Lawrence man captures 5 large snakes in yard; KU experts call it ‘luck,’ thank him for not killing them

photo by: Lauren Fox

From left, Ramon and Glenda Schmidt and University of Kansas herpetology curators Rich Glor and Rafe Brown hold the five black rat snakes Ramon found in his yard on Tuesday.

The most snakes Ramon Schmidt had seen at one time in his 80 years of living was two. On Tuesday, the west Lawrence resident saw and captured five.

They were all nonvenomous black rat snakes, ranging in size from 51 inches to 65 inches. It’s unusual to see that many adult snakes of that species in the same area, University of Kansas herpetology curator Rafe Brown said.

“There’s only one answer, really,” Brown’s colleague, Rich Glor, said. “Luck.”

photo by: Lauren Fox

University of Kansas herpetology curator Rafe Brown, left, and Lawrence resident Ramon Schmidt, right, hold two of the five snakes Schmidt found near his patio on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

On Thursday, Glor and Brown joined the Journal-World at Schmidt’s home, which backs up to DeVictor Park. The herpetology curators came to answer some of the family’s questions about the snakes and take them off their hands.

For while Glor thought the abundance of snakes was lucky, Schmidt’s daughter, Lara McCullough, said, “That’s a matter of perspective.”

It’s snake season, Glor said, and he’s been getting more inquiries and texts from friends and neighbors about seeing the critters out and about. It’s not that there are more snakes in Lawrence this year, Glor supposes, but it’s likely that people are noticing them more because of all the time at home.

Glor listed three reasons that the spring is snake season. First, snakes typically come out of hibernation in March and April. Seeing a large aggregation of snakes around that time means they have probably just emerged from the same den, but Glor said the solitary creatures typically scatter within a week. Second, this is the time of year snakes are reproducing and looking for mates. Lastly, snakes are more active in the spring weather. Glor said that when it gets really hot in the summer, snakes will become relatively inactive once more.

In addition to their “luck,” there was another reason that Schmidt, his wife, Glenda Schmidt, and McCullough believed they had five snakes on their property at once: a robin’s nest filled with newly hatched chicks.

photo by: Lauren Fox

Ramon Schmidt’s daughter, Laura McCullough, saw snakes climbing their patio support pole on Tuesday, and believed the snakes were trying to get to this robin’s nest, pictured on Thursday.

McCullough heard the robins squawking, and when she looked out the basement window around 3 p.m., she saw two snakes climbing the pole of their raised patio, on top of which sat the robin’s nest. Schmidt came and captured one snake and removed the other and threw it back into the woods behind his house. Not 20 minutes later, the same snake, or perhaps another, came back. Schmidt captured it. By 10 p.m., three other snakes had come — one’s arrival had interrupted Schmidt’s nap — and he captured them all.

The five snakes were either attracted to the chemical smells being emitted by the robin’s nest, the two experts noted, or if one of the original snakes that had come to the patio was a female, males could have been coming in response to her scent.

The reason Schmidt felt comfortable capturing the snakes was because he had experience doing so growing up on a farm in McPherson County.

“Every time I encountered a snake if I could capture it and cage it for a few days and show it to everybody and scare my sisters, then I would do that,” he said. “But I didn’t want it to die, so I would turn it loose.”

photo by: Lauren Fox

Ramon Schmidt holds two of the five black rat snakes he found in his yard on Tuesday.

Brown and Glor were pleased that Schmidt had captured the snakes as opposed to killing them.

“Thanks for not killing them. That’s what happens a lot around here,” Brown told Schmidt on Thursday.

Brown bagged up the five snakes and said he was planning to take them to the KU Field Station in North Lawrence.

photo by: Lauren Fox

Ramon Schmidt, left, places a black rat snake in a bag held by University of Kansas herpetology curator Rich Glor.

Glor told the family that it’s not good to move snakes around, and challenged them to ponder the question “Why do I not want snakes in my yard?” He said if one moves a snake more than a mile from its habitat, it may not find its way back, and it might be difficult for the snake to find a sufficient new habitat before winter hibernation.

But McCullough was a bit apprehensive of having five snakes near the backyard, and Brown said the snakes should have enough time to find a new habitat at the KU Field Station before winter.

For those afraid of snakes, Glor said there are only two types of venomous snakes that are fairly common around Lawrence — the copperhead and the timber rattlesnake — and that both are unlikely to be in suburban areas. If one sees a snake, Glor said, leave it be.

“If you see a black rat snake in your yard and you start walking toward it, it is going to try to get away,” Glor said, noting that it will do everything it can to tell you to leave it alone.

One of the black rat snakes did bite Schmidt on Thursday, but Glor said that was likely because the snakes were scared and had had an abnormal level of interaction with humans in the past two days.

photo by: Lauren Fox

Ramon Schmidt was bit Thursday, but University of Kansas herpetology curator Rafe Brown said the level of interaction between Schmidt and the snakes went past a normal encounter, and the snakes were likely scared.

Taking them all out and posing with them for pictures was a bit beyond what a normal encounter would be, he joked.

“We did everything we could to ask that snake to bite us in that circumstance,” Glor said. Schmidt took the bite without any show of emotion.

The two experts repeatedly noted the remarkable appearance of the five large adult snakes in the same area.

“My advice to you all: Get some lottery tickets. Because your luck is high right now,” Glor said. “And let me tell you, your karma is high because you didn’t kill these snakes, so I feel like now is the best time to invest in games of chance.”

photo by: Lauren Fox

Ramon and Glenda Schmidt look at a snake booklet that University of Kansas herpetology curator Rafe Brown gave them.

photo by: Lauren Fox

University of Kansas herpetology curator Rich Glor holds a black rat snake on Thursday.


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