Connecting the Rodenticide and Backyard Ecosystem Dots
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
My biophobic, eco-clueless neighbor found dead snakes in her driveway and posted in our neighborhood group because she wanted to know if anyone else had this problem before calling the police so they could 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 about snakes in her driveway – did she consider that maybe her family members are the culprits?
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,
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 psychopath, or another ticked off neighbor these folks may have worked their charm on.
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 held back the snark towards 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.
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.
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?
It's likely the snakes died from poison and her "landscraper" crew ran over one with an oversized lawn mower or weed whacker. The multiple gas-powered leaf blowers undoubtedly moved the snakes to the driveway along with all the fall leaves. The timing of the death would matches up to when the scorched earth crew shows up every week. 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 for multiple reasons) are also at risk of eating poisoned rats and dying.
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.
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