Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Do Snakes Chase People?

This is a gopher snake's best imitation of a rattle snake.
And another tough gopher snake:
Unless you are a rodent or other prey item, snakes will not chase you. Even the most venomous and feared snakes in North America will not pursue people and are sometimes hard to photograph because they quickly flee when approached. I have witnessed water moccasins swim up to investigate when people are splashing in the water, but they swim off after seeing people. The closest I have come to being pursued by a snake has been the result of gopher snake encounters. When an adult gopher snake assumes a hissing/defensive posture, it will sometimes pursue for several feet in an attempt to scare someone that isn't heeding its warning. This has never been more than a few feet and is always the result of me intentionally getting too close to a defensive snake.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Snakes: Do Rattlers Always Warn Before Striking?

This is an absolute myth. Experience has proven to me that the personalities of snakes are as different as their colors. Sometimes a great basin rattlesnake doesn't rattle at all (note: some are not capable of rattling and some just don't) and will simply try to slither away when found, but be careful because body heat will almost always trigger a strike. Almost all snakes will vibrate their tails when they are grumpy. My Mexican black kingsnake and one of my corn snakes will vibrate their tails quite often. They would be quite noisy if they had rattles, yet they have never bitten. When you are hiking in rattlesnake territory, watch out where you step. Wouldn't you bite someone that stepped on you? Rattlesnakes do not want to bite in defense. They would rather save their venom for prey, but don't rely on a buzz warning.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Another Snake Myth

It is often said that the highly venomous coral snake has to "chew" to inject its venom. I have also heard people claim that coral snakes are limited to biting only parts of the body that it can fit its small mouth around. Neither of these assumptions are correct. The coral snake can open its mouth wide enough to swallow something twice the size of its head. While it has small fangs, it can bite like any other snake of similar size.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Rhymes with snakes

Yellow touching red: you're dead. Red touching black: safe for jack. Red against yellow can kill a fellow. You might have heard one of these rhymes used to determine whether a snake is venomous or not. For the most part these rhymes using colors are correct and can be applied, but not always. Look at these two snakes:

The shovel nose snake (bottom photo by Tom Brennan) looks very similar to the coral snake (top photo). The rhyme doesn't work for the non-venomous shovel nose (and some others like one of my milk snakes), so then a new rhyme will have to be created to add confusion: Red touches yellow, might be safe for a fellow? If you find a snake on an outing, it is best to just leave it alone. Stay at least 3 feet away and maybe get some pictures for bragging rights. If you find a venomous snake on your property or near where kids play, just call a local reptile rescue and have the snake relocated. Killing snakes doesn't accomplish anything.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Return of Pyro the mountain king snake

After thawing out mice the other day to feed my snakes, I left for about 5 minutes. When I returned, I couldn't believe my eyes. There was my Sonoran mountain kingsnake stretched out on the basement counter near the thawing mice. This was a happy day for me, because Pyro escaped his tank about 8 months ago and hasn't been seen until today. Not only do I have one of my coolest snakes back, but there is no longer a snake loose in the house. I had discovered a partial snake shed a few weeks ago, but I disregarded it thinking that it was maybe left from one of the milk snakes. Pyro gets his name from his scientific name, which is Lampropeltis pyromelana knoblochi. "Knob" would be a more accurate name for him, but Pyro just sounds better. He is more than a year older than the milk snakes and about 6 inches longer, but he is about half their diameter from not eating. I hope he learned his lesson.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Do corn snakes eat corn?

Rat snakes eat rodents, but do corn snakes eat corn? Do milk snakes drink milk? What do king snakes eat? Most myths about snakes are sillier than these questions. I have heard several reasons why corn snakes have been given that name. I have heard experienced herpers say that corn snakes are called that because they live in corn fields. I have never found a corn snake in a corn field. They are found in the same wooded areas that their close relative, the gray rat snake is found. Corn snakes do not eat corn, so why are they called corn snakes? Take a look at their belly scales:
The corn snakes belly scales resemble maize corn patterns: