As July 16th was World Snake Day, I shall delight you, I hope, with a couple of recent snake encounters.
For the past four years I have been supplementing my income (and compensating for the lack of income from my wife Rose) during the warm seasons by working as a wildlife zoologist for an environmental group. Whenever there is a major infrastructure project (gas pipeline, electrical transmission line, road and bridge work) and federal and/or state endangered wildlife species are known to live in the area, then qualified wildlife zoologists must be present not only to protect the wild species but also the workmen. For the projects I have worked in southern Ohio, the species we protect is the state endangered and persecuted species the Timber Rattlesnake. These jobs pay well but are time consuming and heat exhaustion is a concern for my 71-year-old body.
Read the excellent book “America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake” by Ted Levin, 2016, if you are curious about this beautiful snake. Another book that is a good read is by Thomas Palmer “Landscape with Reptile: rattlesnakes in an urban world. The author lives in Milton MA and focuses his discussion on the small population of Timber Rattlesnakes in the Blue Hills of Quincy and Milton. My maternal grandmother’s grandparents had a farm off Chickatawbut Road in Milton, and she had encountered them as a girl although I never found them when I went climbing at the Quincy Quarries or hiking in the Blue Hills. I lived in Cambridge as a Harvard undergraduate student. Grandma Mabel and Aunt Liz lived in west Milton and I visited frequently; this was a huge bonus for me being accepted to Harvard College.
The first photo was taken this month when Rose finally spotted Bernadette near the house. She is a Midland Black Ratsnake who was here when we bought the farm 14 years ago. At that time, she was 42 inches long and had a noticeable scar about ¼ the way down her body from the head. Over the years we usually find her once or twice and have documented her growth. This year she was at least 80 inches long and about 8 pounds in weight which is close to a record for this species; I estimate that she is minimally 20 years old. She has a smorgasbord here on the farm: chicken eggs, occasionally a chick, but especially chipmunks and mice that are abundant because of spilled chicken feed and seeds kicked out from the songbird feeders whom we feed year-round. We see numerous other black rat snakes of various sizes on the farm and they are most likely her offspring. Traditional farmers respect this species of snake as beneficial.
The second photo (where is the snake? and what is it?) came from a former student of mine who is a local physician; her husband discovered it in their backyard, right here in the city. Even though she had earned an A in my herpetology course years ago, she wasn’t sure what it was, so sent me the photo. With my trained eyes I immediately knew it was a venomous Copperhead, related to rattlesnakes, but hardly dangerous. Unfortunately, here in Appalachian Ohio any snake that has some sort of patterning is thought to be a Copperhead, even when the head is black or brown. During the 41 years living here I have rescued and identified hundreds of snakes and rarely are they copperheads. Another myth in the area is that Copperheads smell like sliced cucumbers so if you detect that smell walking in the woods, then beware; this is aa false notion along with Milk Snakes (another common snake of farms) milking cows.
What snake stories do you have?
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