river talk

Colorful leaves, colorful snakes

By SCOTT RANDO
Posted 10/21/20

With the arrival of fall, one does not hear as many animals calling as in the spring and summer (although I’ve been hearing a lot of Carolina wrens and some red-shouldered hawks). The frogs and …

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river talk

Colorful leaves, colorful snakes

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With the arrival of fall, one does not hear as many animals calling as in the spring and summer (although I’ve been hearing a lot of Carolina wrens and some red-shouldered hawks). The frogs and toads are also silent this time of year, though, they are still around during milder days.

Along with the frogs and toads taking advantage of Indian Summer, there are the snakes. Not all snakes; the timber rattlesnakes have largely taken shelter in their hibernacula as they are intolerant of cold temperatures. However, garter snakes, watersnakes and other species can still be seen on warmer days. One of these species, which I ran into about a week ago, is the Eastern milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum).

The Eastern milksnake (possibly named for folklore regarding this snake being found in barns and feeding on milk from nursing cows) is a medium-sized, non-venomous snake with some fairly striking rust-red patterns outlined in black on a beige, brown, or gray. The hue will vary by individual, but like many snakes, smaller, younger individuals have more striking patterns where older individuals are somewhat duller. The head usually has a “Y” or “U” pattern. The coloration likely serves as protection from predators. Around this region, they are frequently mistaken for copperheads.

Milksnakes feed on invertebrates when small and amphibians and smaller mammals when they grow larger. They could be in barns, but they are foraging for mice, not milk. They are frequently found in fields and meadows as well as forested areas. If disturbed, they may vibrate their tail—but this makes no noise, unless the tail is in a pile of dead leaves. They may bite if handled and squeezed too much, but they are non-venomous and, like the garter snake, have tiny teeth.

Milksnakes use mimicry as a defense against predators (and some are unjustly killed by humans due to misidentification). Parts of the Southern U.S. are inhabited by the coral snake, which more closely resembles the milksnake than our Northern copperhead. For this situation, a person unknown made the following jingle: “Red touches black, it’s a friend of Jack. Red touches yellow, it’s bad for a fellow.”

snakes, milksnakes

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