Snakes are master escape artists; they are smooth, slender, flexible, strong, and smarter than we give them credit for (generally). Coupled with ambush hunting instincts honed from thousands of years of evolution, they really have a knack for hide n’ go seek — and for driving their doting humans crazy.
Step One: Don’t Panic
Upon realizing that your snake has gone AWOL, don’t freak out. Even if it takes a week to find him/her, snakes can stay alive for quite a while outside of their tank (varying from species to species, of course). However, they will suffer from the cold, lack of humidity, and dehydration, so it is important to keep looking.
Worst case scenario: If it’s warm outside and you don’t have good seals on your windows or doors, the snake could have escaped outside. Give your neighbors a picture of the snake and your contact information, and explain to them in clear terms why they are NOT in danger.
This is another reason why it’s important to secure your snakes. As worried as you might be for your pet’s welfare, non-reptile people tend to panic when there’s a snake on the loose. Myths about child-eating pythons and the like…you know how it goes.
Step Two: Secure Your Pets
Free-roaming pets (cats, dogs, birds, etc.) can pose significant threat to a lost snake, particularly with cats. Secure them when you’re not home, and especially at night when the snake is most likely to be out and about.
Step Three: Turn the Place Upside-Down
Most missing snakes are found by diligent owners who roll up their sleeves and conduct a top-to-bottom search, room by room.
Start looking around where you last saw them. Once snakes find a good hiding spot, they rarely go far. After that, continue your search one room at a time. Upon clearing one room, close the door and stuff a towel in the gap at the bottom to completely seal it off.
Check under, behind, and on top of EVERYTHING, even the places where you think they can’t possibly fit. (Snakes have Ph.D’s in Hide n Go Seek, with additional studies in “If it fits I sits.”) Keep in mind that snakes are most often found in warm places. This can be behind warm appliances like refrigerators, in your furnace closet, or snuggled up to another reptile’s terrarium.
Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
- Boxes and anything hollow (trash bins, Kleenex boxes, pizza boxes, file folder boxes, shoes, purses, etc.)
- Garbage disposal (seriously)
- Washer/dryer and vents (take them apart if necessary – snakes have been known to get inside)
- Warm appliances (refrigerators, furnace, DVD players, gaming consoles, computers, etc)
- Behind the toilet tank
- Air ducts
- Baseboard heaters
- Upholstered furniture
- Window sills
- On top of curtain rods
- Firewood piles
Search at night. Most snakes, even the diurnal ones, are most active at this time.
Lay on your back and look up. Think like a snake – where would you go?
In spots where you can’t reach, use your phone. Put it on a selfie stick (I can’t believe I’m telling you guys to use a selfie stick…) and use the flash to take a picture of the area. Personally I’ve never had to use this for snakes, but I’ve done it many times searching for an escaped blue tongue skink.
This is a great opportunity to deep-clean your house, by the way.
Set a Trap(s)
Generally speaking, snakes like to stay put once they’ve found a good hidey hole. They’re ambush predators, after all. But if you can’t find your snake the old-fashioned way, you can try to find your snake by setting a trap.
Scatter a thin but visible layer of flour or corn starch on the floor. If the snake travels, it will leave tracks. The powder can be easily vacuumed up later. If you don’t want to make as much of a mess, leave a line of powder at the entrance to each room and leave the door open. This will at least narrow things down to one room.
Go to the bank and exchange $10 for 1000 pennies (or coin equivalent if you’re not in the US). Place lines of pennies at the entrances to each room, closet, and even on top of furniture like tables, desks, and counters. A snake on the move will dislodge the pennies and indicate their direction. If on a desk or counter, the falling pennies will alert you to the snake’s location.
Place lengths of scotch tape sticky side-up along walls, furniture, and doorways. As with the flour and pennies, the snake will not know to avoid the tape. The tape will stick to the snake (harmless), creating a trail that will help lead to your snake’s latest hiding spot.
Plastic bag trap
Snakes like to travel along walls, furniture, and baseboards. Line these areas with slightly crumpled plastic grocery sacks. Around 9-10pm, turn off all lights, TV, stereos — anything that makes sound — and hop on a chair/couch to listen. It will may take about 30-60 minutes for the snake to decide that it’s safe to travel, but once you hear something, get out your flashlight and (to use a phrase from Melissa Kaplan) nail ‘em! Be careful not to run, however. The vibrations will scare the snake back into hiding and you’ll be back to square one.
Lower the temperature in your home to about 68°F (20°C). Then cut a snake-sized hole in a shoebox and put a shipping warmer inside. Leave where the snake was last seen and check in the morning. Because that hide will be one of the warmest places in the house, it is more likely to choose that as its next place to hole up.
In the evening, place a warm, F/T rodent in a wire cage or 2-liter bottle (with holes poked throughout to leak scent). The idea is for the opening to be large enough for your snake to slither in, but small enough that it will get stuck after ingesting its meal. Reportedly, fresh, unwashed chicken eggs can be used as an alternative to F/T rodents.
Whichever trap you choose, don’t forget to keep the missing snake’s terrarium open. Some snakes will return to their terrarium once they’re done exploring, especially if that is the warmest spot in the house. If your snake isn’t much of a climber, set the enclosure on the ground to make it more accessible. This doesn’t always work, but it doesn’t hurt to try!
How to *Prevent* a Snake from Escaping
Ultimately, the best way to find a lost snake is not to lose it in the first place (wow that just sounded like my mother).
- Most front-opening enclosures have built-in locks. If you don’t have a lock, install one.
- Racks should have no gaps between the shelf and the top of each tub. Additionally, the tubs should be impossible for a snake to push out, creating an opening.
- If you have a top-opening enclosure, invest in some good clamps or bolts (depending on your lid type) to keep it firmly shut. This is especially necessary for glass aquarium-type enclosures with screen lids.
- If you like to let your snakes free-roam, supervise them CLOSELY. This is not a time to look at your phone or watch TV. They can disappear in seconds. If you don’t trust yourself to supervise, create a snake-proof room for them to roam.
- If you have any holes in the wall, fix them. The last thing you want is a snake in your walls/floor, because it is very difficult to retrieve them. Same goes for window screens, as well as seals on your windows and on any doors that lead outside.
When it comes down to preventing a snake from escaping, paranoia is your friend. Confidence or arrogance will be your downfall.
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