Thursday, September 1, 2011

Baby Snakes!

All bright and shiny after shedding its skin.
Last night I found this little one hiding next to a pot just outside the back door.
I did not see her/him at first when I went out to dump food scraps in the compost heap, but found its still-damp, just-shed skin nearby in the garden. In the twilight and against the freshly lain wood mulch, the skin looked like a narrow strip of tissue paper. I looked closer and picked it up, finding it still damp. I carried the skin with me to the compost heap and found this snake upon my return.
Snake in a bucket. An old friend use to use the term "baby snakes!" as an
exclamation instead of more standard phrases, such as "holy cow!"
The previous day, I saw an identical baby snake huddled in the shade of the same pot in mid-afternoon. My first response was an immediate back-pedal -- not because I was afraid to walk past it, but so that I could go to the garage on the other side of the house and get a bucket before it left.
When you live surrounded by woods growing from a rocky hillside, you learn to anticipate the presence of the venomous copperheads and timber rattlesnakes. Any snake with these type of beautiful markings is suspect until further inspection verifies that it is not either one of those. If one shows up, it is not necessary to kill it, but you can sweep it into a bucket, put a lid on it and transport the snake to a safer (for both of us) location.
However, it quickly was clear that we were not dealing with a venemous snake. Both copperheads and rattlesnakes have much heavier bodies and wide heads. Baby copperheads have green tail ends and baby rattlesnakes have a button on the end of the tail, the seed of the signature rattle.
"Eyelashes" are the old skin beginning to peel back.
When we were trying to get the little one in the bucket, it opened its mouth wide and vibrated the end of its tail, mimicking the rattler. This is a characteristic of rat snakes. And these snakes must be baby Western rat snakes, aka "black snakes," which lose these markings and take on the black color as they mature. The first little snake had what looked like eyelashes, an indication that it was getting ready to shed. I put it among the mint growing around the elderberries, which is quite a distance to travel for a little snake. So I presume the second snake was another individual, but who knows.
This is the time of year when rat snakes hatch. It also is the time of year when copperhead babies are born (they give birth to live young). So caution is in order. However, I will continue to be the barefoot gardener.

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