Wednesday, May 21, 2014

These Are The Questions You Ask Me About Snakes That I Can't Answer


    I get asked a lot of questions about wildlife and that’s great because I enjoy answering them. But, sometimes people ask me things that I have no possible way of knowing because I am not psychic. Here are two questions I am asked all the time that I just can’t answer.

I found a snake. Will it bite?

    Answering this question would require me to see into the future. Everything with a mouth can bite you, including me, but that doesn’t mean I will (but I might).

   Some snakes, like watersnakes, tend to be more likely to bite you than other snakes when you handle them, but that doesn’t mean they will always bite. Even species I think of as docile, like kingsnakes, will bite sometimes. Anytime you handle or harass a snake you run the risk of getting bitten. For non-venomous species, it’s just not a big deal. I’ve been bitten dozens if not hundreds of times.

   It is incredibly rare for a snake to just start biting you for no reason. Usually a bite happens only when that animal begins to feel threatened, such as when you try to pick it up. Want to avoid a bite from a snake? Don’t give that snake a reason.

    So, will the snake you found bite you? Maybe. Don’t stress it out and it’s very unlikely.


I found a small snake around my house. Does this mean Momma is around too?

    I have no idea.

    First off, what difference does it make? If there are baby snakes around your property, this probably means that your property is good snake habitat; they wouldn’t be there otherwise*. So, whether Momma is around or not, if you find a snake or two there are probably lots of snakes around that you didn’t see, and that’s okay.

    Second, with the exception of the vipers (rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths) and watersnakes (including Gartersnakes), most of the snakes you’re seeing around your house hatched from eggs that have been incubating underground or in some wood pile for at least two months. Snakes don’t tend to stick around their nests (with the exception of some pythons and cobras) and that’s a lot of time for a snake to wander off.

    Even those snakes that give birth to live young don’t really accompany them around like a mother lion does with her cubs (and they don't have nests). The young snakes do their own thing and generally head off in different directions shortly after they are born. There are some interesting exceptions: for example, when some rattlesnakes give birth in their dens, the young and the mother tend to stay there for some time. The interactions among these snakes are the subject of interesting and ongoing research, but this isn’t really relevant to the snake you just found in your yard or in your house.

    So, if you don’t want snakes around your house, don’t spend too much time worrying whether Momma is there and concentrate on making sure your house and yard isn’t good snake habitat


*This is also relevant to another question I am frequently asked regarding how far a baby snake has moved from where it was born. Again, I have no way of knowing how far the snake you found has moved. After snakes are born or hatched they generally disperse off into different directions. If they are in good habitat already (they probably are) then they'll probably stick around without going too far. If they're not, they'll start crawling and how far they get depends on how long they've been traveling. But, like above, what difference does it make? If your yard is good snake habitat then there are likely to be snakes there; don't get caught up on the history of any one particular animal.

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