Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Post About Snakes

With the cold weather finally starting to leave us (or has it?) and the warmer temps coming on my thoughts while hiking and walking in the woods always turn to one thing- snakes.

Snakes both fascinate and terrify me. In the library of my nightmares there's a whole bookshelf dedicated to snakes (and an entire row for impending doom that people refuse to heed my warnings about...) I can appreciate the scaled beauty of a snake at the same time I can conjure images of pain and fear by just looking at them. They are so far removed from us with their reptile brain and lack of appendages, yet so very a part of our primal "screaming-monkey-fear".

So here, in chronological order, are snakes that we've seen in both zoos and in the wild.

Canebrake Rattlesnake, Birmingham Zoo, 4-16-2006
Garter snake, The Chimneys, Smoky Mountains 4-24-2006
Python, Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World, 11-29-2006
Corn snake, Huntsville, Earth Day 2007
Corn snake, Cook's Pest Control Museum, Decatur, 6-14-2009

Corn snake, Fort Mountain, GA, 7-26-2009

Rat snake, Fort Mountain, GA, 7-26-2009

Ball python, Fort Mountain, GA, 7-26-2009

Northern water snake, Anna Ruby Falls, GA, 7-27-2009
And now for a quick note about water snakes. I've probably seen more water snakes than copperheads in my life and up until a few years ago I've thought it was the other way around. Here is a great site that has many copperhead look-alikes, including the Northern water snake. I will say that this particular snake is the largest water snake that I've ever seen.

Timber Rattler, Chattanooga Aquarium, TN 7-29-2009
Timber Rattler, Huntsville, 10-2-2009
What makes this rattler different from the one pictured so far is the fact that it's not behind glass. This three-foot specimen surprised me during a quick hike after work. I was rushing along trying to finish the trail before the sun set and found myself stopping before I knew what for. My inner brain-monkey had spotted something. I ran my eyes up and down the trail and didn't see anything- until i DID see something. The snake let me take a few pictures and never rattled but it didn't move either. I turned around and retreated back to my car.

Copperhead, Land Between the Lakes, KY, 5-19-2010

Green snake, Land Between the Lakes, KY, 5-22-2010
Water snake, Eastern Oklahoma, 6-27-2010
Copperheads and timber rattler, Anniston Museum of Natural History, 12-31-2010

Corn snakes and rat snake, Anniston Museum of Natural History, 12-31-2010
Tango the corn snake, 1-8-2011
Water snake, Reliance, TN, 4-29-2011
Ringneck snake, Hurricane Creek Park, AL 9-25-2011
This tiny guy was a really cool find. Ringnecks are usually nocturnal and feed mostly on worms, slugs and small frogs and lizards. They are slightly venomous, but not aggressive and hardly a threat to humans. They usually make a display when feeling threatened that involves showing off the bright underside of their tail. This one never did that so he probably wasn't very impressed with me sticking a camera in his face.

Green snake, Elkmont, 4-14-2012
Of all the snakes that I've ever taken pictures of in the wild, green snakes are the most camera friendly. I don't know if it's because they think they are camouflaged or if they just think that being really still is the best defense. In both this picture and the one above from Kentucky I've got the camera less than a foot from the snake's head; in this picture it's only inches. Both snakes did not strike nor did they spook and run.

Hognose black racer, Elkmont, 5-6-2012
This hognose was on the same trail as the green snake. I just got lucky and looked at the bank of a creek at the right time and saw him with his head near the water. Hognose and known for their bag of tricks and mimicry of more dangerous snakes. They are nonvenomous but will flatten their neck to look more like a venomous snake and will shake their tail in grass and leaves to fake a rattle. (That failing, they resort to purging from both ends! Yay!) This is the first hognose that I've ever seen in the wild and he honored us with a very realistic "rattle" but then quickly doubled back into the brush.

(4/5/2015) Correction to the above information: this is not a hognose but a black racer. I recently asked Dr. David Steen via Twitter to confirm the information in this post and along with some corrections and additions he identified this as a black racer- another snake that will mimic a rattle with their tail. Dr. Steen also has a blog that's full of information about reptiles, ecology and human interaction with wildlife.

Watersnakes, Murfreesboro, TN, 9-9-2012 
Yes, more water snakes but these were doing something I've never seen a snake do- they were hiding behind little waterfalls and sticking their heads through the flow of the water. We counted about twenty of them in an area roughly 20'x20'. 

Timber rattler, Bankhead National Forest, AL, 9-15-2012

Copperhead, Bankhead National Forest, AL, 9-15-2012
These two, the rattler and the copperhead, we saw on the same walk in the Brushy Creek area of Bankhead.The rattler stands out a little better against the brown and oranges of the fall leaves, but that copperhead... we almost walked over him. Notice how not only does the copperhead's coloration and pattern hide him in the leaves but how hard it is to pick out the head of the snake apart from the rest of it's body. 

Rattlesnake, North Carolina Aquarium, 10-10-2012
Taylor's cantil, Jacksonville Zoo, 10-17-2012

Rat snakes, Jacksonville Zoo, 10-17-2012

Florida cottonmouth, Jacksonville Zoo, 10-17-2012

Canebrake rattler, Jacksonville Zoo, 10-17-2012

West African green mamba, Jacksonville Zoo, 10-17-2012

(Head of the same mamba)

Gaboon Viper, Jacksonville Zoo, 10-17-2012

African bush viper, Jacksonville Zoo, 10-17-2012
Florida cottonmouth, Tishomingo, MS, 4-14-2013
You might have noticed that I've been calling cottonmouths moccasins (or the other way around) or that I've used cottonmouth/moccasin in some of the captions. They are the same snake, agkistrodon piscivorus. Some folks will differentiate based on darker color or brighter stripes and markings, but it's really the same animal.

Corn snake, South Cumberland State Park, TN, 8-10-2013

Sand boa, Chattanooga Zoo, TN, 8-11-2013
Racer, Grand Cayman, 10-7-2013
Tree carving, Orr Park, Montevallo, AL, 3-20-2014
This was my first (and favorite, so far) snake of 2014- but not the last. We saw a Florida cottonmouth (or moccasin, if you prefer) just a few days later.