Friday, December 23, 2011

The Cost of Poise and Dignity----By: David Steen Ph. D.

“She never wounds 'till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.” Benjamin Franklin

Driving along the rural northwestern Florida road I travel nearly every day, I suddenly caught sight of a familiar serpentine form sprawled out along the dirt shoulder. As I brought my foot down upon the brakes to bring the truck to a stop, I steeled myself to pounce on the snake before me. My adrenaline pumped as I slammed the truck into park and noticed the characteristic gold and black patterning of an eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

Almost instantly, I knew something was awry. The snake was motionless. Flustered, I noticed two additional snakes, another diamondback and a huge rat snake, the latter’s long, limp body draped along five feet of the sandy road. That the snakes were dead and mutilated was immediately apparent. Both rattlesnakes were missing their distinctive namesake; the rattles hacked from their body. All three had taken severe blows to their head; the larger rattlesnake’s head was missing altogether. They hadn’t been here for long.

Puzzled, I took in the scene of carnage before me, shaking my head in wonderment. Had these three snakes just been run over and then salvaged for souvenirs? No, coming across a large, live snake was a rare occurrence, finding three large animals in the same spot was not likely at all. As my mind progressed from shock to disgust, I realized these snakes had been killed elsewhere and then brought here to complete some sort of macabre roadside display.

Scratching my head and trying to ascertain some motive behind the bizarre find, I began loading the snakes into the bed of my truck. I figured I would try to salvage what I could from their shortened lives. I knew a researcher from Florida State University was attempting a large-scale genetic study of diamondback rattlesnakes; by comparing their genetic makeup in varying areas, he aims to determine if there are distinctive groups of these animals. The two rattlesnakes before me could represent important data; the species has become increasingly scarce over the years, making it difficult to obtain large sample sizes for research. The rat snake could be useful in my own studies, by examining its stomach contents I hope to better understand what this species eats and the role it plays in the surrounding landscape.

The first snake had barely hit the bed of my truck when a pickup rolled to a stop beside me. From within, a tattooed and shirtless man gazed at me curiously with a smile. I knew immediately that this was the man who had killed the snakes. In a valiant attempt to disguise the distaste I felt, I asked if he knew anything about them.

“A little bit.” He replied with a brief nervous chuckle.

“She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.” Benjamin Franklin

I assured him that killing these snakes was not illegal, so he wouldn’t be in trouble if he wanted to discuss it with me. Wearing my best poker face, I informed him I was simply interested in these animals and curious where they had come from.

So began a familiar story. The rattlesnakes had apparently been wandering through his backyard and his children were saved in the nick of time by a few well-placed bullets. Nodding solemnly, I related that I could certainly understand the desire to remove rattlesnakes from a yard where pets and children played even as I silently wondered what kind of yard he might have to attract so many reptiles. I had seen only a handful of diamondbacks all year.

“But why the rat snake? They’re harmless, a danger only to mice and rats around the house.”

Although I received no comprehensible answer, I figured my point was made. Returning to the rattlesnakes, I noted I hoped he left animals alone when he came across them in the neighboring forest.

“This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love?...Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these 'resources,' but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state.” Aldo Leopold, in A Sand County Almanac

Tapping against the side of my work truck and squinting under the hot Florida sun, I tried to summon an aura of authority as I stressed how important snakes were to my work and my research. He seemed to respect that. “Sure, I leave them be. I don’t see them too often anyway, I don’t see them much around my place anymore either.”

I strained to sense any note of nostalgia. I often wonder if people will ever appreciate the unique wildlife of the southeastern United States before it’s too late to conserve it in any meaningful way. Rattlesnakes are an important component of southern culture; found primarily in North America, they are part of our identity. Would they be remembered as more than dangerous nuisances if they ever disappeared? Would they be missed around the campfire as men reminisced about the giants they had once killed? I wondered if he was aware of the irony of discussing a decline in rattlesnakes around his house as we sat and spoke above two of their recent corpses.

I tried to lead him on, “Why do you think that might be?”
He thought for a few moments, “Well, one year we sure got a lot of them, I killed seventeen of them, including a nine-footer in my rabbit cage.’
Being familiar with the ubiquitous penchant for exaggerating the size of dead snakes, I ignored the mention of the world’s largest rattlesnake and instead asked, “You killed seventeen rattlesnakes in your yard in one year, and you don’t see many anymore?”
He nodded.

Although he was predictably following my carefully scripted opening, it wasn’t gratifying; it only meant that even here, bordering a vast protected area, adult diamondbacks were becoming increasingly scarce. And so I began, “That makes sense. These animals,” I nodded towards the two dead rattlesnakes, later confirmed as adult females of breeding age, “take years to mature. So, if you kill many of them in an area, it will take the population years to recover, and that’s only if all the killing stops. Once they’re gone, there’s nothing to take up their niche, to eat all those rodents.”
He nodded.

I continued, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you my e-mail address and phone number. You can let me know if there’s a snake in your yard and I’ll come and relocate it. I’ll also send you some brochures I made that’ll give you information on how you can keep rattlesnakes away from your house in the first place”
“Got it. If I see a snake I’ll let you know. So, you’re interested in them dead or alive then?”
“No.” I said, shaking my head and smiling incredulously.
“Preferably alive then?”
“Yeah, preferably alive.”

“During an encounter with man the diamondback conducts itself with poise and dignity.” R. Mount, in The Reptiles and Amphibians of Alabama.

The man slowly coasted away and the air was filled with the gritty sound of tires crushing sand. As I leaned against the truck and glanced down at the bodies of the dead snakes, desecrated and dumped unceremoniously by the roadside only moments before, I wondered if we could ever hope to emulate the dignity that Dr. Mount attributed to them in life.


David A. Steen received his Ph.D. from Auburn University, his M.S. from the State University of New York-College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and his B.S. from the University of New Hampshire. He researches the ecology and conservation biology of wildlife and blogs about his work at His copyrighted work appears here under a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Black Rat Snakes

Black Rat Snakes (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta), are one of my favorite snakes. They are abundant and probably one of the most commonly seen snakes in Missouri. As young they look completely different from their adult counterpart. They are grayish-tan with darker patterns.

As they age they take on their trademark glossy black coloring. The pattern fades to a somewhat reddish tint, then disappears almost entirely in older snakes. They are a rather large snake reaching lengths of up to 6 feet. They are relatively tolerant of people and tame down easily. Baby black snakes will bite and act aggressive, as is typical of most baby snakes. Seems they haven't learned what is dinner and what isn't, and bite at everything. They use that aggressiveness to defend themselves as well. I suppose if someone or something 50X larger than me grabbed me I would bite too.
Another defense mechanism they will implement is to shake their tail in dried grasses or dry leaves, this rattling sound mimics the venomous rattlesnake and may afford them some protection from predation or from being captured. Although this behavior can backfire and result in their death. Many humans are fearful of venomous snakes and are quick to kill one. If the young black snake is too convincing, it may pay with its life.

One day last summer I received a call at work from my mother, exclaiming that she couldn't get into the church where she was due at a meeting. I asked her "why not". She kind of laughed and said there was a snake sitting by the door and would not let her pass. Now you have to see the humor in this situation....a snake at church keeping members out? Hello...Adam and Eve all over again?
I told her I would be right there...I wasn't missing this for anything. I got to the church to find my mother and two other ladies standing on the sidewalk several feet away from a 4 foot long black rat snake. One of the women held a hanger (was she planning to hang it out to dry?) The situation was humorous, but these ladies were trying their best to be brave; as well as get this snake away from the church. I moved it further down the sidewalk thinking it would leave the area once it realized it wasn't welcome. Oh couldn't be that easy. This snake decided to climb the wall of the church and try to enter through a dryer vent. "You've got to be kidding me!"
So I pulled him out of the dryer vent and ask if I could borrow the woman's hanger. I used the hanger to lift his head and I grabbed his tail and carried him a block away to a field of tall grasses. Hopefully he stayed put. He sure seemed determined to go to church!
I guess the congregation had a few laughs over the situation. One even suggested an exorcism of the church. The snake came on the tail end of finding a mouse and a bat in the church. Maybe a priest needs to be called?

I personally like snakes, and have six for pets that I use on a regular basis for educational programs. I find it gratifying to change peoples attitudes about these often misaligned creatures. With so much myth and mystery surrounding snakes, they are often mistakenly labeled the "bad guy" and destroyed needlessly. They are creatures to be viewed with a certain amount of awe. One game I like to play with the children at my programs is the "snake race". I ask for volunteers who wish to pretend they are a snake. After several children all excitedly come forward, I have them lay down on the floor, and place their arms and hands straight down their sides. Their legs have to be stretched out straight. In this prone position I tell them they have to race (a predetermined distance) without using their arms, hands, legs or feet. No elbows, no knees. If they use any of these appendages, they are out. The last one left that crosses the finish line wins. They get to see just how hard it would be to move like a snake. Then I tell them how snakes are specially designed with hundreds of very strong muscles, and moving like a snake is natural to them. There is much laughing and cheering every time we play this game.

We have an old stump in the back yard, which is the remnants of a large maple tree we had to cut down many years ago. The interior of this stump is made up of potting soil, and decaying pieces of the tree. It is a perfect substrate for black snakes to lay their eggs. Each year we have two adult black snakes use this stump to burying their eggs. Two years ago I dug up the eggs to count them, there were 38 eggs in total. I kept 5 eggs and incubated them in my office. All 5 hatched and we kept one juvenile snake to use as a program snake.

This past season the black snakes returned and laid eggs once again, this time 35 in total. To say we have no shortage of these snakes around our farm would be an understatement. Several years ago we discovered that the black snakes were in the basement. They would show up in March crawling in the rafters or various other places. We searched around the foundation of the house to try and locate their entrance point. We plugged several small holes, and thought we solved the problem of them entering the house. Turns out that we did not find their entrance. Each year they return. We've now discovered that they are brumating (sleeping) in a crawl space at one end of our basement that leads back underneath an addition on the house. I've found several snake skins and saw one juvenile black snake crawling on the block wall.

As a snake enthusiast I am excited by this information, my husband less so. He wants me to crawl in there and remove them. First of all, I am more scared of the crawlspace  than the snakes that are living in it. Second of all, it is mid-winter and much to cold to turn them outside. I know once spring arrives they will come out of hiding and I can take them outside then. I am not sure why the snakes chose this location 5 years ago to rest over the winter, but I can't help but feel it is because they know they are safe and will be tolerated. Thanks to these snakes that hang around our home, I have not had a mouse in the house in 6 or 7 years. I would much rather have the snakes which do not cause any problems and do not spread disease. Mice on the other hand carry many diseases that can be spread to humans, their feces and urine contaminate food. Their constant chewing destroys our stored items, whether it is papers or fabrics doesn't seem to matter to the mice when they are looking for nesting material. They have large litters and quite often. They reproduce rapidly and can be difficult to get rid of. The next time you see a snake near your property, give thanks, chances are it is feeding on the mice you might not even be aware are there.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

When is it OK to kill a rattlesnake?

Many would argue that ANYTIME is a good time to kill a rattlesnake. After all they are venomous, and definitely have the potential to cause grave harm if you are bitten. It seems when it comes to snakes they have more enemies than friends, and many are willing to prematurely end the life of a snake without pause, this seems to be doubly so for the venomous variety. Why? Where does this desire to kill these creatures come from?

We know from studies that have been done that humans are not born with a fear or hatred of snakes. So how do we go from such trusting children with the capacity to love all creatures to a snake killer? Simple. It comes from our parents, grandparents and other well meaning adults in our lives trying their best to protect us from a perceived danger. They in turn inherited their fears and hatred for these creatures from their relatives.....and so on down the line.

We may also carry this fear around with us for another reason-----perhaps you were scared or startled at a early age by the behavior of a snake; i.e. one fell out of a tree and landed in your lap. This is the scenario that played out for my husbands aunt. She was a young girl helping her mother feed the farm hands. She sat down in the shade under a large tree to enjoy her lunch when...PLOP! Right into her lap fell a large black snake. She is in her 60's now and still terrified of snakes.
My husbands grandmother reached her hands into the hen's nest to gather the eggs when she was a small girl, only to have a black snake wrap itself around her arm. She was unable to loosen the snake from her arm, and it so terrified her that to even look at a picture of a snake in her adult life would send her into fits of terror.

We can also blame Hollywood for feeding our fears by creating such wonderful movies as:
 Snakes on a Plane; Boa; Anaconda; Boa Vs. Python and the all time favorite Raiders of the Lost Ark. These movies play on the human fear of snakes to make a profit. The directors want to scare us and they use the one thing guaranteed to accomplish this....snakes!

SO we can begin to understand where the fear comes from, but what about the hatred? Why do some people vehemently claim "I AM NOT SCARED of snakes, I just DON'T LIKE THEM!!!!"  Once again we can thank those closest to us. We as children watch our relatives and family friends and look to them for advise and guidance. If we witness the people that we love and respect killing snakes out of misguided hatred, there is a pretty good chance we may repeat the behavior.

At some point the cycle is broken and a child comes along that refuses to see things the way his relatives do. Instead they see snakes as interesting and incredible creatures. Snakes to these unique children are something to be studied and kept in aquariums to enjoy each day. I was such a child. My parents were terrified of snakes, and each of my siblings were also afraid....but for some reason I did not inherit the "fear factor" gene. I have had a passion for snakes since I was very young and currently keep six snakes as pets. I am fortunate in my job to be able to educate children about snakes and their importance in the ecosystem. My hope is that by providing them with the proper knowledge they will make wiser choices than their parents and other well meaning adults in their lives where these animals are concerned.

But, when is it OK to kill a rattlesnake, or any snake for that matter? 

That is sometimes a difficult question to answer. You see, for someone like me that deeply loves and respects these creatures, there is never a good time to kill one. I see each encounter as an opportunity to learn something. I am happy to relocate them to a safer location and provide them the chance to continue on with their lives. But, not everyone thinks or feels like I do. Many people do not feel comfortable relocating a snake, especially the venomous kind. It is hard to find people willing to come and do it for you, and even if you have someone in your area who can and will relocate them, often it takes them a while to show up. Many fear that by the time help arrives the snake will be gone,and out of sight, which is scarier to them than knowing right where it is.
If you have small children or grandchildren you may fear for their safety. After all it is easy for a child to assume any snake is safe and be bitten. Perhaps you have pets that you are afraid will be bitten and possibly seriously injured or killed. These are all valid reason for killing a rattlesnake, or any venomous snake for that matter. While I do not advocate killing a snake, I certainly can respect anyone who is doing it with the intention of protecting their family.

An example of such a killing is one that was told to me just today. A blogger friend of mine from southern Missouri  has had a few timber rattlesnakes show up in his yard over the past 16 years. He is a naturalist and respects all nature, and does his best to educate the public and preserve all creatures. However, these snakes on occasion show up on his back deck, near his garage and other undesirable locations. His wife is concerned for her own safety and that of their beloved dogs. Back in September a timber rattler showed up in their driveway. His wife secured the dogs and brought a gun to her husband and insisted it be killed as the snake was decidedly close to the open garage door. She was afraid if the snake entered the garage they would not be able to locate it again which posed a danger to her ( and him too).

 (Timber Rattler shot in Southern Missouri)

He is quick to relocate them when he is able to do so, but in certain situations that is not always possible and quite frankly not at the forefront of your thoughts when faced with a potentially dangerous animal sharing your personal space.

A neighbor of mine has one or two timber rattlers show up on his back patio each summer. In spite of the fact that myself and a volunteer I work with reassuring him that he can call us and we will remove the snake and take it somewhere safer, he still insists on killing them. The reasoning behind his actions are a genuine fear for his grandchildren. He is not willing to risk their safety while he waits for either one of us to get there and take care of it for him. While I do not like it, I can understand it.

So any person can begin to understand that sometimes it is necessary to kill these snakes, or at least that is the way the person doing the killing sees the situation. We now have a little bit of understanding for when it is OK to kill a snake. NOW......lets talk about when it is NOT ok to kill a snake.

Some snakes are killed by a simple case of mistaken identity. Many non-venomous snakes closely resemble venomous snakes. They will even rattle their tail in leaf litter to sound convincingly like a rattler's rattle. This is no mistake, these are mimics of venomous snakes. Presumably if you look like a rattlesnake and you sound like a rattlesnake you will be safer from predation. In some respects this works, but more often than not it is a death sentence. Remember many humans are quick to kill and ask questions later when it comes to snakes. If it looks and acts like a MUST be a rattler!
Next time you are faced with this situation (a snake), take a deep breathe, and try to identify what it is that you are looking at, often it will be a harmless non-venomous look alike.

(Rattlesnake mimic---this is a Diamondback Water snake, and they are often mistaken for Cottonmouths or even the rattlesnake that goes by the same name)

This is for the people who insist that any snake crossing the road is fair game for road kill. Many snakes traveling across roadways, highways and other right-of-ways are merely "migrating" to their hunting, basking or hibernating locations. They pose no threat to you as a person or to anyone you care about. You cannot use the excuse that you are protecting your family, if you are 15 miles from home as you squish the snake under your 3 ton SUV!

(Roadkill Timber Rattler)
 (Roadkill Timber Rattler)

Any native non-venomous snake should be left alone. They cannot cause you bodily harm. Yes, they can bite, but the bites are superficial and will not cause lasting damage, beyond a scratch that resembles a cat scratch. Simply wash the wound well with soap and water to remove any bacteria that may be present and viola you are good to go.

 (Black Rat Snake attempting to protect itself by biting)

These snakes are far more beneficial to you alive than dead. They consume vast amounts of rodents, keeping your home safe from these four legged invaders. Mice are known carriers of disease, they contaminate food with their urine and feces. They destroy stored items and turn it into nesting material. The bacteria left behind by their feeding habits can make us sick. Not to mention their incessant chewing and scratching will drive you up the wall when it wakes you up in the middle of the night. Snakes are the ultimate mouse trap.

Venomous snakes should be left alone in all circumstances, except the aforementioned situation of protecting yourself, your children or your pets. Venomous snakes are protected in Missouri as well as in many other states. The unlawful killing of a venomous snake may result in fines or even time served in a local jail. These snakes under normal circumstances pose no threat to you. They will quickly try to escape if approached. Even those snakes that stand their ground are reluctant to bite, after all you are not food, why waste venom on you? If you persist in bothering the snake or try to handle it expect to be bitten. If you simply walk away, everyone is better off. The snake gets to live another day, and you get to live to tell about it.

Snake venom is designed to subdue their prey and kill it quickly. They are expert hunters and trackers. The mousey victim does not get far before the venom takes affect, and the snake is able to smell the combo of its own venom mixed with the smell of the rodent to accurately locate its prey. While the venom is designed to kill small rodents, it is powerful enough to make a human very sick. Several thousand people are bitten each year by venomous snakes, but fewer than 10 die. Being bitten by a rattlesnake or any other venomous snake in North America is not necessarily a death sentence, it is however a serious situation and should be treated as such and immediate medical attention should be sought. Most people that are bitten are individuals who handle snakes on a regular basis such as those individuals who milk snakes for venom, or who do field studies. Another segment of the population that sustains bites frequently are those individuals bent on showing off for their friends. They want to exhibit their "snake wrangling" abilities and ultimately get bitten in the process. Many times alcohol is involved as well. Drinking and venomous snakes do not mix. Not only are your reflexes dulled, but alcohol causes the venom to course through your system much faster creating a potentially more serious situation.

Besides the fact that venomous snakes are awesome creatures, and beneficial in the rodent control they provide, there are other reasons to let them live. Their venom is used in the making of numerous life saving drugs, such as blood pressure medicine and some cancer medicine. If we as a race destroy these potentially "life saving" creatures we may well have to learn how to survive without the venom they produce which ultimately has the power to save many more lives than it will ever destroy.

Each one of us has to make choices in life, and often those choices directly affect those around us. If we choose to be intolerant of the snakes that sometimes share our world, then we will most likely raise children with the same degree of intolerance. I say we are better than that, that we are capable of great compassion even for creatures we do not like or that scare us. We can teach respect and tolerance for all living creatures; instead of teaching our children to kill those things that we do not understand, we can strive for understanding. Ultimately the world will be a better place for us and for our children, and I am sure the snakes will thank you too.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Social interactions between mothers and young: do rattlesnakes exhibit care for their offspring?

Some very interesting subjects are being talked about over at the website, SocialSnakes. There are two articles that have been posted within the past two months that discuss extensively the parental relationship rattlesnakes share with their offspring. Before we get to them, however, some background on snake reproductive behavior should be covered. Most people would be surprised to learn that any snake would know its parents, the common image for serpents and other reptiles being that they abandon or even attempt to eat their offspring shortly after reproduction. The reality is that many reptile species exhibit complex social behavior and the systematic organization of family units complete with parental care of offspring. Certain species of snakes, probably the most maligned vertebrates on the planet, have even been shown to protect their offspring. At least three species of the genus Python are known to incubate their eggs by coiling around them and will lash out at any intruder that attempts to prey on them. Even more elaborate is the king cobra, Ophiophagus hannah, which is the only snake known to build a mound nest. The female (within a male’s territory) will then stay with the nest, while fasting, until the eggs hatch. During this time she fends off potential nest predators, sometimes at the risk of her own life.

There are also species whose social behavior we are only just discovering and that brings us to focus on our main subject: rattlesnakes! Rattlesnakes are some of the most physically advanced snakes on the planet so it should come as no surprised that they are very behaviorally advanced as well. This behavior expands to their reproduction, where males have elaborate competitive wrestling matches and pairs have been known to mate with the same partners year after year. Most enigmatic and potentially interesting of all, however, is their interaction with their offspring after birth. Rattlesnakes are vipers and, like almost all vipers, they oviviparous (yes I had to look that up to spell it) meaning that they gestate their eggs inside of their bodies until they hatch and then give birth to live young. The neonates then stay with the mother for an undetermined period of time, varying to just a couple of days to over several weeks. The reason for this is not entirely known and hypotheses generally lean toward this being a phase of ethological development for the young snakes.

Some researchers are proposing an explanation in that the mother rattlesnakes are actually exhibiting true parental care. SocialSnakes has captured some amazing photographs of a mother rattlesnake interacting with her newly birthed brood ( Several of these photos seem to indicate that the mother is directing her babies away from dangerous areas, i.e. the open wilderness, and actually herding strays back into her birthing lair. Another entry ( mentions an even more interesting instance where an adult female rattlesnake apparently discouraged a juvenile from approaching a human by blocking his way and staring him down. Was this intentional? Did she associate the human with danger and then made sure the younger, less experienced snake did not slither into what might have been a predator? Did the other mother snake know that her babies would be safer in her lair and thus chose to ensure that they did not leave prematurely?

The problem with evaluating this behavior is that young snakes do not have the same care requirements as, say, baby birds, baby crocodilians or many baby amphibians. Even more so than the aforementioned baby crocodilians, neonate rattlesnakes really are ready to live independently as soon as they are born. They have all of their instincts, all of their necessary development and even their venom at the ready. The one thing that they do not have is the acquired skill and experience that can only come with age. At the same time the truth is that rattlesnakes probably do not require much parental care with all of the advantages they have from birth. What is likely happening is an elaborate system of communication involving visual, physical and possibly scent signals, many of which are already instinctive nature to these snakes honed through their advanced evolution. It does not seem to be too much of a leap to imagine that certain beneficial behaviors would be selected for and among these the behavior of a mother to come to the occasional aid of her offspring and simply guide them for the first few weeks of their delicate lives, thus assuring their survival as well as the survival of the predisposition to assure the survival of future generations.

Rattlesnakes are already shown to be social creatures, even if these data are inconclusive there is still concrete proof that mother snakes will tolerate neonates in their presence and some mothers will even actually let the young bask on their backs to obtain more heat. How would the public react if they knew how complex and social rattlesnakes and other pit vipers are? It is unlikely to completely reform their unjustly negative image completely but it certainly would not hurt them. I plan to follow up on this entry in the near future and further discuss who is behind some of this research and how new data are showing that these pit vipers may be more advanced than we could have possibly imagined.


A rattlesnake helper? [Web log message]. (2011, October 20).

A day in the life of a rattlesnake family [Web log message], (2011, Oct 28)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

People of the Response, not the Reaction.

My name is Ray Autry and I have dedicated the last 5 years of my life to fighting for reform in the area of rattlesnake roundups. I appreciate the efforts of everyone who has helped in this cause but as we approach the spring hunting season in Oklahoma I am asking people to participate in contacting state officials and letting them know that the limits placed on Crotalus sp. in Oklahoma are unsustainable.

I urge us all to respond, and not react in our dealings with officials and those in charge of roundups. We must be factual and calm in our response. I am already aware of the fact that we are being stereotyped as "animal rights activists" by those who support the massive slaughter of these awesome reptiles. When contacting those who have the power to reform roundups and make them more ecologically sound, we must be armed with the facts regarding roundups based on our own observations and previous studies. If you want to help reform rattlesnake roundups, it's worth your time to do some extra research and know the facts regarding them. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rattlesnakes: Finding Their Poise and Dignity---By: David Steen Ph. D.

 All too often we are presented with portrayals of rattlesnakes that rob them of their poise and dignity.  In response, I contacted my friends and colleagues and requested they provide stories and pictures that more accurately represent the wild creatures we all appreciate.  You can read about the campaign here.  I'm proud to compile their stories below.  Thank you to all the contributors.  Do you also have a story to contribute?  Please contact me as I hope to produce a second edition.  Without further ado....

Hungry Rattlesnakes
By Dirk Stevenson

I was enthralled when I first read about foraging rattlesnakes, how they use their tongues to pick up the fresh scent trails of rodents or rabbits, before coiling along a fallen log, or at the base of a tree, in an attempt to ambush their furry prey.  Man, I thought, what I would give to observe this first-hand in the field. Years passed, and although I observed many rattlesnakes in the wild—rattlers under tin, under boards, crossing roads, rattlers peering at me from beneath their rocky crevice lairs, and rattlers basking lazily in the straw-colored grass atop sandhills—I didn’t come across any that appeared to be foraging.

A torrent of serendipity came my way a few years ago, when, in the span of only a few months, I met several foraging rattlesnakes. A large and gorgeous male timber (aka canebrake) rattlesnake was spotted in a classic vertical ambush posture, its forebody extending up the trunk of a large laurel oak.

 I checked in on the snake on three consecutive days during which it essentially remained stationary, snuggled tight to the trunk as if glued; then, on the 4th day he was gone…”Aw, where’s my friend, I wondered”, feeling a bit lost without him…  Then in a nearby sunspot I made out the crisp coal-black chevrons split by the orange line down the backbone. Looking closer I noticed a plump, squirrel-sized bolus ballooning from his belly.  A victory, and a much-needed nourishment for the snake. 

        Getting Down to Business
        By Matt Greene

Recently I was working in Walton County, Florida, restoring a sandhill that had been invaded by sand pines after fire had been suppressed.  Although the area was covered in ideal groundcover vegetation, the trees were wrong for the habitat.  My job was to cut the sand pine trees so they would eventually die, a process called girdling.  As I approached a small sand pine tree I noticed a three-foot long Eastern Diamondbacked Rattlesnake coiled up below it.  Although I photographed the snake, it barely twitched and gave no indication it was at all disturbed.  I had to girdle the tree, and this snake was in my way, so walked away to focus on other trees and hoped the snake would move on in the meantime.  When I returned later though, the snake had not moved.  But, I had a job to do so I carefully girdled the sand pine and left.  The snake never rattled once even though I was working within just a few feet of it for several minutes.

   On the Trail Again
              By Michelle Baragona

I recently had the pleasure of working with Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) in the hardwood forests of southern Indiana.  Using radio telemetry, I tracked these snakes daily, getting the opportunity to observe the same individuals every week and learn about their behavior.  By the end of my job, my coworkers and I were able to identify each snake by their unique patterns and individual habits.  We lamented "Brian's" propensity to move hundreds of meters on a daily basis, making him exceptionally difficult to track across the hilly terrain.  We cursed "Sully" and his affinity for the thorniest, steepest slopes in the area.  We anticipated "Claire" giving birth and were excited to see her offspring wriggling around in the leaf litter.  We came to know these thirty-some-odd snakes and wished them a fond farewell as they retreated into their rocky dens for the winter. 

As challenging as it was to tromp across countless ridges and traverse thickets of brambles in 95 degree heat to locate a perfectly camouflaged snake completely buried in leaf litter, it was nothing compared to the difficulty in convincing the public of the ecological value of rattlesnakes.  Most people in the area I worked were convinced that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was spending millions of dollars to airdrop rattlesnakes into their backyards (as well as reintroducing coyotes that kill their livestock and inducing the increasing rarity of the ruffed grouse). We were even told by our supervisors not to mention that we were studying rattlesnakes to curious passersby as to avoid any sort of controversy. 

We did what we could when people did ask about the snakes; we also tried to debunk rumors about DNR, offered our services if they ever needed a snake removed from their property, and provided as much information and instruction as we could about safely dealing with rattlesnakes (most of which is highlighted throughout this blog). Although I am not convinced I completely changed anybody's mind, people were much more receptive to the idea of not killing rattlesnakes when they became more educated.  And that's what Dave's blog is about: educating the public and trying to preserve these and other incredible animals. Rattlesnakes are truly amazing creatures, and I hope that through increased awareness they will continue to demand the awe and respect they deserve. 

       Watch Your Step
       By Sean Sterrett

This photo is representative of a regular sighting during my stay as a wildlife research technician working in southwest Georgia.  This particular Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) was found in March 2006 in the course of radio-tracking Eastern Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula), which I did on a daily basis. My research partner and I walked right by the snake at least once before noticing it, but when we got too close its piercingly loud rattling attracted our attention. The forest was still smoldering from a prescribed burn several days before, so once I keyed in on the serpentine shape it was relatively easy to make out the brown and black pattern atop the blackened wiregrass understory.  The snake’s rattling, which began only after it felt threatened, is a perfect example of how these snakes typically behave defensively when encountered, not aggressively.

       Sun Bathing
       By Matt Greene

On a hunch that there may be some snakes taking refuge around a rock outcrop I knew of, I hiked along the Ichawaynochaway Creek in Baker County, Georgia to check out the site.  The rocky area received direct sunlight in the afternoon and was therefore an excellent habitat for snakes to warm up, particularly in advance of the coming winter. Boy, was I amazed to see this beauty basking.  I don’t recall her making too much of a fuss as photographed her. Although she may have rattled when I brought my camera lens too close, she never moved.  My photography session was less than a brief distraction for her daily basking.

         Snow Birds
         By Dave Prada

As a field herper, someone that actively seeks out reptiles to observe and photograph, the cold days of Northeastern winters bring about a certain amount of cabin fever. Sure, I can still get outside and go on hikes, but snakes, which are the reptiles I am most fond of, are deep underground waiting for the warm days of spring to emerge. As the winter goes on, I even find myself having nighttime "snake dreams", where I'm finding and photographing multitudes of brightly colored serpents.

Towards the end of the last few winters, just when it seems I can't take the cold days anymore, a couple of my field herping buddies and I have been making a yearly pilgrimage to the Southeast. There, spring has already arrived, and the snakes have begun to emerge from their underground dens. On one sunny day last year, my friends and I were exploring some coastal habitat in the hopes of finding the king of the South and world’s largest rattlesnake. The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.

We walked through the habitat with eyes peeled, as these snakes can be difficult to spot in the vegetation. I'm sure we walked right past a few without knowing it, as they would prefer to let you just walk on by without alerting you to their presence. Finally, after much tromping through the sand, I spotted some diamonds under the brush of a fallen tree. It was indeed a large Diamondback, probably around five feet long, coiled next to the hole where he had spent the winter. I quickly called my friends over, and we proceeded to admire and photograph the snake from a distance. The Diamondback was happy sitting in the warm sunshine and never budged or rattled as we slowly crept in closer for more photographs. After spending ten minutes or so taking photos, with no more reaction from the snake than a couple of tongue flicks, we continued on our way with wide smiles on our faces, feeling privileged to share our encounter with the beautiful, placid serpent.

        Island Hopping
        By Aubrey Heupel

In January of 2008, my friends and I were on St. Vincent Island for an annual survey of the area’s amphibians and reptiles, and so far I hadn’t found much of interest.  In fact, I rarely find much of interest on St. Vincent in January; the species I’m after tend to make themselves scarce during the winter months.  However, this year as I was wandering around the trails near the lodge I came across this beautiful animal.  I must have walked past it earlier in the day and only noticed the snake on my return trip, as it was catching some rays just off the trail.  Although the snake was completely aware of my intrusion, it never rattled or even moved the entire time I was taking pictures and calling the others over to see my first St. Vincent Diamondback.

         Strange Bedfellows
         By Dirk Stevenson

The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is a “frequent commensal” of gopher tortoise burrows, commonly using the deep, cavernous burrows of this turtle for winter dens; occasionally, adult females give birth to their litters in or near tortoise burrows.

The iconic diamondback is a “light sleeper” and may be active on the surface during periods of mild winter weather, sometimes even taking prey during December-February. Another iconic giant, the eastern indigo snake (to 8 feet, 9 inches long), is also active during the winter months, with breeding taking place in protected subterranean shelters (like gopher burrows) from October-February.

While conducting surveys for snakes in southern Georgia and north Florida over the last 20 years, I have visited many thousands of gopher tortoise burrows (at hundreds of sites that possessed choice sandhill habitat) under ideal weather conditions specifically looking for eastern diamondbacks. Of the 60 rattlesnakes I have found doing so (that’s correct, only 60!), one has yet to act aggressively or strike at me (although a handful did rattle when I or my field companion/wife accidentally stepped near them).

     The Eastern Diamondback on the left is an adult female, 4.5 feet long, found on a remote Canoochee River sand ridge, Georgia.  Remarkably, we found her close to tortoise burrows during three different winters over a 5-year period! Note how cryptic (i.e., hard to see) she is when coiled against a backdrop of oak litter and wiregrass. When I discovered her on a mild (65 F) but humid January day, she was tightly coiled and oblivious to my presence—a regal lady with important things to do (namely, basking to warm her core body temperature). Another attached photo shows an awakening rattler just inside the entrance to a tortoise burrow on a warm December morning. His only interest in my camera was an occasional tongue-flick; at one point, to situate him for a photo I gently moved him with my snake stick; it was like sliding a scaly hockey puck across the sand…

The diamondbacks I have found basking on the surface near tortoise holes typically make a hasty retreat back into their burrow refuge when disturbed.  Although a large and highly venomous species, seemingly indomitable, eastern diamondbacks up to four feet long are commonly preyed upon by large indigo snakes, which are mostly immune to the effects of rattler venom.

       Spring Cleaning
       By Aubrey Heupel

 In late March 2007, I decided to visit a Timber Rattlesnake den site I knew of in southwestern Georgia to see what was up and about.  As the days warmed with the coming spring, I hoped I might see some snakes emerging from the ground to enjoy the sun’s light. It took a few unsuccessful visits that year before I noticed two beautiful adult snakes, they had ventured out just far enough from the ground to gain the benefits of the sun-warmed rocks. The snakes were extremely wary of my presence and as soon as my companions and I got too close they retreated back into the safety of their rocky underground den.  We spotted another individual that retreated before we even got a good look at it.  It is amazing how these usually solitary creatures will congregate in the same den site during the winter months, and regardless of how far they venture during the summer, they will usually return to the same den site every year

Snake Crossing
By Aubrey Heupel

One day in southwestern Georgia, I was headed to work when I came upon a beautiful Timber Rattlesnake stretched across the road.  Although the snake was exposed and vulnerable, it never moved or rattled even as I was walking around it and taking pictures. It remained stretched out and as calm as can be until we safely moved it off the road.

On the other side of the state, on my way to Okefenokee Swamp, I was forced to come to a screeching halt for another Timber Rattlesnake coming onto the road.  Unfortunately, roads pose a major threat to snakes and cause many deaths, as so many people feel the only good snake is a dead snake.  I am the opposite, I brake for snakes (I even have a bumper sticker that will warn tailgaters of that) and help them on their way.

           A Shared Prize
          By Todd Pierson

Perhaps nothing is more rewarding than introducing a non-naturalist to the great outdoors.  A few years ago, I convinced several of my best friends--none of which had any particular interest in reptiles--to travel west in search of scenic landscapes and rattlesnakes.  Their enthusiasm for encountering these venomous snakes was low, to say the least, but I insisted.

A week or so into our trip, we had witnessed majestic mountainscapes, sunsets, and waterfalls, but we had not yet sought rattlesnakes.  We had seen the charismatic megafauna of Yellowstone--grizzlies, moose, and elk--but no buzzworms.  On a clear, sunny morning, we hiked through the arid plains of the northern part of the park.

Aside from a few antelope, the land appeared lifeless.  Two of us passed an inconspicuous sage bush, enticing no response, but the third footfall was followed by a loud buzz.  Ah, there it was!  Inside the bush was a beautiful adult Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis); my friends--inexperienced with venomous snakes--showed no signs of fear, but awe.  These creatures, when respected and appreciated are not scary, but beautiful.

           Don’t Tread on Me
           By Jim Godwin

The Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge lies along a stretch of the Cahaba River in Bibb County, Alabama, a short drive from either Birmingham or Tuscaloosa.  Remnant patches of mountain longleaf pine forest can be found along the ridges overlooking the river and a key management goal is the restoration of longleaf on the refuge.  But other, and more widespread, natural communties also occur on the refuge, one being mesic hardwood forest.  Two years ago I was conducting a herp inventory of the refuge for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  During this time USFWS conducted an early spring prescribed burn, the timing of the burn was mid-March.  An area that I used for camping was within mesic hardwood forest and this site had also been part of the prescribed burn.  

During one of my trips in early April I set forth early in the morning to check a cover board array but what caught my eye was an adult Timber (Canebrake) Rattlesnake calming coiled on the hillside.  The presentation of this beautifully colored rattlesnake was one of quiet poise.  Two things immediately struck me, one being the total lack of crypsis, with the snake lying fully exposed in the recently burned forest.  The light coloration of the body of the snake was in stark contrast to the blackened leaves and twigs on the forest floor.  The second, and this from closer examination, was the presence of a light covering of dew on the snake.  Immediately adjacent to the snake was a stump hole, I assume this was the snake’s usual refuge.  But based on the presence of dew, instead of retreating for the evening into a protected environment the snake had apparently remained on the surface throughout the night; at the time it was found it appeared to be asleep.  Although exposed to predation in this position at night, the snake was likely hunting, perhaps waiting for a mouse to walk along the adjacent branch.

After spending 15 minutes or so photographing the rattlesnake, I went about my business for the day.  The snake never made the slightest movement.  Although I returned to this same location many times afterward I never had another encounter with this rattlesnake. 
David A. Steen received his Ph.D. from Auburn University, his M.S. from the State University of New York-College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and his B.S. from the University of New Hampshire. He researches the ecology and conservation biology of wildlife and blogs about his work at His copyrighted work appears here under a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bill Haast, a Man Charmed by Snakes, Dies at 100 by:Douglas Martin NY Times

This article first appeared in the New York Times in June of this year. I found it to be an interesting tribute to a truly unique person.

Bill Haast figured he had handled more than three million poisonous snakes over the years, and he had the hands to prove it.
                                                                                         Courtesy of Nancy Haast.
William Haast at his Miami Serpentarium in the 1950's.
An eastern diamondback rattlesnake left one hand looking like a claw. A Malayan pit viper mangled an index finger. A cottonmouth bit a finger, which instantly turned black, prompting his wife to snip off the fingertip with garden clippers.
Mr. Haast was bitten at least 173 times by poisonous snakes, about 20 times almost fatally. It was all in a day’s work for probably the best-known snake handler in the country, a scientist-cum-showman who made enough money from milking toxic goo from slithery serpents to buy a cherry-red Rolls-Royce convertible.
A secret of his success was the immunity he had built up by injecting himself every day for more than 60 years with a mix of venoms from 32 snake species. He suspected the inoculations might have explained his extraordinarily good health, but he was reluctant to make that claim, he said, until he reached 100.
Mr. Haast, who was director of the Miami Serpentarium Laboratories, a snake-venom producer near Punta Gorda, Fla., died of natural causes on Wednesday at his home in southwest Florida, his wife, Nancy, said. He was 100.
Mr. Haast’s story was good enough in its day to land him in Walter Winchell’s syndicated column, on “The Tonight Show” and, hardly surprising, in Ripley’s Believe It or Not attractions. His original Miami Serpentarium, south of Miami on South Dixie Highway, attracted 50,000 tourists a year for four decades.
Outside was a 35-foot-high concrete statue of a giant cobra, forked tongue flicking menacingly. Inside, Mr. Haast, the self-proclaimed “Snakeman,” entertained paying customers by using his hands to grab snakes below their heads and force their teeth into soft plastic. Venom would then drain into test tubes fastened to the plastic. He did this 100 or so times a day.
The serpentarium was more than just another roadside attraction. The price of a gram of freeze-dried venom from exotic snakes, requiring 100 or more extractions to accumulate, could exceed $5,000. The substance is an essential ingredient in making a serum to treat snakebite victims. It has also shown promise as a medicinal ingredient.
Mr. Haast and a Miami doctor treated more than 6,000 people with a snake-venom serum that they and their patients contended was effective against multiple sclerosis and arthritis. After the CBS News program “60 Minutes” did a report on the subject in December 1979, interest in the serum surged. But in 1980 the Food and Drug Administration banned the product as useless after saying that numerous deficiencies had been found in Mr. Haast’s manufacturing process. Nevertheless, researchers have continued to work on drugs made from venom in the hope of using it to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
Mr. Haast himself indisputably saved lives. He flew around the world to donate his antibody-rich blood to 21 different snakebite victims. Venezuela made him an honorary citizen after he went deep into the jungle to give a boy a pint of blood.
The favor was returned in 1989 when, according to The Associated Press, the White House used secret connections to spirit a rare serum out of Iran to treat Mr. Haast as he fought to recover from a bite by a Pakistani pit viper. (Different venoms require different antidotes.)
William E. Haast was born on Dec. 30, 1910, in Paterson, N.J. He caught his first garter snake at 7 at a nearby canal. His first serious snake bite came at age 12, when he was bitten by a timber rattlesnake at Boy Scout camp. The same year, a copperhead’s bite put him in the hospital for a week. When young Bill brought his first poisonous snake home to the family apartment, his mother left home for three days, he said. She finally agreed to let him keep a snake or two in cages.
“The snake would bite the mouse,” he said in an interview with The Miami Herald in 1984. “The mouse would die. I found it intriguing.”
He bought his first exotic snake, a diamondback rattler, from a catalog. Noticing that it had come from Florida, he knew then, he said, that Florida was his destiny. After dropping out of school at 16, he joined a roadside snake show that made its way to Florida in the late 1920s.
The snake attraction soon failed during the Depression, so Mr. Haast went to work for a bootlegger in the Everglades, where he was pleased to find plenty of snakes. The bootlegger was arrested, and Mr. Haast found his way to an airline mechanics school.
Finding a job as a flight engineer with Pan American World Airways, he began traveling around the world. That gave him a chance to use his toolbox to smuggle snakes, including his first cobra.
Mr. Haast’s dream of a first-class snake farm came true when he opened his Miami serpentarium in 1947. His near-fatal snakebites became legend in the news media, particularly after the total passed 100 in the mid-1960s.
His first wife, Ann, divorced him over his snake obsession. His second, Clarita, and third, Nancy, pitched in enthusiastically.
Besides his wife, the former Nancy Harrell, he is survived by two daughters, three grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
Mr. Haast closed the serpentarium in 1984 after a 6-year-old boy fell into his crocodile pit and was fatally mauled. He moved his venom-gathering operation to Utah. Six years later, he returned to Florida and opened the facility in Punta Gorda, where he raised and milked snakes but did not resume his snake show.
For all the time he spent with snakes, Mr. Haast harbored no illusions that they liked him.
“You could have a snake for 30 years and the second you leave his cage door cracked, he’s gone,” he told Outside magazine in 1997. “And they’ll never come to you unless you’re holding a mouse in your teeth.”

Monday, December 5, 2011

Western Fox Snake

Western Fox Snakes (Elaphe vulpina) were once thought to be threatened or endangered in Missouri and were listed as such until just this year. Apparently some populations were found that were previously unknown to experts. So while they are no longer listed as threatened this in no way should  indicate they are without risk of becoming so. They are certainly rare and only occur in a few scant counties in Northwestern and Northeastern Missouri. Because their habitat consists of marshlands, and those lands are greatly reduced throughout their range it is easy to see that part of their population decline is due to habitat loss. They may also occur in open forested areas, farmlands and prairies. These are beautiful, large snakes closely related to the much more common Black Rat Snake. They reach lengths up to 60 inches with a record snake being reported at nearly 6 feet. The color of this snake once upon a time protected it from predation and from humans. It is a remarkable mimic of the Massasauga Rattlesnake and even occurs in the same habitat further carrying out the similarity. Some even mistake this snake for the Copperhead, which seems a stretch to me. The copperhead is all over coppery in color and has hourglass shaped markings, but I guess from a distance it could be mistaken for Missouri's most common venomous snake. The mimicry that once protected the snake now often seals its fate and result in humans killing first and realizing their mistake in identity later. In my opinion they most closely resemble bullsnakes. They are the same yellowish-tan color with black blotches. The main differences between the two are the size, bullsnakes are huge at 7 feet or larger. Bullsnakes also have a more pointed face, and the fox snake usually has a reddish colored head, but otherwise the similarity is uncanny.

Fox snakes get their common name from the musk scent they emit when disturbed that is reported to smell very much like a red fox. This snake is extremely mild mannered and is not prone to bite unless severely molested. If you are harassing a snake, you should expect to be bitten! The bite is not dangerous and the wound is always superficial. You need only clean the wound of any bacteria. Their bite is designed more for holding onto their prey than in defense. They will often rattle their tail in dried grasses or leaves which can sound very much like the rattlesnake it is a mimic of, which only goes further in sealing their fate with humans.
These snakes feed on fledgling birds, small adult birds, eggs, small rabbits, mice, rats and voles.

The adult fox snake pictured here is a program/educational snake belonging to Squaw Creek NWR. Amanda the onsight naturalist was kind enough to allow me to photograph the snake. Because "Foxy" was so well behaved and tolerant of us photographing it I gave her a treat in the form of three pinkie mice. She seemed to enjoy her treat and gobbled them down very quickly.
All gone---well almost!

Western Fox Snakes mate in the spring or early summer. The female will lay 10-20 eggs in June or July. The eggs hatch in late August or early September. The juvenile snakes will measure between 8-12 inches in length. We are very fortunate at my office in St. Joseph because we were just given a juvenile western fox snake by Amanda and Darrin of Squaw Creek. Apparently one of the on sight construction crew accidentally disturbed a nest of eggs. A few of the eggs were broken and Darrin was able to identify them as Western Fox Snakes. He told Amanda about the situation and she remembered I wanted one for our office. She asked me if I would be interested in incubating the eggs. Of course I was! I had incubated black snake eggs last year and had excellent luck with it. They felt they would stand a better chance at survival if incubated, so I set about getting my incubator when Amanda called laughing saying that two of the eggs hatched! By the next morning three more had hatched. Amanda told me I could come up and pick one out for our office. Cindy and I drove to Squaw Creek and played with the babies and picked the one we wanted as our program/educational snake. We chose snake #4 which seemed like a nice friendly snake. We looked at the cluster of eggs and of the seven eggs present, 5 had hatched, one was not viable, and one was odd. This "odd" egg felt like it had something in it, but it was concave and weirdly formed. Amanda said I could cut into it and see what was inside......

a fully formed, living and breathing was a tiny fox snake. We were so excited to have 6 out of 7 young snakes be fully formed and healthy. Amanda is going to use the juvenile snakes for a junior naturalist program tonight, then release all the new babies back to the wild where hopefully they will avoid predators. Many creatures feed on young snakes including hawks, raccoons, foxes, and other snakes. 
Snake #4 is a male and will make an excellent addition to our growing population of educational animals

Meet #4

As juveniles they very much resemble their cousins the black rat snakes. If you did not have in hand one of each species to compare you would be hard pressed to tell them apart.

Juvenile black rat snake for comparison.

Occasionally we are given opportunities to educate the public about these wonder and often misunderstood creatures. This juvenile fox snake will be one of those opportunities. We will be able to showcase a snake that hovers on the line of being threatened or endangered within Missouri. This opens up an avenue to discuss habitat loss and the importance of all creatures within a given habitat. To say Cindy and I are excited to have this little snake would be an understatement! Thank you Darrin and Amanda for allowing us to have this wonderful little snake and the opportunities it represents.