Posts Tagged 'snakes'


We were hoping this Northern Watersnake would keep coming, passing under the boat launch dock we were standing on.But this Nerodia sipedon wasn’t playing. Instead it took shelter in these rocks, amid crabs, oysters, and periwinkles, peeping out occasionally to see if we were still there. Can you spot it?Here’s what we thought was a big Ratsnake (Pantheropphis obsoletus) soaking up the rays off the path. The cloudy eyes means this one is getting ready to shed.As you can see from the duckweed and young damselfly, these Acris genus cricket frogs are small, around an inch or so from bow to stern.But they pack a big voice. May not have noticed them if not for that, and the splashing.Tried to get a picture of their throats extending like pale balloons as they called, but no such luck.

All in southeastern Virginia.

Northern Water Snake

Nedordia sipedon sipedon are fairly melanistic in our neck of the woods.The species, with four subspecies in the east, is highly variable in coloration and patterning, but these dark ones are the only versions I’ve seen.There is some lighter coloring and markings on their underside, as these chins suggests.They can get up to five feet in length.A very nice look at the keeled scales in the pictures above and below. The keel, or ridge, along the center of each scale is quite prominent in this species. Figuring out if your snake has keeled or smooth scales is a good first step in identification. For instance, the somewhat similar Racer (Coluber constrictor) has unkeeled scales.These things will eat a huge variety of fish and amphibians; young ones will go for invertebrates, too.Snake-killers, a particularly nasty subspecies of H. sapiens, often target this species (as well as other harmless snakes) because they’re mistaken for cottonmouths or other venomous snakes. Fish-killers, and their game warden allies, also kill this species because they mistakenly think the snakes are serious competition for game fish.

Snake Book

Snakes of the Eastern United States by Whit Gibbons is an excellent addition to the natural history bookshelf. It’s sumptuously well-illustrated by many photographers.

Here’s the skinny on our snakes: there are 63 species of snakes native in the eastern US. There’s a serious north-south gradient: Maine has 10 native species (one of which, the timber rattlesnake, may be extirpated from the state) and Florida has 45 native species.* About 20 of the 63 species are endemic to the US east of the Mississippi (and Louisiana). There are subspecies and color variations for more than a few of all these.

Only 7 of the 63 species are venomous. They get way too much not just bad press but wrong press. These snakes are very reluctant to bite humans. And if you do get bit, we have a medical system of sorts that functions pretty well for this kind of thing (the cost is another issue, which we should be able to solve with Medicare for all were it not for our masters wanting us to worry ourselves and bankrupt ourselves to death). You have a better chance of being killed by lightning than being killed by a venomous snake. Bites from dogs are three times more fatal. Sure, the Venomous Seven can be dangerous, but use common sense, know what to look out for, watch where you’re going, wear boots when hiking, leash your dog, et cetera.

I’ve seen too few of these critters: Rat, Garter, Ribbon, Northern Water (pictured below). This year, I’m aiming to spot a Brown.

*There are some 3000 described species in the world. More than 140 of these are native to the entire U.S. This book also touches upon four introduced species, including the nightmare pet trade African python currently eating up Florida.

Northern Water Snake:

These nature goals were written for NYC, but are apropos everywhere.

Spring Slithers In

The spring equinox was hit yesterday about 6 p.m. in our time zone. So welcome to the first day of spring!Meanwhile, last Saturday morning there was still ice out at Great Swamp NWR. There was not a skunk cabbage to be seen, but a few frogs were calling, unseen, echoing in the watery woods.It’s a great place for snakes, in warmer weather. But we only spotted one, curled immobile in the sun.Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus). I’d never seen one before. I thought at first this would the usual suspect of a Common Garter (Thamnophis sirtalis). But note the white mark in front of the eye. And see that pale lip? My companions pointed this out: Garters have dark vertical edges to their scales on the lower lip, making for lines coming down around the eye, as in this of a Common Garter from April, 2018:

A slender, long-tailed snake, the Ribbon favors semiaquatic habitats. This one had hauled out on one of the tussocks in this part of the NWR. They eat frogs, toads, small fish, and insects. Like the other members of the Thamnophis) genus, they’re fairly cold tolerant. This one was clearly gobbling up the sun.

Notably, the tail on this species can be up to one third its body length, hence presumably the “ribbon.” On a snake, the tail starts after the anal plate/scute.

The dreadful Electoral College, which keeps electing Presidents with a minority of actual votes, is in the news again. I’m for abolishment, but barring that, there’s a simpler way to undermine its anti-democratic purpose: the states can proportionally assign Electors instead of assigning them winner-take-all (which isn’t in the Constitution). Unsurprisingly, the Republicans, the minority, authoritarian, anti-democracy party, will fight hard to prevent this in some states. But not every state has to be on board.

Serpent Saturday

The highly variable Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis. Twelve sub-species are listed at EOP; my venerable 2nd ed of Peterson’s lists six, with three color variations for the Eastern (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis).

A co-worker from back in the day is making a sign-a-day to encourage voting. Give her site a visit.

I wish I was seeing more such engagement by artists and designers. We need to popular-front the hell out of this situation.


Does this snake have a head at both ends?Eastern Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis).And another. Great Swamp NWR. I wanted to turn these into Ribbon Snakes. They were, after all, on tiny islands in the swamp. But look at the black marks on the sides of their faces. Ribbon Snakes, which are in the same genus, don’t have those. Compare my examples with this image of a Ribbon from the VA Herpetological Society.


We caught Ted Levin talking about his book, America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake this week at the Linnaean Society. It’s a damn good book and deserves to be read far and wide.

Too many people fear and loath snakes, an irrationality that leads directly to massacre. There are still bloody snake-killing events held around the country as savage tribes (mostly white Americans) celebrate the slaughter. Meanwhile, cars do serious damage to male snakes, who must travel good distances between matriarchal snake dens. And collectors empty out dens for the (illegal) pet trade, destroying hibernacula that may have been used for centuries and will probably never be used again. And there’s a subset of a-holes who capture and pose with the snakes because, I guess, it makes them feel like men to be a=holes. Doesn’t it seem a pity, then, that only about 5 people a year die from snake bite…

As Levin noted in his talk, many more people die falling out of bed in this country than die from snake bite. And it would be pointless to compare fatal snake bites to the number killed by people driving automobiles (37,000+) or using guns (14,000+). Indeed, there is no comparison. By the way, should you actually be bit by a timber rattlesnake, keep calm and get medical attention ASAP; the venom is slow-acting. The Boy Scout stuff we learned about sucking out the poison is nonsense.

Rattlesnakes are strictly New World animals. You’ll recognize the rattler from early American iconography: Franklin’s “Join, or Die” cartoon and the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag used by the early Navy. But we’ve been chopping their heads off in terror since then, too. As a result Crotalus horridus is doing quite poorly today. Levin fictionalizes locations to keep them secret. So son’t publicize the locations of your sightings, should you be so lucky. I never have been. (iNaturalist should have built-in warnings about giving locations for this species, as well as other rare animals, and, of course, rare plants.)

One place Levin doesn’t hide is Glastonbury, CT. The town has learned to live with rattlers in their midst. And guess what, the payoff, besides beauty, wonder, and marvels, is that the town has less Lyme disease. Rattlers eat mice and chipmunks, the vectors for Lyme. Just saying.

Diamondback rattle handed around by Levin.


Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), the only species of snake I’ve ever run into in New York City. And that hasn’t been all that frequently. But they’re out there. And this lovely specimen was in the Bronx.

It’s tremendously unfair to animals to compare them to people. Pig, snake, rat, insect, etc. Yesterday, Orange Spray-on-Tan endorsed police brutality before a crowd of cheering cops betraying their public trust and duty. This followed his Drumpfjugend rally with the Boy Scouts earlier in the week. The Anti-Midas, everything he touches turns to shit. The man is defecating on America and wiping himself with the Constitution. And the Republicans are helping him.

Snake in the Moss

Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon). Saw a half dozen basking off of the boardwalk. This common snake, second only to the Garter in abundance regionally, is, like that species, somewhat varied in form. You can see stripes on this youngish one, but most Great Swamp specimens look very dark and unmarked (as they dry in the sun, the scales tend to look more uniform). This is one of the snake species that give birth to live young, one to three dozen itty-bitty snakes.

This Tom Tomorrow cartoon encapsulates it all well: Trump’s bullshit and his refusal to admit it was his bullshit.

Join, Or Die

Nerodia sipedonSome of the Water Snakes (Nerodia sipedon) seen recently soaking up the sun at Great Swamp NWR. Relax, it’s harmless — it’s just yawning.Nerodia sipedonNerodia sipedonNerodia sipedonMy title is a reference is to Ben Franklin’s 1754 cartoon of the colonies in the shape of a dismembered snake, for today is primary day here in New York. Normally, the socially liberal and socially lunatic wings of our corporate oligarchy have wrapped things by now, and a piddly number of New York voters turn out to anoint such depressing choices in advance of the TV show conventions. This year is quite different. The Democratic choice is unusually stark: dynastic corporate tool or a New Deal-style reformist (how far right the Democrats under Clintonism have traveled!). Meanwhile, the Republican choices are even more unspeakable than usual. Anybody who votes for that party’s pathological standard bearers, can, as the Daily News said of the extraordinarily vile Ted Cruz, take the FU Train.1024px-Benjamin_Franklin_-_Join_or_Die


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