Ah, autumn. Some days are crisp and cool, perhaps with brilliant blue sky and eye-popping colors on the trees, while others cling to summer by being warm and humid, rain often not far away in the forecast. No matter what the weather is actually doing, we know it is a time of change – summer is becoming winter.
With this change, of course, many critters may start to have closer encounters with humans than they did before. Ladybugs come to mind. Did you see all the ladybugs in the air over the weekend? And now they are in our houses, our cars? Yes, encounters are on the rise.
Today one of our board members brought us his encounter: a juvenile milk snake.
Snakes are great. We love snakes. Snakes are amazing creatures – I mean, they can climb trees without having any arms or legs!!! Just you try to do that!
But, as amazing as they are, they are not the best of pets (no wild animal is). Sometimes we may keep a snake in a tank for a few months here at Dahlem, to use it as an education animal, but we always let it go back to where it belongs.
Milk snakes do not make the best exhibit animals. They are rather shy and retiring, and yet can also become “aggressive” – in other words, they see us as a BIG threat and become defensive. They will rear up and strike, although they are not venomous. Still, a bite is a bite, and the animal is obviously stressed out at this point. Not a good situation for anyone. This behavior rather mimics that of the massasauga, or pygmy rattlesnake, which we also have here. The massasauga is a protected species, so if you should ever be so lucky as to see one, leave it alone! But, back to the milk snake. It rears up and strikes, and may also shake its tail in dry leaves to imitate the rattle sound of the rattlesnake. Do not be alarmed – it is all just pretense. The milk snake is harmless, and actually quite beneficial (as are all snakes).
So, because we did not want to keep this fellow any longer than necessary (show and tell at our staff meeting), it was carried to a nearby wood pile and released.
For quite some time it just lay there, probably taking in its new surroundings. The tongue flicked in and out, tasting the air. Nothing familiar – wood piles and basements do not taste the same. I finally stroked it with my finger and that was enough incentive for it to move along.
And off it goes…to find a place to snuggle down for the winter. Happy Trails, my friend.