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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Snakes In My Back Yard

Common garter snake
     There’s a large woods behind our house that’s home to all sorts of critters and they often venture into our backyard in spite of the fence. I am not a lover of snakes, but they are pretty common in the back yard, flowers and hedges. So far I have identified only garter snakes. There’s probably others, but these are the most common. 
     The common garter snakes is the state reptile of Massachusetts. Why a state would want a state reptile is unknown. 

     They are thin snakes and few grow over about 4 feet long; most stay smaller, but they can get up to 54 inches long. Most have longitudinal stripes in many different colors. Common garter snakes come in a wide range of colors, including green, blue, yellow, gold, red, orange, brown, and black. 
     They are what is called a diurnal snake (active during the day). In summer, it is most active in the morning and late afternoon; in cooler seasons or climates, it restricts its activity to the warm afternoons. In warmer southern areas, the snake is active year-round; otherwise, it sleeps in common dens, sometimes in great numbers. 
     I once heard noises coming out of a cardboard box containing extra gutter leaf guards that was stored in the shed. Guess what I dumped out? Half a dozen garter snakes. 
     Another time after a heavy rain, the was a puddle of water at the bottom of the front steps and dozens of tiny baby snakes had been flooded out from underneath the steps and were swimming and crawling around. Yuck! 
     What happens if a garter snake bites you? They have a mild venom in their saliva that may be toxic to amphibians and other small animals, but for humans, a bite is not dangerous, though it may cause slight itching, burning, and/or swelling. Most common garter snakes also secrete a foul-smelling fluid from post-anal glands when handled or harmed. 
     They are resistant to naturally found poisons such as that of the American toad and rough-skinned newt, the latter of which can kill a human if ingested. Common garter snakes have the ability to absorb the toxin from the newts into their body, making them poisonous, which can deter potential predators. 
     In early spring, when the snakes are coming out of hibernation the males generally emerge first to be ready when the females wake up. Here’s an interesting fact: Some males will assume the role of a female and lead other males away from the burrow, luring them with a fake female pheromone. After such a male has led rivals away, he turns back into a male and races back to the den, just as the females emerge. He is then the first to mate with all the females he can catch. This method also serves to help warm males by tricking other males into surrounding and heating up the male, and is particularly useful to species in colder climates. 
     There are generally far more males than females and that is why, during mating season, they form "mating balls," where one or two females will be completely swamped by ten or more males. The females may give birth ovoviviparously to 12 to 40 young from July through October. That is, they produce young by means of eggs which are hatched within the body. 
     One day when my wife came home and stepped out of her car in the garage, she looked down and discovered she had run over a snake. I heard her screaming and rushed out to the garage to find a squashed snake that obviously was pregnant when it got run over. Tiny baby snakes were squirted all over the garage floor. Disgusting!

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