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Don’t Kill the Snakes!

Posted on Jun 26, 2014

The word “snake” often elicits a variety of responses in people ranging anywhere from, “Ewww! I’m afraid of snakes” to “Snakes are such beautiful animals.” Snakes, whether they be venomous or non, are often persecuted and deemed as evil creatures by our culture and associated folklore, as they don’t exactly give people the warm and fuzzys. Every year, thousands of snakes are killed due to habitat loss, disease or direct killing of individuals by humans that simply fear or misunderstand them. However, snakes are incredibly beneficial to humans, and will cause us no harm if we give them the respect they deserve.

Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi)

The Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) is a snail eater, and will extract a snail from its shell before eating it, which takes some technique! This little snake can remove a snail from its shell in a matter of minutes and has longer teeth on the upper jaw, allowing it to get a good grip on its slimy meal.

In New York State there are 17 species of snake, including three venomous and one that is endemic to a very small range within the northeastern United States, meaning it is only found here and no where else on the planet. Some of the snakes we may encounter are brown and drab looking, while others are bright green or have orange or red bellies. Each of our species fill a specific niche being specialists or generalists in a variety of habitats. Sometimes their habitats seem to overlap with ours and conflict often occurs when we cross paths. However, if we allow the snakes we meet to be on their way, they will actually do us some great favors.

Short-headed Garter Snake

The Short-headed Garter Snake (Thamnophis brachystoma) can only be found throughout southwestern New York, northwestern Pennsylvania and the very edges of eastern Ohio, having one of the smallest distribution ranges of any North American snake.

Snakes provide humans with free pest control not only around the house or yard, but also in the forests we recreate in or the open areas we utilize. Snakes are excellent hunters, preying on pesky invertebrates or small vertebrates such as mice, that may be destructive around the home. Snakes keep pest populations in check and serve as predators to several species of amphibians and reptiles, including other snakes as well. Several studies suggest that some species of snakes, especially rattlesnakes, help maintain tick populations by eating small mammals that are often carriers of the arachnids. Therefore, snakes may aid in preventing the spread of Lyme’s Disease in humans or our furry companions.

Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum)

The Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) is often feared by farmers as folklore tells of a snake that will bite the udder of a cow and drink its milk. However, this is not the case with the milk snake. They often will hunt around farms and fields, but not for cows. They like to hunt for much smaller prey such as mice.

So the next time you encounter a snake in your backyard or in the woods, thank it for providing such services instead of harming it. Furthermore, any snakes you meet should always be left where they are and should not be handled. Most snake bites that occur in the U.S. result from attempting to pick up or hold a snake. If there is a problem with a snake around your home, contact professionals so that it may be removed in the most humane and least stressful way.

Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)

The Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) is the smallest snake with New York State, reaching an average of 8-10 inches in length.

Throughout the summer and fall, the Roger Tory Peterson Institute will continue doing herpetological survey work throughout the region to learn more about the needs of each particular species. So be on the lookout for more snake photos and stories and we hope you will appreciate them with us!

Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus)

The appropriately named Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus) has a bright ring around its neck and bright yellow-orange belly, making it easy to distinguish.

Elyse Henshaw
Conservation Technician