SNAKES ARE AROUND NOW THAN AT ANY OTHER TIME OF THE YEAR
by Whit Gibbons
August 17, 2008
One of my
favorite seasons in the Southeast is late summer and fall. The probability
that nonsweltering weather will punctuate more and more days during the
week is enjoyed by almost everyone. My pleasure is enhanced because baby
snakes and lizards are beginning to emerge. This may not be everyone's
idea of a good time; in fact, I am absolutely positive it is not why most
people appreciate autumn's arrival. But seeing the babies of three species
of snakes that people have brought in to be identified has made this an
exciting week for me.
fact is that the numbers of most North American snakes are greater in
late summer and fall than any other time of the year. And baby snakes
are often more visible because they are moving around looking for their
first meal. Snakes are important components of our natural environments,
but because of fearful attitudes that still persist in our society, they
need any good press they can get. Hence, I feel justified in writing once
again about snakes.
snakes are born in August or September. Due to natural deaths, the actual
numbers of every species will decrease each month from fall until this
time next year. Baby snakes often make their debut on roads, in carports,
or on patios as they search for their first meal. Because they are more
active aboveground than usual, they are more likely to be seen. Some species,
such as timber/canebrake rattlesnakes, mate in the fall. The big males
are often seen crossing roads or wandering around in woods and fields
searching for females.
snake inquiries I receive are from people wanting to be assured that the
snake in their yard is not one of the six venomous species native to the
Southeast: coral snake, cottonmouth moccasin, copperhead, and three rattlesnake
species, timber/canebrake, pygmy, and eastern diamondback. I am wary of
identifying a snake based only on someone's verbal description, even though
I may think I know what it is. Digital photography has been a boon in
identifying snakes and other animals. An email with a brief description
of location and habitat, accompanied by a photo of the snake itself is
usually all that is required. If you want a snake identified, send a photo
if you can.
snakes are harmless. Clearly, some protect themselves with fangs and venom,
and under certain circumstances people end up the victims. Among such
species is the colorful but potentially deadly coral snake. J. D. Willson,
a University of Georgia graduate student at the Savannah River Ecology
Laboratory, caught a coral snake this week and brought it to the house
so I could show the grandchildren what these rare and beautiful animals
look like. Children need to know that some snakes can hurt you and that
they should not pick up any snake unless they are with a knowledgeable
adult who knows it is a harmless species. Snakes are not out to hurt or
bother anyone--they just want to be left alone to find food, a mate, or
a hiding place. Snakes never come looking for you.
Our natural environments, which include snakes, are priceless. Because
of people's feelings toward these sinuous reptiles, snakes serve as a
barometer of the public's sensitivity toward wildlife and natural habitats.
Attitudes about snakes are one measure of the extent of environmental
education in a region. The simplest rule for anyone who does not like
snakes is to leave them alone. But a more productive approach is to get
to know someone who is knowledgeable about and comfortable with snakes.
The more you learn about the habitats and behavior of your native wildlife,
such as snakes, the more you'll enjoy those late summer and autumn walks,
even if it's just a stroll around your own backyard.
will probably never learn to accept snakes as agreeable or even tolerable
components of our native habitats. But such mind-sets are dwindling as
society becomes more attuned to the minor risks and major benefits that
accrue when we protect all of our native wildlife species.
you have an environmental question or comment, email