Snake Week

Every summer, one week is devoted to celebrating sharks. Shark Week is designed to teach the public about the interesting world of sharks and encourage people to see these predators in a new light. My question is, why stop with sharks? How about having a snake week? Wouldn’t you like to learn more about venomous snakes and the good that they do? Wouldn’t you like to start conquering your fear of snakes? Wouldn’t you like to read some really bad snake puns? Today you will learn that you can have your snake and eat it too – just start with an easy-snake oven.

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Did somebody say Snake Week?!

The Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is endemic to the eastern U.S. and can grow to over 6 feet long. They occupy a wide range of habitats, including forests, mountainous, and riverine areas. When temperatures are cool, rattlesnakes may group together in a den or cave to hibernate.  Like many Americans, Timber Rattlesnakes love to catch some sun rays and will often remain motionless while basking in the heat of day. They primarily hunt small mammals, such as mice, rats, voles, squirrels, and rabbits. They aid in regulating mammal populations within an ecosystem and can help reduce pest populations in agricultural systems. Unfortunately, like sharks, rattlesnakes are often seen as scary and dangerous creatures. Some people shoot them with shotguns, smash them with shovels, or even purposely run over them while driving. The truth is, rattlesnake attacks are rare, as rattlers will usually rattle to send a warning and will only strike if threatened or cornered. Because many venomous snakes try to save their venom of prey, they are unlikely to bite except as a last resort.  Try to find a way to let the snakes alone and they will help control pesky rodents! If one has taken up residence in your house, then call a local wildlife officer to capture and release it elsewhere. Also, don’t run around sticking your hands in brush piles and rock crevices!

Timber rattlesnake, close-up rattlesnake

The picture on the right was of a rattler I encountered in Indiana. Why did the snake cross the road? Probably because the heat emanating from the asphalt felt good.

The Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius) is beautiful creature that is generally found in scrubby woodlands and marshes in the southeastern U.S. Because they must chew on their victim to completely inject their venom, attacks on humans are rare. According to National Geographic, no human has died from an Eastern Coral Snake bite since the antivenin was developed in the 1967 (http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/eastern-coral-snake/). They spend much of their time underground and are not often seen, except during the breeding season. They can grow to lengths of 2-4 feet and will eat lizards and other snakes. Now for the interesting part. Other snakes, such as Scarlet Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis elapsoides) use mimicry to take advantage of the coral snake’s reputation! Let me explain. Predators, such as raptors and coyotes, learn to associate the color patterns of coral snakes with their dangerous venom and tend to avoid attacks. Kingsnakes have evolved to mimic the patterns of the coral snakes and so this means that predators will usually leave them alone! Now you might be wondering how you could tell the difference. The rule for distinguishing between these snakes (and I don’t know of any exceptions to this rule) is set to a rhyme. Red on black, friend of Jack. Red on yellow, dangerous fellow. In other words, look at the banding patterns. The coral snake has red touching yellow bands, while the kingsnake has red touching black bands.

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Left – venomous coral snake (photo: http://wildlifetrappersandrescue.com/nuisance-animals/snakes/snake-photos/easterncoral2/). Right – non-venomous scarlet kingsnake .

Got milksnake?

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Pick up a tasty milksnake at your local Steak and Snake. Note that this species has red on black, meaning it is not venomous.

Do you feel any tremors? Because here’s an earthsnake!

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Now it’s time to look at one of the deadliest snakes in the world, the Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina). These beautiful snakes are usually found in warm, tropical waters near coral reefs and mangrove swamps around Australia and southeast Asia. Though their neurotoxic venom is about 10 times more potent than rattlesnake venom, human bites are extremely rare due to the docile nature of BSKs. Many divers have swam with these snakes without fear of harm. BSKs are amphibious, and will spend a decent portion of their time on land, especially when breeding. They generally hunt in the water, preferring to prey on eels and small fish. Females are usually larger and may hunt larger-sized prey than males. Believe it or not, there is a Japanese soup made with smoked sea krait.

Banded sea krait swimming beneath large shoal of fish Banded sea krait underwater

Hopefully you’ve learned about some interesting venomous snakes and can appreciate their beauty. Some of these snakes play a vital role in controlling rodent populations. Remember that most snakes prefer to avoid conflict and will rarely bite humans. If you  enjoy the rush of feeling scard by snakes, then I encourage you to look up dangerous snakes in Australia. What’s a snake’s favorite dance? The Mamba. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to wear red on yellow and carry a baby rattle. FEAR ME!

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Snake News

Did you know that snakes can be very colorful? Did you know that snakes are vital to controlling pests in many agricultural and woodland ecosystems? Though some people get nervous or anxious around snakes, most species are non-venomous and tend to shy away from confrontations . . . except for all of the vicious killer snakes in Australia. Time to face your fears and slither into the world of snakes!

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Indiana Jones is not happy with my blog topic.

First up is a species commonly found in gardens, yards, and woodlands. The Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) has several subspecies (with a variety of coloration!) that inhabit ranges throughout the United States. One of the characteristics of garter snakes is their longitudinal stripes. Garter snakes are not venomous and are usually docile, though some will act aggressively when threatened. They are decent swimmers and will sometimes hunt aquatic prey such as fish, amphibians, and crayfish. They also eat small mammals, earthworms, and occasionally birds. During the mating season, large numbers of garter snakes may converge into a giant breeding ball!

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Left – Eastern Garter Snake I found while looking for birds. Right – California Red-sided Garter.

Next up are the racers (Coluber constrictor). As with the garter snakes, there are a few subspecies in the U.S. When I worked as an avian field technician in southern Indiana, I saw some black racers and blue racers, but not black-and-blue racers. As their name suggests, they are quite quick and agile, often zooming away before you can get close. If the Flash was bitten by a radioactive racer, he would probably become unstoppable. Racers are often found in woodland edges and near disturbed habitats such as areas that have been clear-cut. They eat a variety of prey, including many rodents, and are most active during the heat of the day. As with many other snake species, racers will seek cover such as logs, brush, or boards when temperatures are cooler. 

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Blue Racer (http://radiostudio111.com/archives/blue-racer-snake).

The largest snake in the world is the Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus). Females are capable of growing close to 30 feet long and weighing over 550 pounds! These anacondas are primarily found in forests, swamps, and streams within the Amazon Rain Forest. As you might imagine, they move much slower than racers, and will often lay submerged in muddied water, waiting to ambush unsuspecting prey. Anacondas will eat wild pigs, capybaras, birds, small mammals, deer, turtles, and even caimans (small crocodilians) and jaguars! They are very loving, often cuddling their prey before crushing their bones. Though many species of snakes lay eggs, Green Anacondas are viviparous, meaning that they give birth to live young. The young are about 2 feet long and quickly become active after being born.

Green anaconda stifling white-tailed deer Green anaconda moving over sand

Yum, tasty deer steak.

Hmm . . . maybe showing pictures of giant anacondas that could crush you and eat you isn’t the best way to conquer your fear of snakes. How about some pictures of cute snakes to ease your mind?

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What?! You didn’t think those were cute?! Let me try again.

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Albino Ball Python

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Snakes will not usually attack humans unless provoked. Even the venomous ones will usually hiss, raise their head threateningly, or flee rather than bite. In my next blog, I’ll take a look at some of the venomous snakes, snakes that mimic venomous snakes, and provide a few ridiculous puns. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to race around the block, dive into some muddy water, and attack a helpless victim before heading to the nearest Steak and Snake.