WILL SEE MORE SNAKES IN THE FALL
September 4, 2011
next month or so, more snakes will be present than at any other time of
the year, which always prompts people to ask snake questions. Here are
two I've received this year.
Q. I live
in a rural area and each year around this time I see or hear of others
seeing small snakes (I assume they are babies), but most of the rattlesnakes
are big ones, usually crossing roads. Why the difference?
North American snakes are born between midsummer and early fall. Snakes
are especially conspicuous in the spring when they first emerge from winter
dormancy, but they actually reach their highest numbers in August and
September. These include the hatchlings of snakes that lay eggs (such
as kingsnakes, rat snakes, racers, and ringneck snakes) and those that
hold their babies in the body and give live birth (for example, all rattlesnakes,
copperheads, and watersnakes).
Due to natural
mortality rates that affect any animal species, the actual population
size of every snake species begins to decrease beginning in late summer
or early fall. One reason for the prevalence of small snakes being sighted
in the fall is that the recently born young, like the adults, begin searching
for safe hiding places in which to spend the winter dormancy period. Some
baby snakes make their debut in carports or on patios as they search for
their first meal while it is still warm in early autumn. Because they
are more active aboveground at this time of year than they are in summer
or winter, they are more likely to be seen.
such as canebrake rattlesnakes (also called timber rattlers in the mountains),
mate in the fall rather than in the spring when most snakes and lizards
mate. Adult male canebrake rattlers get bigger on average than the females.
The big rattlesnakes seen crossing roads or moving around in woods and
fields at this time of year are generally males searching for females.
If a female that is ready to mate crosses a road, she may leave a scent
trail that can be recognized and followed by males. So for every female
moving around aboveground, several males may be tracking her, which results
in more males being seen on roads.
I don't see many snakes around our house (we live in a suburban area with
woods nearby), I do occasionally see one. I saw a fairly large one last
week that stayed long enough for me to take a photo with my cell phone.
How can I get the snake identified?
a photo to an email is a good way to get a snake identified by experts.
Photo quality and whether key physical features are visible can make a
difference, but a photo accompanied by pertinent information can lead
to ready identification in most cases. Be sure to tell where you saw the
snake, and if any behavioral observations seem noteworthy, you should
mention them. Sending photos of the top of the animal, a side profile,
a view of the belly, and a close-up of the head would be ideal. Most people,
however, are lucky to get a single photo of a snake as it is leaving.
Fortunately, that is usually sufficient.
southeastern snakes, as well as other reptiles and amphibians, check the
University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory website www.uga.edu/srelherp/.
If you are able to get a photo, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you didn't get a picture, send as good a description as possible of
what you saw.
just what animal you saw passing through your yard can be gratifying.
And in the case of the poor maligned snakes, familiarity may breed understanding
rather than contempt. You are likely to find that the interesting creature
living near you is nothing to worry about. Even in areas of the Southeast
where snakes abound, only about one species in six is venomous. Most of
the others couldn't hurt you if they tried.
you have an environmental question or comment, email