Posts Tagged ‘herpetology’

Snakes

August 24, 2010

Earlier this summer we bought some snake videos for Moira, our resident herpetologist. I bought a set of four DVDs about reptiles, but she is really only interested in the two about snakes. One day we were watching the video that features Jules Sylvester. In this video he visits various places around the world, wrangling and rescuing snakes. The kids decided we should go outside and hunt up some snakes, so we went out to the garden. Aidan was getting a bit frustrated because he couldn’t find any. As I was explaining to him that you can’t just decide to hunt snakes and then magically find them, he magically found some. They were under a big piece of cardboard that was out in the garden area.

One snake was a good sized garter snake. I wasn’t sure what the other two were, but they were not any of the four venomous species found in Illinois. So the kids “played” with them. They carried them around, took them up to their dad and showed him, and had a great time. Until Aidan decided to see if one of the snakes had fangs and put his fingers in the snake’s mouth. The snake bit him, naturally. He was pissed and crying and bleeding a tiny bit and telling me we should cut the snake’s head off. I could hear Moira crying in the distance and I thought for sure that Aidan had done something to the snake and she was upset because she loves snakes so much. Much to my surprise, Moira was also in favor of cutting off the snake’s head (it’s times like this when I know they actually do love each other!). We did not cut off the snake’s head and I explained that I didn’t think a snake deserved to have its head cut off for biting a finger that was jammed into its mouith. The snakes were released and that was that.

Fast forward to yesterday. Aidan is mowing and he excitedly hops off the mower to tell us he found a snake. Before I can say anything or get over to him, he is picking up the snake. I told him to hold it properly by its neck so it couldn’t bite. At first glance it was not anything venomous. We shouldn’t have cottonmouths this far north. We probably shouldn’t have copperheads, either, but I think we might. Anyway, it was not a copperhead and I am 98% sure I could identify a copperhead if I saw one because they are very distinctive looking. I still wasn’t sure what it was, so we put it in a big, blue plastic tub and looked it up online. This is what it looked like:

A young snake

Picture of a snake we found in our yard

A snake we found in our yard

So I have no idea what kind of snake this is. I’m pretty sure it’s not venomous because it doesn’t have a “button” at the end of its tail. I know some snakes that it is NOT, but not what it is. We took these pictures and then released it down by the creek. So, any ideas? I’ve looked at pictures of snakes that live in Illinois and I can’t figure this one out. The problem is that snakes don’t all look the same, just like people. So one picture of a snake is not enough. I really need to find a naturalist or someone nearby to help us identify snakes.

UPDATED: My best guess at this point is that this is a bull snake.

*And just in case you are wondering, yes, we have talked about safety with snakes. But sometimes kids need to learn on their own. Aidan learned that snakes do have teeth and they will bite you, especially if you put your finger in a snake’s mouth.

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Snakes – some background

September 19, 2009

Recently I posted a picture of a snake that Tim had accidentally run over with the mower. In this post I asked for help identifying the snake. I received some really helpful comments, but also heard from one angry commenter. The person was angry because he/she thought that we had deliberately killed the snake. The issue was resolved, but I would still like to give a little background into the snakes on our farm, as well as sharing what I have learned about snakes in the process. I want to do this both to clarify my stance and to possibly educate others about the benefits of snakes.

First, I have to confess that I never thought about snakes in Illinois before we moved. I knew there were harmless garter snakes here, but I honestly thought that when we left Arizona we left snakes and coyotes behind. How wrong I was! I’ve written about the snake Aidan found and in that post talked a little about the snake that Farmer Clayton found. Farmer Clayton’s opinion was is, “the only good snake is a dead snake.” I wasn’t sure I agreed, but I was nervous about the possibility of poisonous snakes being in our yard, especially with barefoot country kids running around.

A couple of days after Farmer Clayton found the snake under the stump, Scott the Farmer asked me if we wanted to kill snakes. He said he usually just moves them. At that point I didn’t know what to think or to say. I knew that I didn’t want to be worried about poisonous snakes, but I’m not really into killing things just to kill them (except maybe ticks). Plus, I really trust Scott the Farmer and I figured he knew more about snakes than I did, since I barely knew anything at the time. I didn’t really answer Scott the Farmer and I didn’t think much about snakes for a while.

Then a couple weeks later, Aidan found another snake. That’s when I wrote the post Aidan finds a snake. Tim caught the snake and gave it to Scott the Farmer to relocate it. We thought that one was a copperhead, but now I doubt that it was. We’ve seen other snakes, too, such as garter snakes and some kind of silvery snake near the garden. One of the silvery looking snakes got in the chicken coop once. Needless to say, that didn’t end well for the snake.

Anyway, fast forward a month or two and we went to the local library to see the Snakeman, aka Gary Liesen, of Quincy, Illinois. I learned a lot about snakes that day, and more importantly, so did Moira, who was fascinated by them! She kept “going to the bathroom” because in order to get to the bathroom, she had to climb under the table where the snakes were (some preserved in bottles). It was really cute. A few weeks later we found a snake book at the library. It’s for kindergarteners and has a few words, plus pictures and labels at the end. Moira loves that book. She loves it so much that when we were in Phoenix and she wasn’t feeling well, she would plead for me to read that book to her. In fact, it’s way overdue and we should probably just buy a new one to replace the library’s copy.

Anyway, that book has been terrific. We know what a lot of snakes look like now, plus it inspired us to look up more information about snakes. We’ve read and watched videos about flying snakes, anacondas, boomslangs, sidewinders, and more. What we’ve learned in the process is another post entirely, but suffice it to say that my initial worry is pretty much unfounded and we definitely will not be killing snakes on this farm, unless we are in imminent danger. I will write more about snakes, but in the meantime I leave you with this really cool video about flying snakes (which are not found in Illinois in case you were wondering!).