This common garden or garter snake is harmless and can even be beneficial when rodents are on the menu.
A black rat snake
Black rat snake
Snakes are infrequently seen visitors to the Garden, sometimes visible only through the delicate outer skins they shed as they grow. Smaller snakes like garter snakes and midland brown snakes are more often found in urban gardens. They eat insects, slugs, small rodents, frogs, and bird eggs. Their long, forked tongues detect odors in the environment. Color and markings may vary with age.
Snakebite is a relatively rare event of self-defense when the reptile is unable to flee danger, often occurring during capture attempts. Other defenses include rolling over to appear dead, striking at the threat, trying to appear larger, and release of musky secretions. The small percentage of venomous snakes is more likely to be found in more remote areas, as when hiking.
To attract snakes to your garden, provide shallow water sources, brush or rock piles, hollow logs, and stone walls. Avoid using poisons or insecticides.
To discourage snakes, decrease desirable habitat, and keep a zone of closely mowed vegetation around work and play areas.
When hiking, avoid stepping, reaching over logs and stones where there is no visibility, and wear sturdy shoes.
When snakes are seen, allow them to escape, realizing that in cooler temperatures, these cold-blooded animals may move more slowly. A good field guide or I.D. sheet can do much to inform and alleviate fears. Here is a good link to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s guide sheet to Snakes of Missouri.