Friday, August 1, 2008

Tree Hugger or Herper?

My younger brother, my son, my nephew, and I hiked up to Silver Lake (UT). I turned over every rock and dead log on the way up looking for snakes. I trick people into going hiking with me and it turns out to be a snake hunt. We only managed to find 3 Wandering Garter Snakes. One of them appeared to be a gravid female or at least it was very lumpy. All 3 snakes were found within feet of the creek. I have found so many Wandering Garters lately, its like finding a penny on the ground. I sometimes don't even pick them up. Don't get me wrong, I like all snakes, its just that the Wandering Garters are so common here. Most Garter Snakes are brown (One local collection of Garters is pretty awesome because of the diversity). Maybe color is the reason that they are so common. Maybe they would be heavily collected and wouldn't be so common if they had more red or orange (note: at least one Garter subspecies with red is nearly extinct in the wild). It would be very difficult for anyone to know for sure how bad collection harms wild populations, but it is interesting that the dull-looking snakes with only browns or grays seem to be abundant. In Florida, Gray Rat Snakes are considerably more abundant than the closely related Red Rat Snake and their habits/habitat are nearly identical. Gray Rat Snakes (Oak Snakes, as they are called) are almost non-existent in the pet trade, while Red Rat Snakes (Corn Snakes) are the most common snake available in the pet trade. It should be said that there are more brown snakes that are diurnal (active during the day and hence, more visible) and that land development/habitat loss does more to eliminate snakes than collecting ever could, but the collection of snakes certainly cannot help. My wife's good friend called us one night last winter with news of a horrible snake crawling around in her basement. She was going to throw it out in the snow. I went over to find a young Garter Snake in surprisingly good health. I kept the snake until spring and then released it at a good spot near the Jordan River. Would I have kept the snake if it had brilliant colors? Maybe. Maybe not. Compared to my other snakes, the Garter Snake stunk because it ate fish and it also required more work. I was actually glad to see it go, but I hope it is doing well.