Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Charming snakes

In our neck of the woods, the normal reaction of a motorist who sees a snake in the road is to run it over, even if this means driving into a ditch.

If Larry or I see a snake, our reaction is different. Provided no one is bearing down on us, we slam on the brakes, put the car in park and run the thing down - on foot. If it's a boring sort of snake, like a greenish rat or a racer, we just usher it off the road. If it's something we'd like to study or have on our property, we catch it.

This week, we scored a herpetocultural double. Yesterday, I nabbed this lovely male Eastern kingsnake. I saw him on my way back from town, headed across the road in the direction of a farm that is home to some Avowed Snakekillers. Not wanting him to end up dead, I abandoned my car and chased him down.

He wasn't a happy snake. He musked me and tried to bite me in the face. I held him at arms length and was almost back to my car when I heard someone say, "You do know you're crazy, don't you?"

It's the sort of question you don't try to tackle when you're holding an angry snake, so I just waved at the car pulling out of the farm gate across the road.

"Just taking this snake home," I said. The driver said nothing. She just looked at me. I held the snake up. "Do you want to pet it?"

"Hell no," she said, and sped off. Go figure.

I didn't have anything to put the snake in, so I had to drive the rest of the way home with my right hand while clutching my new pet in my left.

I couldn't wait to show him to Larry. I was especially proud of this catch, for this snake has the loveliest head I've ever seen and looks marvelous for just having come out of hibernation.

But today Larry trumped me by catching this fine mole king. Mole kingsnakes are smaller, and more scarce. They are one of Larry's favorite snakes. This one has a nice head on it, too. I got a great shot of it flicking it's tongue. Cool, huh?

Lucas and Alex wanted to have their pictures taken with the snakes and their enthusiasm only grew when I happened upon this very obliging toad, who agreed to join the photo shoot.

I really like toads. They look old, even when they are young. And they are libertines at heart. They eat until they are so stuffed they can't hop and accidentally drown themselves in mass toad orgies.

Here's the toad sitting on Lucas' knee. Note how much more impressed the child is with the toad than the toad is with the child.

Of course, Alex and Lucas decided that it wouldn't do to have a herpetocultural photo shoot with Live Snakes that did not include them. So here's Lucas holding a little Eastern kingsnake - one with a better temperament.

And not to be outdone by her brother, here is Alex holding both the little Eastern kingsnake and the toad.

My kids are so weird. Thank goodness!

And if you're wondering what we did with the toad, we apologized for troubling him and released him in the garden, where he immediately began to stuff himself with crickets.

So this is what passes for fun with us.

My favorite snake catching story: About nine years ago my neighbor, Ande, and I used to walk for miles each afternoon. One day we came up on a pickup truck parked in the middle of the road. A man was kneeling down, snapping at something against the wheel with a length of rope. The door was open and behind it stood a cute little blonde girl, who would squeal with excitement everytime he snapped the rope.

As Ande and I got closer, we realized he was snapping at a cornsnake which was curled up against the wheel.

"Watcha got there?" I asked.

"Snake," he said.

"Are you trying to catch it?" I asked

"Nah," he said. "I'm just showing my girl here how dangerous these things are." He snapped the rope again and the cornsnake, threatened, struck back defensively. The blonde squealed in glee, impressed. The guy looked at her and grinned.

"Well," I said. "If you're not going to catch it do you mind if I take it?"

He looked at me. "Yeah, right," he said, and snapped the rope.

I walked over and picked up the snake. It was pissed, and bit me twice. But cornsnake bites don't do more than leave tiny skin pricks. But like any snake bite, it looks more dramatic than it is.

The guy and his girl looked at me, shocked. I smiled sweetly as the snake continued to chew on my hand. "Thanks!" I said, and turned and walked away.

Behind us, Ande and I could hear the blonde saying, "Did you see that girl just pick that snake up?"

"Just get in the damn truck," he said.

We waited until they were out of the way to laugh. "That was mean," Ande giggled.

"I know," I said. I know my hand healed sooner than that guy's ego. But he learned a good lesson and I got a really nice corn snake that I kept for seven years.


dlkjdfsa said...

You're kids are weird? Now there is a shocker!

Morgan said...

Yeah, go figure. ;-)

Actually, if they'd turned out normal I would have strongly suspected a hospital baby-swap. My most normal child is my 20-year-old daughter, but she still has enough of an odd sense of humor to qualify as weird. So I'm happy.

prettylady said...

That's such a beautiful picture of you with the snake! I'm so proud you're my friend!

So how do you keep the snakes as pets? Do you just release them on the property and say hello in passing, or do you have a snake pen of some sort? I'd think they'd do the most good roaming around free and eating vermin--what sort of vermin do king snakes eat? And they're not poisonous? Forgive my city girl ignorance.

Morgan said...

Larry has an outside building just devoted to his collection. When I met him, he had a huge collection of snakes ranging from cobras to pythons to smaller local animals but over the years has scaled back. Now the most exotic thing he has are Mexican beaded lizards, which are a larger cousin of the Gila monster.

His favorite local snake - apart from moleking snakes - are copperheads, which are more variable and beautiful than most people think.

The kingsnakes aren't venomous; in captivity they eat rodents; the one I caught could easily eat a half-grown rat. In the wild they eat rodents, nesting birds and other snakes. Many people who wouldn't tolerate most snakes on their property don't mind having a kingsnake around for that reason.
We still have the one I caught and I've decided to give it to breed it to a few females we already have and then release the babies when they hatch. We do that quite a bit with local stuff, owing to declining numbers.

We used to see a lot more snakes when we moved here, but a lot of land has been cleared and fire ants have really hurt local reptile populations, too. They find and attack the eggs of lizards and snakes.

I'm glad you liked the pictures, Pretty Lady. And I'm also glad that you're my friend. :-)

mia said...

OY, VEY! - Mia is afraid of snakes - understatement of my blog- commenting life! However, your little herpetologists rank extremely high on the cute-o-meter.

If I were to come upon a snake and my leap happened to be measured, I'm sure I'd qualify for some athletic competition.

El Borak said...

Constrictors, especially king snakes, are awesome. I used to have the second-largest speckled king snake in the state of Kansas, a 9-foot boa (lovely wife made me get rid of that when Bethie was born), milk snakes, and was once the proud owner of a yellow-bellied water snake that turned into 45 one day.

The one group I will kill on my property, however, is rattlers. Snakes are all well and good, but I also have a load of foster toddlers who aren't issued to me with a) proper fear or b) respect or c) knowledge or d) common sense.

That's a bad combination when there are rattlers about.

Morgan said...

Mia, you're in good company. Most everyone I know shudders when they learn of our little reptilian zoo. Or they look at us funny. ;-)

I've actually heard stories of people running from non-venomous snakes, only to fall and break their foot. Or having heart attacks after being bitten by a non-venomous snake.

There's little rationale when you have a phobia, but I understand.

Morgan said...

El Borak, we have some *big* rattlers around here. Did you see this blog entry about the one Larry caught in our back yard?


Quite an impressive beast. And so is the snake! ;-)

Really, though, as much as I appreciate snakes, if something really dangerous and too big for me to handle comes cruising through our yard when Larry's not home, as much as I'd hate to I'd shoot it. No need to risk the kids or housepets with something that can deliver a fatal bite.

It's just not worth it.