HAS A SNAKE PROBLEM
by Whit Gibbons
September 24, 2006
to be the autumn I didn't write about snakes, even though snakes are more
abundant right now than they will be until this time next year. I was
not going to mention snakes, even though they are a significant component
of ecosystems in all but the coldest of the world's climates. As top-of-the-food
chain carnivores, snakes are among the best environmental barometers of
I wasn't going to write about snakes was because I wrote about them last
fall and didn't want to belabor the point. But numerous calls and emails
about snakes in suburban neighborhoods suggest a need to reprise the message.
Plus, snakes have surfaced in another way that is far more threatening
than snakes themselves. Disquieting information from conservation biologists
about a little garter snake in Wisconsin should be noted by anyone concerned
about the environment. So . . . here's another column about snakes.
of the little Wisconsin snake concerns a reported attempt by state legislators
to ignore efforts designed to protect species that are threatened or endangered.
Butler's garter snake is a rare, inoffensive snake that lives around Milwaukee.
The snake's habitat has been targeted as prime development property. But
the snake is protected by the state as a threatened species. The response
should be, go develop somewhere else.
a Wisconsin legislative committee has ruled, according to a report I saw,
that the snake's protection should be removed. One conservation alert
states that "if the delisting takes effect, it will be the first
time in the nation's history" that a species in need of protection
"has been delisted for economic reasons and without sound scientific
data driving the decisions." If true, all of us should be concerned:
profit-making development would trump the protection of wildlife, habitat,
and our natural heritage. Such a decision could set a precedent for easing
the protection of wildlife species nationwide. This would decidedly not
be to our long-term advantage.
As for snakes
on the home front, the reason for the proliferation of snakes in some
residential areas, especially suburban neighborhoods constructed in the
forest homes of native wildlife only a few months or years ago, should
be obvious. Snakes and other wildlife still lay claim to territory where
we chose to build houses. My children were taught that snakes and other
native wildlife were here before we were. They were told to be careful
where they stepped, and if they saw a snake to stand back and enjoy watching
it. All native wildlife is fascinating and has a rightful place wherever
we find it, even in suburbia.
for those who have forgotten last year's column about snakes, the quick
1. More snakes
are seen in autumn because late summer and early fall are when most North
American snake babies appear. Those hatching from eggs, such as kingsnakes
and hognose snakes, emerge from their nests at this time of year. Snakes
in which the mothers have live births, such as rattlesnakes and watersnakes,
produce litters now. So, little snakes are everywhere.
snakes are seen more commonly in the fall than any other time because
that is when they mate. Large male rattlesnakes, for example, are frequently
seen crossing highways as they search for mates over several square miles.
snakebite in the United States is a rare event; each year more human deaths
are caused by dogs, horses, and lightning than by all U.S. snakes. Most
bites annually are by copperheads, yet practically no one ever dies from
a copperhead bite. Furthermore, snakebites from rattlesnakes, cottonmouths,
and coral snakes generally occur because someone picked up or tried to
kill the snake.
do not chase people. Of the hundreds of herpetologists who study and try
to catch snakes, none has ever seen a venomous snake in North America
chase a person.
don't be scammed by products that claim they will prevent snakes from
entering your property, even if they are sold in otherwise reputable stores.
In open areas outdoors, none of these products work as advertised. Using
enough to keep snakes away would make the property uninhabitable by people.
you have an environmental question or comment, email