By Lisa Maria Garza and Heide Brandes
DALLAS/OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - The heavy rains that have pelted Texas and Oklahoma this week have brought some unexpected visitors to homes in the region, like the 4-foot (1.22-meter) rat snake that found cover in an unexpected spot at Jeff Lara's residence.
"I opened my grill cover and he jumped at me," said Lara, who lives Edmond, north of Oklahoma City.
Wildlife officials have warned that flooding in Texas and Oklahoma is causing snakes, alligators and other reptiles to seek dry land in populated areas.
They have responded to numerous calls for help, but Lara took matters into his own hands.
"The snake coiled back up, and I took a shovel, scooped him up and tossed him in the yard. He just slithered away," Lara said.
Non-venomous rat snakes, which can grow up to six feet (1.83 meters) in length and frequent states including Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma, help keep the rodent population down.
But flooding has displaced the creatures, with removal services such as 911 Wildlife, which has contracts with several Texas cities, receiving reports of more than 1,000 of the snakes in North Texas and Houston homes.
"The important thing is not to try and kill the snake because that's how people get bitten. If you're trying to hit it with something, then the snake is going to strike and defend itself," said Bonnie Bradshaw, with 911 Wildlife.
Police have cautioned parents to keep their children clear of flood waters because it is mating season for alligators, creating hazards for anyone nearby.
"Alligators travel great distances this time of year and having more water to do it in certainly facilitates it," said Major Chad Norvell with Fort Bend County Sheriff's Department in Texas.
Another threat lurking in flood waters is stinging fire ants, according to Bradshaw.
"They will form a mat on the surface of the water," Bradshaw said.
"If people see something that looks like a brown rug floating, that's a nest. Stay away.”
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz)