SNAKES ARE AROUND NOW THAN AT ANY OTHER TIME OF THE YEAR
September 23, 2012
August began with an outstanding encounter in the woods when my grandson and I
found an enormous canebrake rattlesnake stretched out in front of a tree stump.
The snake rattled at us and then languidly crawled into a large hole beneath the
stump. It was in the same place on three more visits over the next two weeks.
Those visits were cool enough, but the fifth visit was really special. The big
snake was still there, and stretched or coiled around the stump were five baby
Rattlesnakes do not lay eggs. They are livebearers, so the mother is around, intentionally
or not, to protect her newborn young. Within a day or so after birth, a snake
generally sheds its skin. Sure enough, when we went back to our family cabin three
days after seeing the babies, we found five shed skins around the stump--and no
snakes. My grandson is pleased to know that at least six canebrake rattlesnakes
are roaming around in the woods we enjoy walking through. So am I.
Most North American snakes are born between midsummer and early fall. The baby
rattlesnakes emphasize a point I have made before--more snakes are present in
early autumn than at any other time of the year. Most snakes mate in the spring,
so adults are usually more conspicuous then, usually within a few days or weeks
after winter is over. But across the country, all snake species actually reach
their highest numbers in August and September because of the appearance of hatchlings.
Rat snakes, corn snakes, kingsnakes, and racers are among the kinds that lay eggs
in early summer; these hatch in late summer. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths,
and watersnakes hold their babies in the body and give live birth during the same
Due to natural mortality rates that affect all animal species, the actual population
size of every snake species begins to decrease by midautumn. More small snakes
are likely to be seen in the fall because the recently born young are moving around
in search of their first meal while it is still warm. By spring, most of the newcomers
have been consumed by predators or died in other ways.
following information about how to identify a snake you encounter bears repeating.
Sending an email with an attached photo from a cell phone is fast becoming an
easy and effective approach. Email the photo to email@example.com.
If you didn't get a picture, send as good a description as possible of what you
photo accompanied by pertinent descriptors generally leads to ready identification.
But poor picture quality or the absence of key physical features in the photo
can make identification difficult. Be sure to tell where you saw the snake. If
any behavioral observations seem noteworthy, 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. With live snakes, however, most people are lucky to get a
single photo of the snake as it is leaving--or the person is. Fortunately, a whole
body shot is usually sufficient for proper identification.
identify snakes of the Southeast, as well as other reptiles and amphibians, visit
the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory website, srelherp.uga.edu.
Note that some species are highly variable in coloration and pattern, and the
young of some look very different from the adults. Geographic variation can make
identifying some snakes especially difficult, so check all photos for a species.
out just what animal you saw in your yard can be gratifying. And in the case of
the 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