AND QUESTIONS ARRIVE IN THE SPRING: PART II
last week's column, I noted that as snakes begin to make their appearance
in the spring, I receive an increasing number of questions about them.
Here are a few more.
Q. On your
you say the eastern diamondback rattlesnake and the canebrake rattler
have the same genus (Crotalus).
does the pygmy rattlesnake have a different genus name (Sistrurus)?
Is it not a true rattlesnake? And what is a rattlesnake, anyway - other
than a snake with rattles on its tail?
is a term that refers to any of the several species of snakes that have
a string of segments (the rattle) at the end of the tail; they acquire
a segment each time they shed their skin.
belong to the genus Crotalus, but two species (the pygmy rattler
of the Southeast and the massasauga, found in the Midwest and as far
north as southern Canada) have head scale configurations that are different
from the other rattlesnakes.
consider these two species in the genus Sistrurus to be more
closely related to each other than to any of the species in the genus
purpose do the snake's rattles serve? Is it the obvious one - scaring
predators away - and if so, what predators does it work on? Aren't rattlers
at the top of their food chain?
large, terrestrial snakes vibrate their tails when threatened by a predator
(or person) and debate continues among herpetologists about the function
of the rattles. Having them certainly ensures that the snake will get
including rattlers, are at the top of the food chain in being carnivorous.
But they can be eaten by other predators, such as raccoons, foxes, coyotes,
and bobcats, and a rattling snake might make a mammal predator have
has been proposed that in the western species rattling was adaptive
in keeping buffalo or other hoofed animals from stepping on the snake.
hypothesis that has been proposed is that rattles are sometimes used
as a lure for small mammals that can be attracted to a clicking sound
like an insect might make.
Q. Do king
snakes really keep other snakes away?
kingsnakes, a species found across the continent from the Atlantic in
the Southeast to the Pacific in California, are immune to the venom
of pit vipers (copperheads, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes) and have been
documented to eat them.
encounter a pit viper in the wild and it is small enough to eat, the
kingsnake will bite it, kill it by constriction, then swallow it whole.
kingsnakes and pit vipers of any kind are found in the same area, the
former probably reduce the numbers of the latter. However, migrant pit
vipers can wander into an area and go a long time without encountering
a kingsnake that will eat them.
Q. I am
afraid of snakes being around where I live and have looked into a bunch
of different chemicals on the Internet that claim to keep snakes away.
Some of them are mothballs, lime, soil acidifier, and sulfur.
products designed specifically for the purpose of repelling snake, supposedly
after studies have been conducted, are also available.
A. I get
asked about snake repellents quite often. So far I have found no evidence
that snakes outdoors can be deterred by any of the chemicals you mention
or by any commercial product touted to ward off snakes.
mothballs, sulfur, or other foul-smelling chemical was used to keep
snakes away, I doubt that any normal person would want to remain in
that is sometimes cited regarding snakes that avoided certain chemicals
was based on snakes held in a tightly enclosed area, not outdoors.
as I know, no effective snake repellent exists - they all reside, as
it were, in the realm of the snake oil salesman.
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