Finding Escaped Snakes in the House
©1996 Melissa Kaplan
No matter how careful you are, it seems, there's always that one time you get stupid...and don't realize it until it is too late.
As difficult as it may be, snakes can generally be found in the house after an escape from their enclosure. Somewhere. It may be nowhere you think it could be, but it is there, somewhere, assuming you don't have holes in your walls and great gaps between the bottom of doors leading to the outside and into the subfloor.
Snakes, even diurnal ones, will generally move around at night. They also tend to move along walls and baseboards. The first place to look, then, is behind the enclosure, all along the floors and inside any bookcases and cabinets in the room, checking in the back of shelves and knickknacks and on top of books.
Get a hand mirror and a powerful flashlight, and look under and behind everything: bookcases (even if you thing the gap between the wall and case is too narrow for your chubby little corn or ball), kitchen appliances, chairs and couches. If your chairs and couches (and box spring mattresses) are upholstered, check underneath them to see if there are any rips in the fabric that the snake could get into. Check between all of the cushions, along the gap between the mattresses of the bed, and put your hands down between the sides and backs and bottoms of the upholstered furniture.
Got any boxes (even Kleenex boxes, file folder boxes, anything which would form a nice snug cave), wastebaskets, boots or shoes, bags? Check 'em all.
Check inside of cabinets in bath and kitchen and laundry area. If you see any holes leading into the walls, or into the cabinet from holes down near the floor, make a note of them and come back after you find the AWOL critter and duct-tape them over. Get down on the floor and look UP at the underneath of your cabinets, stove and dishwasher and look for openings; tape or have steel plates fabricated to block any openings once you find your critter. A snake is not very likely to go down the toilet - not when its more fun to squoosh in between the toilet tank and the wall - be sure to check there.
Okay, you've searched all over, and nothing.
It's time to lay some traps.
Lay some sound traps along the walls. The crinkly-sound-making plastic bags from the grocery store are great. Kind of crumple them up and put them on the floor, at least one on each exposed wall. Do the same in any nooks and crannies (spaces between furniture and walls, for example). About 9-10 PM, when it is completely dark, turn off all the lights, turn off the TV, stereo, make it as quiet as possible. Then, with a flashlight turned off but close at hand, just sit. And listen. Give it a half hour or so for the snake to become convinced that it's safe to move. Once it hits one of the bags (or any other crinkly or other noise making sound traps you've put out), you'll hear it. It is just a matter of figuring out where the noise came from, getting over there quickly without causing a great deal of vibrations through the floor (you don't want to overly alert them to your coming), get that flashlight on, and nail 'em.
That doesn't work? Too tired to keep it up all night? No problem. Before retiring for the evening, lay about an inch-wide strip of flour or cornstarch across the doorways. The next morning, if the snake moved through any of the doorways, you will see the trail for a short distance pointing in the direction they were headed. This, if nothing else, should help you narrow down the field of search.
If the sound and flour don't work, you can also put a nice warm mouse (dead is fine) in an empty liter soda bottle. Poke a few holes in it to let as much odor out as possible. Place it someplace on the warm side (again, get those odors out there), disappear yourself, and wait. The snake may come out for a snack, and stay (the black bottoms of some of the bottles makes a nice cave-y feeling place) after its eaten. Or, put some prey in a cage; many a snake has wormed its way between the bars, scarfed up all the prey, and was then too fat to fit back through. If this happens in the soda bottle, you can always cut it open, or just put the bottled snake back into its enclosure, and it will come out on its own.
Once you find the snake and have restored it to its enclosure and done whatever is required to assure that it cannot get out again (assuming you didn't just get stupid for a moment and forget to latch the tank or enclosure!), pull out your list of holes and that roll of duct tape and start taping everything so that the next time it happens, you won't go quite as crazy!
a friendly word of advice...
Boards and bricks are not a suitable enclosure cover, nor are makeshift latches, metal or otherwise. Even the glass enclosures outfitted with a half-screen top with a hinged glass lid are not secure enough for small snakes. The latch is loose enough so that they can squeeze out the top; baby snakes can exit through the gap on either side of the things. I had a king who kept squeezing out the top until I taped aquarium air line tubing around the top. It was easily compressed when the top was closed and latched, but effectively blocked the gap, preventing the baby king from further escapes. When I got a baby gopher, I noticed the gaps around the hinge before putting her inside, and taped them over before installing her in her new home.
The best way to lose an animal is to think like a human. The best way to find an animal is to think like that animal, to view the world from its point of view and perspective. Just because you have no desire to squeeze out of a comfy enclosure, crawl around the perimeter of the room, up into a bookcase and stash yourself into a box of disposable gloves doesn't mean that your ball python or corn snake doesn't want to do it!