Snakes show up in the most unusual places.
Waco animal control officers have found them inside homes — behind stoves and TVs, curled in the corners of windowsills and wrapped around lamps — and also occasionally in cars, riding cross-country atop gas tanks.
Such finds aren’t exactly frequent, but they are not unheard of this time of year, dubbed by some as “snake moving season.” Calls to Waco police dispatch and the Animal Control Unit about legless reptiles slithering into unwelcome places rise with the temperatures that draw them out of hibernation, officials say.
In the last week, animal control officers have responded to at least two residences where serpents found their way into homes. In one case, a 3-foot rat snake crawled into a house through a screenless, open window, curling itself tightly around a lamp next to a bed.
A woman who lived in the China Spring-area home told officers she probably walked by it several times without seeing it — and when it was spotted, she first thought it might be a belt.
Another family recently was alerted to a snake by terrible screeching in a closet, said Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton, who oversees the city’s Animal Control Unit.
When the homeowners looked for the source of the squealing, they opened the closet door to find a snake squeezing a rat to death, he said.
“It was in the process of strangling supper,” Swanton said.
Animal control officers have handled about 15 to 20 reports of snakes in the past month or so, responding to the scenes of 10 to 15 of those calls, said Joel Sanchez, animal control field supervisor.
It’s likely that number will increase as warmer temperatures become the norm in the summer months, following an unusually cool spring, animal control officials say.
During that time, snakes will move about their natural habitats — near water sources, such as the Brazos River and Lake Waco, for example.
But they also occasionally slither into less-expected spots.
The best way for residents to handle an intrusive snake? Don’t, officers say.
Unless someone is trained to identify and handle snakes, it’s best to always leave them alone, Sanchez said.
Numerous nonvenomous and venomous snakes are indigenous to the Waco area.
They play an important role in the ecosystem, including vermin control.
Most commonly, officers see rat snakes, rough earth snakes and the Eastern hognose snake, which can resemble a cobra when threatened, its neck flattened into something similar to a hood, Waco Animal Control Officer William Fillip said.
Rat snakes, meanwhile, can be mistaken for the more fearsome rattlesnake, using their tails to mimic the pit viper’s “rattle” to frighten away perceived enemies.
That is part of the reason it is better to let experts deal with snakes when they end up in areas where they could pose a threat, officers said.
Although the majority of the snake calls officers respond to involve nonvenomous snakes, they occasionally come across poisonous snakes.
One such case was a 5- to-6-foot rattlesnake that ostensibly traveled with a man out of West Texas atop his SUV’s gas tank.
The driver discovered the slithery stowaway during a lunch stop at La Fiesta. Animal control officers had to get the vehicle on top of a lift in order to eventually wrestle it out of its hiding spot, Sanchez said.
And Thursday, officers “impounded and relocated” a copperhead that was found near the back door of a China Spring-area home, he said.
Officers try not to kill any of the snakes they encounter on calls, Sanchez said.
They are armed with long-handled tongs meant to safely pick up snakes.
After capture, the snakes are stashed for transport in ventilated plastic buckets and taken to natural areas uninhabited by people, which can include areas of the Lake Waco Dam where people are not allowed.
Generally speaking, officers will not disturb a snake that is in a place where it wouldn’t be considered a threat.
But a snake found in a home, or a poisonous snake found near a populated area, could be relocated.
Officers recommend against relocating or killing wildlife, whenever possible. Sanchez describes doing so as “hanging a vacancy sign” for other creatures.
“It’s there for a reason,” he said.
The best bet for residents who aren’t keen on inviting wildlife into their home is to take proper steps to limit access, officers said.
Those steps include trimming trees back 10 to 15 feet from their homes, and checking to ensure there are no possible “entrances” into the home, including in the eaves, Fillip said.
He noted that bird feeders often attract snakes, which typically feed on birds, lizards, eggs and smaller snakes.
Sanchez theorizes that much of the fear of snakes is rooted in the element of surprise.
Snakes blend in to their natural environment, and once seen, the startle factor can be high — injuries involving an encounter with a snake frequently involve people hurting themselves in their haste to get away from them, Sanchez said.
“City snakes,” meanwhile, may just be more noticeable because of the urban background.
“They’re still here, they just don’t have a place to go,” Sanchez said. “So you see them more often.”