Friday morning was sunny and cool and I was enjoying the new day by planting some cleomes. These beautiful pink and red flowers will grow tall and should attract lots of butterflies.
First thing I had to do was dig a place for them at the end of the flower garden. Rolling a large rock to one side, I noticed a small dark snake curled up on the bare ground. I held the tiny 6 inch snake in my hand and rolled him over to expose the bright red underside of a red- bellied snake. His little pointed tongue flicked in and out as he tried to pick up my scent and he wriggled to get away. I slid him down between a couple of other large rocks and he disappeared underneath.
Itís always nice to see a snake in the yard and gardens and I usually try not to disturb them. Snakes are quiet, solitary creatures who donít benefit from being obvious. They donít have any means of defense against larger animals so they try to blend with their surroundings.
The snakes I see here in the Kickapoo Valley of southwestern Wisconsin, are for the most part quite harmless. Oh, they may startle us if we chance upon them but I think thatís an instinctive reaction on our part. We donít have to be taught to be afraid of snakes. Nature has provided us with a natural respect for them so we tend to react by keeping a distance.
The tiny red-bellied snake I saw is full-grown at 5 to 6 inches & feeds mostly on insects. Another harmless snake often seen around here is the garter snake. There are 13 different kinds of garter snakes in North America, none of which are poisonous. They may grow up to 30- 40 inches long and prey upon all sorts of insects, frogs, mice and other small snakes. Like all snakes, they are a very important part of the natural world and I always teach children to respect them and not to fear them.
This spring I watched as a big black crow caught and flew off with a foot long garter snake. Iím sure she took the snake to her nest of hungry babies. A few days later I noticed 5 angry red-winged blackbirds chasing a red-tailed hawk. I watched the big hawk rise from the hay field carrying in her talons a 2 ft. long garter snake. She too was probably taking her prize back to her waiting youngsters.
Snakes are fair game for many different kinds of animals who will eat them. Those who may dine on snakes include skunks, possums, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, mink, hawks, eagles, owls, crows, ravens, herons, egrets, cranes and humans. A lot of natural predators for a snake to watch out for. I would like to think that humans have no need to be on this list but unfortunately we are.
My favorite snake encounter came the other day as I was searching for mushrooms. As I walked along a dry rock hillside, I noticed a dozen clumps of beautiful yellow/orange flowers known as puccoons. These lovely jewels of a long forgotten prairie had somehow survived here. When I bent down for a closer view, I noticed a colorful fat snake curled in the sun. It was a hog- nosed snake about 18 inches long. They too have become scarce as their prairie habitat has dwindled away.
The eastern hog-nosed snake is also not venomous but may ward off a predator by rising up and puffing out its body. Flattening its head and body, it will hiss loudly causing the aggressor to move back. If the hog-nose is still pursued, it will roll over on its back and play dead. They put on quite a show but their bark is worse than their bite. The hog-nosed snake feeds mostly on toads, frogs, large insects and an occasional mouse.
The next time you happen upon a snake while on a walk down natureís trail, stop and take a closer look. The snake means no harm if you donít try and touch them. Itís what we donít know that is harmful so donít be afraid to teach yourself. The earth will be a better place for both man and snake because of it!
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