“A snake pursuing a rat across a dark cellar is not a sight to steady one’s nerves.”
If your city is plagued by rats, the best thing to do is loose a lot of snakes upon them. Then you can have a city plagued by fewer rats and many fat snakes. An excerpt from an article in the August 23, 1903 New York Times about the burgeoning snake-extermination industry:
“New York is almost as rat-ridden a town as the one which the famous Pied Piper cleared of with his marvelous flute; but the work of destroying them is carried on so persistently and scientifically that the rodents are never allowed to gain unmanageable headway. During the rainy weather, however, when the rivers back up into the cellars of the wharf houses and docks, the rats are driven up from their holes in such numbers that one might think a plague of the creatures had suddenly visited New York. At such times the rat-killers are called upon to make extra exertions in destroying them, and every ferret in the town is in active operation. These ferrets are trained to their work, but they are not always able to penetrate the lowest strongholds of the rats, where their nests are built. Hence it is that new broods are brought forth every season, and the supply is kept up indefinitely.
One of the latest methods of destroying the young of the rats is to train snakes for the work. A good-sized snake can wriggle in almost any hole that a small rat will enter. A snake is too quick for a rat to escape, and when he strikes it is sure death for the rodent. The average snake prefers young rats to large ones, and he will go hunting for the delicate morsels to the neglect of the parents. A good trained snake will smell a nest of young rats a long distance off, and once the scent is taken up it is never dropped until the prey is captured.
Black snakes, garter snakes, grass snakes, and common garden snakes all make good rat catchers, but it requires an expert to train them. If turned loose in a warehouse the average snake will take to the first rat hole, but he will not return to his owner again. It is the retrieving that makes the snake valuable.
MUST BE TRAINED YOUNG
‘We train snakes when they are very young,’ explained one of the pioneers in this new industry. ‘We started in first to rid our own establishment of mice and rats. We found that one good black snake could gorge himself with more mice than the best cat, and day after day he would return to the chase. A snake brought up on mice and rats acquires a great taste for them, and as he grows older his capacity increases. I have had black snakes in my bunch that would average six or seven young rats a day, and would never tire of the diet. With half a dozen snakes one can clean a house of young rats in a short time.
‘It is quite impossible to train an old snake to return willingly, but we can induce them to enter traps baited with young rats after they have cleaned out a building. In this way it is possible to secure good results without much previous preparation.
‘One of the disadvantages about using snakes for this work is that the building must be shut up overnight, and sometimes for several days, so the snakes themselves cannot escape. This is all right in some warehouses where no work is going on sometimes for weeks at a time. We can go in where there is stored grain or freight and take complete possession of the building. We let the snakes operate there for days and nights in succession. We won’t see anything of the reptiles, it may be, for nearly a week, and then one by one they will crawl back from the holes and hunt around in the opening for prey. We know then that the rats are pretty well cleaned up, and the snakes are hunting for new pastures.
‘We frequently turn snakes loose in cellars of stores and then shut down the doors, warning all the occupants of the building to keep out of the way. Of course some officious janitor will sometimes break the rules and penetrate the cellar, and if he isn’t frightened out of his wits by the snakes it is the fault of his nerves. A snake pursuing a rat across a dark cellar is not a sight to steady one’s nerves. If baffled in his work by the intrusion of any one the black snake will more than likely turn upon the intruder and hiss at him. The reptile is harmless, but his appearance and attitude are not pleasant.
‘We were ordered to clean out the rats from a down-town candy store one day this Summer when the building was being overhauled. Most of the packing and candy-making girls were away for their two weeks’ vacation, and the ferrets and the snakes had full possession of the building. Now snakes and rats are both fond of sweet things. In that cellar there were a score or two of nests, and the young rats offered a great feast to the snakes.
SNAKES FOND OF SUGAR
‘But after cleaning out the young rats the snakes were perfectly contented to stay in the cellar. Plenty of candy had been carried into the holes by the rats, and the wrapping paper and boxes were also saturated with sugar. In fact, the whole cellar was sweet, fairly reeking with sugar, chocolate and sweetmeats. There was enough to last the snakes for months, and they just stayed in the holes gorging themselves with candy and sugar.
‘We had pretty hard work to entice them from their holes. Somebody suggested milk, and we tried this, and sure enough they did visit a pan of milk every night. I don’t know what for, as I have never seen a snake drink milk yet. They simply did, and we managed to capture them in this way. They would swim around in the milk can, and we could stand by and catch them.”