Thursday, March 26, 2015

What are Snakes Good For?

This is a question I was asked during a program last week at a senior center. And then this week, this photo appeared in my Facebook news feed, with the following caption:
"Just saw this from WTOC Mike Manhatton: Pat Long and his son in a blind to hunt hogs near Midway when this guy poked his head in! Pat's son shot the's 9'6" long...with 22 rattles, the head more than five inches wide, the fangs 2.5" long. Anybody going for a walk in the woods this weekend? Share with your friends and see who has good snake stories! 
What would you do if you came across this guy in the woods!?"

Now I'm not here to start a debate on the authenticity of the photo, because that is not the point (personally, I'd say the size is greatly exaggerated, as the snake is being held on a long stick toward the camera). The comments were filled with "hate snakes," "KILL IT," and "Who has a good snake story???? Sorry, there is no such thing!!!" 
Snakes are perhaps one of the most maligned, misunderstood creatures on Earth, right up there with sharks. From popular culture to the Bible, snakes don't get much of a chance of fair and equal press. Sometimes the fear or hatred that we have of snakes doesn't even have a clear origin, we just know that snakes are bad, and in turn this value system gets passed down to the next generation. I have seen many times in programs with children and their parents where a child initially seems interested in touching a snake, but when they see their parents wince, shake their head, or shudder, they then become fearful. (I have also seen parents who are fearful of snakes encourage their children to interact with them so that they don't pass on their own fears. Well done, parents!)

Just what good are snakes?

Snakes perform a valuable service as pest control. Being carnivores, they devour a variety of animals that we would rather not take over the planet, such as rats, mice, and insects. In my garden, there is a tiny species of snake smaller than a pencil called the northern brown snake that takes care of my prolific slug problem. Snakes in turn are also food for other species that people find more charismatic, such as foxes, bobcats, hawks, eagles, weasels, and herons.

If you have safety concerns about venomous snakes in your yard, first, know that the majority of snakes in the United States are non-venomous. However if you live in an area with rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, or other potentially dangerous species, if you get rid of the prey, you'll get rid of the predator. Killing one rattlesnake will only mean that another will likely occupy its now vacant territory. Get rid of debris piles in your yard such as brush piles, piles of lumber, and other sheltered spots where rodents can hide and breed. These are the same spots that snakes also prefer as shelter and hunting grounds. You may even need to consider taking down your bird feeders if your rodent population is really high. Instead of focusing on getting rid of the snakes in your yard, focus on getting rid of their rodent prey, and the snakes will move on. 

Before I wrap up, I want to offer some less-than-scientific evidence in favor of snakes: cute snake photos. Oh yes, my doubtful reader, they do exist! 
Like how about this little albino hognose snake in a tophat?

Or how about this tiny serpent that just wants to shake your hand and say "Nice to meet ya!"

And then there's the concept of a snake sweater. Looks like this corn snake prefers turtlenecks.

While this ball python loves holiday sweaters just as much as the next person.

I always say "You don't have to like an animal to respect it and know that it plays an important role in nature." I don't expect to turn you all into snake lovers after one silly blog. I am, however, hoping that I showed that snakes do indeed have value and are worth respecting and have the right to live in their own space. So the next time you see a snake, give it some space and imagine it in a tiny sweater. I'm hoping you just might crack a smile and if you do, my work here is done.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Nature Geek! As a former pest control man, I always encouraged snakes. If you've ever seen the damage that mice and rats do to businesses here in Florida, you'd cheer for the snakes. Just seeing one in the wild is a rare opportunity, they are very furtive creatures, fleeing at the approach of humans.