia (it's actually a misdemeanor). Stop by my mini nature center on Homestead for a flyer on how to coexist with snakes in your yard as well as basic ways to make a yard healthier for people, pets, and nature. One of the easiest ways we can all protect nature in our neighborhood is to not use rodenticide in our yards. This poison affects every creature in the backyard food web and will kill snakes like the ones mentioned that might have been poisoned and ended up in the driveway after a yard crew came by. Owls, hawks, and outdoor cats (which also need to be inside) could also eat poisoned rats and die.

I made this flyer to put in the mini nature center kiosk I put up in my front yard. Hopefully it will help others realize snakes belong in our yards and are beneficial. At the time I didn't think to mention not using rodenticides. I can barely keep up with all the ways my neighbor's destroy their ecosystem!

I’ve entered a fun stage of life where I am more likely to say what I think and less likely to care about what others think. I believe remaining respectful is the right thing to do and the key to sharing opinions in a way that others will be open to listen, but that doesn’t stop me from fantasizing a bit. What I really, really wanted to write to this nescient woman was a bit more biting, pithier and may have had an expletive or two in it. But I didn’t. I’ve realized sharing what is obvious to me because I’m obsessed with helping nature is not necessarily common knowledge. If even one person stops using those black boxes because of what I shared with the neighborhood group, it’s a win for nature.

My hope is that if there are less black rodenticide bait boxes around my neighborhood, there's a greater chance juvenile black rat snakes, like this one I met in my yard this spring, will live another 10-15 years and not be killed by secondary rodenticide poisoning.


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