Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Warning: Snakes May Cause Marital Stress

I can't explain why, but looking for snakes in the wild is one of my most favorite things to do. I think that I would rather find a cool snake or other reptile when I am hiking than a gold nugget. For me hiking is usually just a bi-product of my searches for snakes. I have tried to figure out why I have this obsession (so has my wife) but I haven't been able to yet. I just know that I like to be around other herpers because it makes me feel normal. I currently have 6 snakes. This is 6 snakes too many for my wife. She has never held one. She gave me a limit of 4 snakes and said that if I get any more, I would have to choose between the snakes and her. She is just lucky that I am not fond of burmese pythons, which can get to be more than 20 feet long. All of my snakes except 1 have been purchased and not taken from the wild. I usually release the snakes I catch in the same spot that I caught them, but some snakes are more difficult to release than others. It would be a dream for me to visit SW Texas and find an alterna (Gray-banded Kingsnake) even though they can be bought under $100 locally. I guess this is the equivalent of a fly-fisherman spending a lot of time and money to catch something that could have been purchased cheaply at the local supermarket.
So far this year, I have caught a variety of snakes. Wandering Garter Snakes and Black Headed Garter Snakes are so common around here that it would be unusual to not find them in most areas. I have found them in the valleys and also high up in the mountains. At Payson Lakes, UT 2 days ago I found a Wandering Garter Snake at an elevation of about 8,000 feet. Gopher snakes are also very common around here. Almost every time I go 4-wheeling in the summer, I find them. Last week when riding bikes up the canyon we happened upon a 3 ft long Gopher Snake (they can grow over 6 ft). It hissed at us when I picked it up. Some people call this snake a blow snake because of the hissing characteristic. Gopher Snakes make good pets because they almost always eat well in captivity and calm down easily. Even this hissing Gopher Snake calmed down enough to release the neck after just seconds and didn't try to bite. I have only been bitten by 1 adult gopher snake and I have handled many. They just need to be given assurance that they are safe. A few weeks ago I caught 2 Western Yellow Belly Racers. These are beautiful snakes (some field herpers scoff at Racers, but I like them). After catching the second Racer, I rolled over a rotten log and found some young mice. I grabbed 3 of them and put them into the same bag as the Racer. It immediately latched on to one of the mice and began swallowing. (Captive care note: if you ever have a snake that is determined not to eat, catch a wild mouse in an area away from farms and pesticides. Stun the mouse by shaking it hard in a container and use it to rub scent on store bought frozen/thawed mice. Scenting may require killing the wild mouse and cutting it open. This seems mean, but it may save your snake because the wild scent is almost irresistible) The Racers were later released in the same area. Racer is a good name for this snake. They are very fast when they are warmed up.