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Home invasions...

Flood waters displace snakes, rodents, ants

By Linda Breazeale

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- High waters from Hurricane Katrina will drive snakes, rodents and fire ants into areas they may not venture normally, such as homes and storage buildings.

Bill Maily, area wildlife agent with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said any time a building has been flooded, people should enter it with extra caution.

"Snakes and mice or rats are just like people; they will seek shelter from a storm," Maily said. "If they are in flowing water and encounter a tree or structure, they'll likely climb up for a dry spot. If they find a house, they may go up to an open area under the eaves."

When flood waters recede, Maily urged extreme caution inside closets, on bookcases, under furniture or any place elusive creatures might hide. There may be an increase in snakes and rodents outside homes near piles of debris, around stalled automobiles, near or inside outbuildings or any area that offers shelter.

"If a snake is in a house, I suggest homeowners get glue boards that they can put down on top of sheets to catch the snake," Maily said.

After capturing a snake on a glue board, roll up the sheet to carry the snake outside for release. Vegetable oil will counteract the adhesive. In some areas, animal control officers may be available to assist.

Ben West, assistant wildlife professor at MSU, said if homeowners are controlling rodents in the home, snakes will not remain for long. They will leave in search of other food.

"Flood conditions can cause new infestations of insects, rodents, snakes and other pests that can cause health problems for humans and livestock," West said. "Use flashlights to inspect closets, basements, storage areas, bins and shelves with extra caution. It's as important to avoid rat bites as you would want to avoid snake bites."

West said snakes can only strike within two-thirds the length of their body, so a 3-foot snake could reach up to 2 feet away. A person who is bitten should try to look for characteristics to determine the type of snake it is. Venomous snakes will leave two distinct puncture wounds, and nonvenomous snakes may leave marks more like scratches.

"Victims of venomous snake bites should try to get to the hospital as soon as possible. If you are not close to a hospital, wrap a constricting band between the bite area and the heart to slow down, but not stop, the blood flow. Do not apply a tight tourniquet," West said. "In general, it's better not to waste time with first aid; just head to the hospital."

Rodents can be eliminated by trapping or poisoning. The anticoagulant poisons (warfarin, pival, fumarin and diphacinone) require at least four days of successive feeding before the rats begin to die. Rats will continue to die for two weeks or longer after consuming bait.

"Insects such as flies and mosquitoes can multiply at alarming rates after torrential rains, so people should be aggressive in removing standing puddles and containers filled with water. Appropriately dispose of garbage and animal carcasses," West said. "Repair or replace screens, windows, doors and vents as soon as possible."

As cleanup activities take place, people are likely to encounter aggressive beds of fire ants outside and on occasions inside. Invasions of buildings and vehicles may occur during periods of heavy precipitation and flooding.

Mike Williams, Extension entomologist, said fire ants will form into a massive floating ball of ants around the queen to protect her during floods, which is one way mounds spread.

"That ball will float until it finds a dry place, usually the ground. Ants once burrowed deep in the ground will come to the surface during rains. Each rain shower triggers a mating opportunity for the queen to emerge and form a new mound," Williams said. "Any time you have a rain event in the summer, you'll have an increase in mounds."

Children may be at an increased risk of encountering these aggressive ants in the first weeks after Hurricane Katrina.


Released: Sept. 1, 2005
Contact: Bill Maily, (601) 372-4651 or Dr. Ben West, (662) 325-3177

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