Snakes So Far This Year

When my dog, Harper, was younger, she barked indiscriminately at every animal she found.  Then she figured out that if it was a snake, I would make her come away from it, and she changed her reactions.

Now if she finds a turtle, she stands in one spot and barks like crazy; if she finds a skink, she noses silently through the brush trying to catch it; if she finds a frog, she leaps around behind it (and loses it when it changes direction); and if she finds a snake, she just stays in one place with her nose down, gently wagging her tail with delight, no doubt thinking that she will get to investigate more fully when I have walked on.  But being that I have caught on to her system, I rush over to protect the snake and the dogs from each other.  So that is usually how I notice snakes I would otherwise miss.

Here is who has turned up so far this year.

This first snake showed up in January.  (We didn’t really have a snake-free season this year as the winter was very mild.  The last snake of 2015 was a ribbon snake spotted on Dec. 12.)  This one I found all by myself, after I stepped right over it down by the creek.  It was very small, about 14 inches long (35 cm).  I was surprised that none of the animals had noticed it, but then I realized it was very recently demised.

Well, I didn’t want it to have died in vain, I thought it would be glad to contribute to science, so I took the opportunity to get really good pictures.  There seemed to be some puncture wounds in different places.  Our ducks were in the area and were stirred up — I don’t know if they killed it or what else might have done so.

Young Diamond-backed Water Snake (Nerodia rhombifer rhombifer).

Young Diamond-backed Water Snake (Nerodia rhombifer rhombifer).

Its belly had a distinctive pattern that helped me with the ID.

Belly pattern.

Belly pattern.

Young Diamond-backed, close-up of face.

Young Diamond-backed, close-up of face. The dark vertical lines in the yellow lip area are a clue to me that it is in the water snake family.

There is another snake that I see swimming in the pond quite often, that I have never been able to get a good picture of.  Identifying this young one as a Diamond-backed Water Snake helped me figure out that that elusive snake is the same species.  I had a mystery snake here last year, that I thought was a Yellow-bellied Water Snake; now I think it might have also been a Diamond-backed, just older and darker.  I identified another young snake as a Blotched Water Snake – do we have four different water snakes here?  or just two and I am mis-identifying?  More research is needed.

The second snake was much easier to identify — it was a Coral Snake!  Back in April, it was just out on the driveway — the dogs saw it and chased it.  We have a 6-month-old puppy now too (named Brady) and I didn’t know if he would mind me the way Harper does, but he stayed back long enough for me to get just a few shots of the snake in deep grass.   I brought the dogs down to the kennel, and by the time I got back, the snake had gone on its way.

Coral Snake, Micrurus tener. The black blotches in the red show that this is a Texas Coral Snake.

Coral Snake, (Micrurus tener). The black blotches in the red show that this is a Texas Coral Snake.

Then last week, Harper alerted on a snake.  When I saw it, I couldn’t immediately tell what it was, and thought it might even be a cottonmouth.

Unknown snake-in-the-grass.

Unknown snake-in-the-grass.

When I got a better look, the snake reassured me by flattening its head and hissing, proving that it was an Eastern Hog-nosed Snake.  I got some good pictures, the poor snake was threatening us for all its worth, but the sheep just calmly grazed about a foot away from it, unworried.

I see hognoses a lot, sometimes two at a time.  I would love to know if they are different individuals, or the same ones just traveling around their territory.

You can see the sharp up-turned snout.

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platyrhinos). You can see the sharp up-turned snout.

 I like the pattern of the scales and puckered skin between them.

I like the pattern of the scales and puckered skin between them.

Alan Tennant in Texas Snakes says that these snakes are predatory specialists — they can eat a diet of toads which other predators cannot handle because of the toads’ toxic skin secretions.  “To offset the compound’s effect and maintain its proper heart rate, H. platyrhinos has developed huge adrenal glands… with a weight 10 times heavier, in proportion to their bodies, than the adrenals of other snakes.

“…since this species is disinclined to take the domestic mice that most captive snakes are fed, H. platyrhinos was seldom maintained in confinement until it was discovered that many could be enticed to feed on mice by rubbing the rodents against a toad to acquire its scent.”  (pp. 152, 153)

Okay, I don’t want to know who was the person who discovered that!  I’m just glad the snakes here can roam at will and catch their own prey.