Snakes in compost bin


Snakes in compost bin

I don’t like snakes, I don’t know enough about them and I’m guessing that most of you feel much the same way. The trouble is that there is a risk that, at some point, we’re going to come face to face with a snake.

Depending on where you are in the world you may, at some point, encounter snakes in the compost bin. Some of these snakes maybe a problem and others will be insignificant. Here we will go through a few of the snakes that you’re likely to find in a compost bin and what to look for to establish what type of snake you have.

Do compost piles attract snakes?

It really depends on what type of compost pile you have. If it’s a lot of mainly dry grass material in a heap with an element of moisture present, this will generate a small amount of heat as it rots down. It’s these warm conditions that attract snakes because they find it ideal for laying their eggs. The compost pile in this case becomes a ready-made incubator where the eggs will be safe, away from predators and can hatch out into young snakes.

The way to avoid a problem with snakes in compost is to insure that the material that you want to make compost from rots down quickly. This will remove the type of habitat that snakes need and are looking for. If you have dry material in a compost heap this is where you will find snakes because a heap on the ground is fully exposed.

By placing composting material in a bin and keeping the contents moist the rotting process will commence to produce compost. A compost bin is by its nature contained making it difficult for anything to get into it and is therefore the preferred option compared to a compost heap.

There is, then, the question of whether to use a compost bin or a tumbler. Both are basically snake-proof. We have a post that covers the virtues of each. Just go to ‘Tumbler composter vs bin’ to see which may be the best option for you.
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What else?

What snakes live in compost heaps?

Grass snakes         Adder snakes

Hognose snakes         Garter snake

How to keep snakes away from yard and house

It is possible to erect a snake proof fence using half inch wire mesh. You need to dig a trench about six inches deep along the line where the fence is to be. This is to bury part of the fence underground, the remaining wire being above ground. Don’t erect the fence completely upright because a snake may be able to climb up. If you slope the fence outward at an angle of 20 to 30 degrees, this will make it difficult for the snakes to climb.

You need to do all you can to keep vegetation away from the outside of the fence because snakes may be able to climb the plants and gain access over the top of the fence.

Some will say that you need to remove all materials and hiding places in the garden where snakes can thrive. This is almost impossible to do because gardens, by their nature, can never be so tidy as to not have anywhere four snakes to reside.

What snakes live in compost heaps?

Because of the nature of compost in its early stages of decomposition a compost heap is an ideal haven for most snakes. For some snakes it’s not just a comfortable place to live, they can also make use of the food supply that a compost heap or bin can provide. Here’s a selection of typical snakes that you may find in a compost heap or bin.

Grass snakes

Native to the UK the grass snake is very often mistaken for an adder but it isn’t venomous. For a visual comparison look for the yellow and black colour on the back of the head and note that the eyes have round pupils.

Grass snake bite


Grass snakes are sometimes confused with slow worms. These are legless lizards and they’re not snakes. They are much smaller but can be big enough to cause confusion. The grass snake can grow up to 39 inches in length with the females often longer than males

Over recent years the grass snake numbers have fallen and as a result they are protected under the wildlife and countryside act. The habitat of the grass snake has been eroded as a result of urbanisation, agricultural intensification and road building.

Compost heaps as well as on-farm manure heaps are ideal for grass snakes to lay there eggs because the sort of material in this sort of habitat tends to be warm and insulated. It really depends where you are in the country but you’re more likely to find grass snakes if your garden is in a more rural location. Because gardens are usually to tidy there isn’t enough natural cover the grass snakes to hide.

Snakes will bite in self defence if disturbed or trodden on and grass snakes are no exception. No one wants to be bitten by anything anywhere especially creatures from the wild because you can never be quite sure what it is that’s doing the biting. Given that there is a risk that grass snakes may be hibernating in your compost bin it’s probably not wise to go digging around with your bare hands if you feel like digging around at all.

Adder snakes

These are native from Europe to Asia. the adder has a thicker body and a noticeable zigzag pattern along its back. If you get close enough to have a really good look you will notice that the eyes of the Adder are made up of vertical slit pupils. These are venomous and if you get bitten you need to get medical attention straight away. This is one to avoid but It is highly unlikely that you will find an Adder in your garden. Modern gardens are usually much too busy with activity like lawn mowing and garden rotovating going on. The adder doesn’t like to be disturbed and is easily scared by vibration.

Snakes and adders

If ever you are in terrain where you think there maybe adders present a good tactic is to stamp your feet or hit the ground with a stick. The vibration from this is enough to move others away from the area. this is something that wild deer are sometimes seen doing. They stamp their feet sending enough vibration through the ground driving snakes away.

Hognose snakes

Native to North America they are also known as Puff Adders. They get their name from the distinctive turned up nose and can vary in colour. The Puff Adder name comes from the way that they tend to flatten out their heads and rise up like a cobra when threatened.

Hognose snakes venomous?

The good news is that these aren’t venomous other than to small pray-creatures like frogs or toads. They can deliver venom but only from the back teeth which makes it difficult to infect humans.

These are snakes that appreciate the comfort of a warm compost pile and will take up residence to hibernate and lay eggs.

Garter snake

Another native of North America they are only found in areas where they have access to ponds of water. This is partly due to the diet being mainly amphibious creatures.

Garter snakes venomous?

It isn’t considered to be dangerous but is known to be mildly venomous. It isn’t too much of a threat to humans because, like the hognose, the venom delivery is from the rear teeth.

Garter snakes will hibernate in colder regions and will often do so in groups. They give birth to live young, which is rare among snakes, usually in large numbers. So if you have them turn up in a compost heap you may see a large population.

If you see snake eggs in your compost bin it’s probably wise just to take note that they are there as a warning but then just leave them alone. When they hatch the young will move away and start exploring new territories.

When the snake decided to go straight,

he didn’t get anywhere.”

William Stafford

Pests can be a problem, find out more at: rat-proof garden. Is it possible?

Image sources in descending order:

 Balcony compost Can you put cooked meat in compost? Bokashi soil factory

 Compost flies  Find out about 'Brown' material in compost. What to put in compost bin to start. 

 Can you use compost for growing vegetables? Grow potatoes in a bin. Composting tea bags. 

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