Friday, March 19, 2010

Good Snakes Are Still Snakes, Or Why I Don't Always Want My Instinct to Be Right

Last weekend, I got a start on a project I intended to work on over the winter, clearing brush at the edge of our forest and around the blackberries. The former property owners had a size-able area where they apparently threw logs, tree branches, etc. This was worrisome because the discard/grown over brush pile is next to the where the blackberries grow. Blackberries on their own tend to be overgrown and brushy. So, the entire created habitat seemed the perfect home to animals of the slithering nature. In other words, it seemed SSSSSNAKEY..... ICK!

Now here's a bit of little known trivia. In a former life (just five years or so ago but it feels like a lifetime) I had a little part time job helping at a small zoo with some education classes. Even though, I'm personally quite nervous with snakey snakes, there were snakes I had to show for reptile classes. As I was working with children, and truly didn't want to scar them for life, I dredged up the fortitude to actually put my hand into the cages, pick up the snakes, and show them off to the children. (I never would have thought I had it in me. The things we do for money.) Surprisingly, I didn't hate it. It wasn't comfortable, but I didn't hate it.

The problem is that in real life, the same non-threatening, good for the planet reptiles are enough to send me into cardiac arrest. I mean my heart really gets a work out when I stumble upon them in their own habitat, i.e. THE WILD.

This happened this afternoon. I decided to put in time continuing on with the brush and grabbed my gloves and the wheelbarrow with my tools and headed down to that part of the yard. As I reached the cultivator into a pile of branches I saw one suspiciously loopy coily branch right in the center of the pile. Apart from nearly stopping my heart, this called for an immediate suspension of activity so I could go get my camera. I've found it's a lot easier to identify a photo of a snake than the memory of a snake. This is especially so when you're a bit snake phobic.

Turns out, that as I thought, this was a harmless little fellow (or fellowette), a simple Black Racer. After I had my camera, I gently (with the cultivator) moved a branch obscuring my view. The write-ups say that when a black racer is startled he will either flee quickly or bite. My snake didn't do either of those things but I think this may be explained by the temperature dropping this evening and him being a bit sluggish. I did some work nearby for a few minutes and when I looked over the snakey was gone.

So, turns out the brush pile by the blackberries is indeed sssssnakey...

Snake Identification Help: The University of Georgia has a nice page about Black Racers. Also, the Florida Museum of Natural History has a really helpful Layman's Identification Key. This is specific to Florida snakes but as snakes are no respecter of governmental boundaries it works pretty well for south Mississippi too. Last but not least (well in the case, kind of least), Mississippi State University Extension has an online identification tool. I mention it because it IS specific to south Mississippi but I have to be honest and say that I think the Florida one is better and that the Mississippi tool needs a little refining. I haven't had a lot of luck with it.


  1. Oooh! I hate snakes. I cannot muster up the courage to go into the reptile house at the zoo. Ick. We had a big snake hiding behind our dog house on our back porch. My son wanted a picture so he climbed on top and took one. I couldn't get that close. Just hate them!

  2. Reminds me of a college friend (who will hate more for this post). She can't watch that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the one with the snakes in the pit, totally phobic. Like I said, I get really freaked out when I see them outside, but where I am right now I see them so often that I'm kind of getting better about it.

  3. So no nature walks with aunt bethany in the snakey areas!!! *S* -Lu

  4. Whatever discomfort we feel around snakes, imagine how the snakes must feel to be minding their own business when suddenly a creature of Brobdignagian proportions interrupts! (I tend to be overly empathetic at times.)

  5. You know- how you feel about snakes is how I feel about spiders, although I can't imagine myself touching one for all the money- ok, maybe a million haha.

    I hope you can get it cleared out without too many more snakeys. Do you know that song from the 70's I think it was, called Sneaky Snake? For some reason this reminded me of that song :) But that snake stole rootbeer :)

  6. Fragile Wisdom, INDEED!

    Intelli, I understand about the empathy. After I read about the snakes I started worrying that if I keep clearing I'll disrupt a nest of eggs and hurt them. I told Fin and he said, "Let me get this straight. You're afraid of keeping a hundred little black snakes from roaming all over the backyard?" Hard to understand sometimes. :)

    Wiz, funny about the song. I hadn't thought of that. When I was growing up my mother never let us kill spiders. We had to carefully round them up with a glass and carry them outside. (Seriously)

  7. Lu, I'm sure Patricia would just go get her nature journal so we could draw a picture. :) Right?

  8. I think the guy on the fence was bigger. Do you have a picture of that one?

  9. Oh the one on the fence (red rat snake) was WAY bigger. I think between 5 and 6 feet. I don't think I can post it in comments because I don't think you can use html on blogspot comments. Haven't tried it.

  10. The problem with snakes and other creatures in the wild is that they have no manners. They think nothing of just appearing without warning at the most unexpected times.


Please play nicely.