BRIDGEPORT — For Janeen Perutis, seeing even one snake is one too many.
And yet her backyard in the 3200 block of South Green Street is teeming with them.
“It's like the plague ... This isn't one or two cute little green snakes. These are about 12 inches long are mostly black in color and are all over,” she said.
Ken Castle, owner of Rex's Landscaping, said Perutis wasn't exaggerating.
“They’re loaded over there. We do have snake repellent that keeps them away for a month or so. It doesn’t do anything tremendous but it helps,” he said.
Castle and his crew said the snakes were prevalent near 30th Street and Throop Avenue, and 32nd and Green streets, where during a recent visit four garter snakes were spotted as landscaping crews mowed a residential backyard.
Why the abundance in Bridgeport?
Some say that the construction of Bridgeport Village, the tony set of homes on the eastern bank of Bubbly Creek, sent the snakes slithering into the surrounding area.
Perutis heard a story about the demolition of the grotto outside the defunct St. George Parish at 33rd Street and Lituanica Avenue. The story goes that when the grotto was torn down, “the snakes flew out.”
Scott Ballard, a herpetologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, offers a simpler explanation.
“It’s not a snake problem as much as it is a rodent problem" because the snakes eat rodents, he said. "And it’s not that there’s an abundance. They’re just noticing them more."
Ballard said the cold-blooded reptiles surface in the warmer months, then track rodents through yards and alleys.
Illinois snakes, he said, are overwhelmingly harmless. They're not aggressive, they won't chase you, and "they're one of the few animals that can’t pass on disease to us."
Ballard said common snakes found in residential Chicago areas include brown snakes, fox snakes, water snakes, smooth green snakes, prairie king snakes and eastern milk snakes.
Those species are nothing to worry about, he said.
According to the DNR, most of the venomous varieties in the state make their homes in Southern Illinois. One notable exception is the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, which can be found in Cook County, but spotting one is a rarity. They're on the state's endangered species list, and there have been no confirmed reports in the city in years.
Ballard said common garter snakes were good for pest control. They swallow up to nine pounds of mice and rats in a year.
“They’re not warm and fuzzy and cuddly like most animals we encounter, but they are more beneficial and they help us," he said.
Concerned about a backyard snake? Ballard welcomes questions from residents via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.