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Before we get to the story though I'd like to mention that this site gets regular hits, like 20 to 50 per months, almost all the result of Google searches. I've posted the search terms that generated hits at the bottom of the page. Some make a lot of sense to me and some are a little odd but there they are. When I bought this domain I thought I'd keep it for a year and then drop it but people keep ending up here so I thought I'd leave the story and what science I turned up that actually addresses the age old question; Do mothballs protect you from snakes?

I have only encountered this in one place; Kentucky.

Nothing against the state itself mind you, it's a beautiful place with great caves and rivers and a hill or two. Attractive place to drive through and visit though personally I choose to live elsewhere. Now I don't know how widespread this belief is but I've personally never encountered it anywhere else. That would be the belief that mothballs (naphthalene) repels snakes.

I'm a science geek by trade and I tend to read whatever literature there is before believing much of anything. In this case we were staying at Mammoth Cave national park in the hotel near the visitors center. One evening my kids (4 1/2 and 2) came over to the outdoor patio where we were sitting and held up about 10 mothballs. Apparently they noticed them between the little cabins we were staying in and thought that little white smelly balls were fun to play with (titter titter). While they may be fun they are also toxic;


Naphthalene is used in the production of phthalic anhydride; it is also used in mothballs. Acute (short-term) exposure of humans to naphthalene by inhalation, ingestion, and dermal contact is associated with hemolytic anemia, damage to the liver, and neurological damage. Cataracts have also been reported in workers acutely exposed to naphthalene by inhalation and ingestion. Chronic (long-term) exposure of workers and rodents to naphthalene has been reported to cause cataracts and damage to the retina. Hemolytic anemia has been reported in infants born to mothers who "sniffed" and ingested naphthalene (as mothballs) during pregnancy. Available data are inadequate to establish a causal relationship between exposure to naphthalene and cancer in humans. EPA has classified naphthalene as a Group C, possible human carcinogen.

My kids have never seen mothballs because I know they're toxic so I don't buy them (I feed the moths to our pet spider "Princess Fairy Mermaid Oddette", named by my daughter!). It's not particularly easy to show your kids every single substance in the world and inform them which ones they shouldn't play with you see. So I took the mothballs away the disposed of them but then I went looking around the edge of the woods behind the cabin and found, oh, maybe 60 or so more. After that the kids played around the front of the cabins.

The cleaning ladies came by a little while later and I asked them why there were mounds of mothballs in the grass. They replied; "keeps the cottonmouths away". I was then regaled with tales of baby cottonmouths the size of your finger effectively chasing the cleaning ladies around the building many many times or something. They were terrified of them. Now, my dad raised and traded snakes all my life so I have no problem with them - that said I understand a natural fear of poisonous snakes. Well snakes in general in a lot of cases. The cleaning ladies also informed me that the national park doesn't run the hotel, it's leased out to someone else and they were specifically told, by their manager, to NOT tell any guests about the amazingly prolific cottonmouths rampaging around in the grass.

Some website says that this is a cottonmouth;

I've never actually seen one in person so I can't confirm this but if a real cottonmouth looks anything like this, I'd be scared too.

So back to mothballs; I asked the cleaning ladies if mothballs were actually effective in repelling cottonmouths. After they stared at me for a few seconds I asked them; "do they work?"..... They informed me that they always worked, that they put them all around their houses and in their kids rooms to keep the snakes out and that mothballs were a perfect snake repelent and also repeled eveything else in the nature including spiders and bats and deers and scary woodland things. You get the picture. I imagine their houses redolent with naphthalene and their children hanging mothballs on strings around their necks and stuffing them in all sorts of horrible places. Ick. No.

So I went to the visitors center and asked for the biologist. Not there. Anyone in charge? Yes, and a few minutes later I was discussing snakes and mothballs with someone else who was apparently from around there. This person said; "well I don't know if it works but I've always done it to keep the snakes back". This is a senior park ranger mind you. I ended up talking to 4 or 5 rangers, all of whom used mothballs COPIOUSLY and had no idea if it was actually effective. Given the empirical evidence that the cottonmouths hadn't eaten them yet or buried them in a cold blooded pile of reptilian love, they continued the practice.

One ranger who had less of an accent said that she'd seen papers showing that putting mothballs in your attic will keep bats from nesting there and that they were effective against moles if you drop them in the hole. That said, she put them in her treeline to keep the snakes away too.

I asked the manager of the hotel if she could describe naphthalene toxicity in a 2 year old. Blank stare. I told her that I'd heard that the mothballs behind the cabins were put there to repel snakes and she responded that they never used mothballs at all and that there were no snakes. I reminded her that I had actually looked behind the cabins personally and she said; "they're all back there to keep off the deers". I believe that that's an accurate quote anyway. So I did the "liar liar pants on fire" finger at her and told her that she really aught to tell guests not to let their kids play with mothballs. I know she didn't. I just know it.

Being the idiot that I am this idea stuck in my head; that it is up to me to discover the truth and inform people FOR THE CHILDREN. Or something. I really am an idiot you see.

Anyway I finally got around to talking to some biologist types and interneting a bit and discover that naphthalene is probably NOT effective in repelling at least some snakes in the wild. It in fact probably makes them think they're at home everywhere they smell it. Here's a paper;



DENNIS M. FERRARO, Urban Pest Management, University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension, 8015 West Center Road, Omaha, NE 68124

Abstract: The efficacy of naphthalene, sulfur, and a commercial combination of these chemicals as a repellent against the plains
garter snake (Thamnophis radix) was investigated. Behavioral tests were conducted using 96 recently captured snakes to determine
whether significant avoidance results from the presence of these chemicals. Field tests were performed at 24 locations in
the snakes' home range and in unfamiliar habitats. In both home ranges and unfamiliar habitats application of potential repellents
did not result in significant avoidance behavior. The snakes may be able to sense these volatile chemicals, but the stimuli
were unable to alter their behavior. Based on this study, tendency to seek cover, refuge, familiar habitat, or to investigate unfamiliar
areas was stronger than deterrence of the chemicals. Because the substances tested did not elicit avoidance behavior in the
plains garter snake, usage of these repellents should be discouraged. Habitat modification for snake management is discussed as
an alternative to the application of chemical repellents.

Pages 116-120 in R.E. Masters and J.G. Huggins, eds. Twelfth
Great Plains Wildl. Damage Control Workshop Proc, Published
by Noble Foundation, Ardmore, Okla.

Here's a website;


Dr. Tís Snake-A-Way (7 percent naphthalene and 28 percent sulfur), a commercial snake repellent, was not successful in repelling gopher snakes (Marsh 1993), western rattlesnakes (Marsh 1993), brown tree snakes (McCoid et al. 1993), and plains garter snakes (Ferraro 1995). Napthalene and sulfur used individually were also not effective in repelling plains garter snakes (Ferraro 1995).

Several potential home remedies were evaluated to determine if they would repel black rat snakes. Treatments tested included gourd vines, moth balls, sulfur, cedar oil, a tacky bird repellent, lime, cayenne pepper spray, sisal rope, coal tar and creosote, liquid smoke, artificial skunk scent, and musk from a king snake (they eat other snakes) (San Julian and Woodward 1985). None of these remedies repelled black rat snakes.

Currently, there is not enough conclusive data to recommend these repellents for snakes.

So what do you folks think?
Should you spread mothballs everywhere to stave off the imminent invasion of the snake armies eagerly planing your demise in the wood line?
Should I start a holy war against mothballs in national parks?
Should you ask these and other questions in the FORUMS ? Yes!


I just noticed that my ISP tracks search engine keywords that resulted in a click through to this website. As I found the terms amusing I will start doing monthly updates of the search terms people are using;

May 2011

  1. how to keep cotton mouths away
  2. are mothball effective against snakes
  3. cedar smell black rat snakes
  4. cleaning mothballs away
  5. cottonmouth and moth balls
  6. do cotton balls repel cottonmouths
  7. do moth balls keep cottonmouth away
  8. do moth balls repel snakes
  9. effectiveness of moth balls against snakes
  10. exposure to mothballs in pregnancy
  11. garter snakes moth balls
  12. [My favorite; did this person expect an actual answer to this question?]how many of the plains garter snake were there in 1995
  13. how to lay out moth crystals to repel snakes
  14. how to repel cottonmouths
  15. how to spread out mothballs for snake repellent
  16. infants and mothballs
  17. moth ball test snake
  18. moth balls grass
  19. mothball in attic
  20. mothball pregnancy

April 2011

  1. mothball exposure pregnancy
  2. are moth balls harmful when pregnant
  3. creosote is it effective in repelling snakes
  4. moth balls during pregnancy
  5. mothball lime sulfur
  6. mothballs cottonmouths
  7. things to repel snakes in caves
  8. [My favorite; who indeed!]who has ever put mothballs in their attic

March 2011

  1. ingestion of naphthalene mothball
  2. moth balls during pregnancy
  3. mothball exposure
  4. mothball pregnancy
  5. mothballs pregnancy
  6. naphthalene snake
  7. rat snake moth balls
  8. [My favorite; I want to meet this person, we would get along.]scientific test mothballs as snake repellent
  9. snakes and mothballs
I forgot to update for a while - here's the latest;

January 2013

  1. do mothballs repel snakes
  2. mothballs and snakes
  3. moth balls for rat repellent
  4. mothballs rats
  5. are moth balls harmful to grass
  6. [A good and reasonable question!]are mothballs harmful to pregnant women
  7. do mothballs chase away snakes
  8. moth balls and cayane pepper
  9. moth balls and pregnancy
  10. moth balls and rats
  11. moth balls blake snake
  12. moth balls for repelling snakes
  13. moth balls snakes
  14. mothball pregnancy
  16. mothballs deter snakes
  17. mothballs repell
  18. naphtalene moth balls for rats
  19. naphthalene balls rats So the forums I set up got HAMMERED by scammers or something, posting images and then linking to them or something, I have no idea but, yeah,
    Monthly Statistics for August 2013
    Total Hits 198367
    Total Files 41627
    Total Pages 142856
    Total Visits 7512
    Total KBytes 608830
    Total Unique Sites 3206
    Total Unique URLs 2
    Total Unique Referrers 315
    Total Unique User Agents 548
    I've never seen that many hits before so I must have done something to attract every single person selling fake handbags, rings, watches, pillows, you name it. Here's the list. Search term time

    August 2013

    1. mothballs and snakes
    2. moth balls snakes
    3. do mothballs repel snakes
    4. does mothballs repel snakes
    5. snakes and moth balls
    6. will mothballs repel snakes
    7. mothballs snakes
    8. anything
    9. are moth balls a snake repellent
    10. are rats repelled by moth balls
    11. can moth balls deter snakes
    12. [Wrong site buddy, move along]cotton balls and snakes
    13. do moth balls chase snake
    14. do moth balls deter black snakes
    15. do moth balls deter snakes
    16. do moth balls repel snakes
    17. do mothballs deter snakes
    18. does mothballs deter snakes
    19. does snake repellent contain mothballs
    20. does snakes eat moth balls