river talk

Sneaky snakes

By SCOTT RANDO
Posted 5/19/21

When we think of reptiles and amphibians, usually the first critters that come to mind are frogs and toads. Most of us have probably seen (and heard) more frogs and toads than any other reptile or …

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river talk

Sneaky snakes

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When we think of reptiles and amphibians, usually the first critters that come to mind are frogs and toads. Most of us have probably seen (and heard) more frogs and toads than any other reptile or amphibian. As spring unfolds, the sounds of spring peepers, wood frogs and, most recently, American toads have made their presence known by their courtship calls. Of the 17 species of frogs and toads in Pennsylvania, many are native to our region.

Another sub-order of reptiles is less conspicuous than frogs and toads, however. They are stealthy, are frequently under cover and, even when out in the open, are hard to spot because they blend in well with their surroundings. These are the snakes, of which Pennsylvania has 21 species.

Over the course of decades, movie makers have villainized snakes, whether it be cobras or anacondas as big as a barn. In reality, the snakes in our region would much rather have as little human contact as possible. Even the fairly common eastern gartersnake will usually try to dart under cover if it finds itself in our path. Even timber rattlesnakes will retreat if given the chance.

All snakes are carnivorous, and their diet ranges from small insects to mammals such as rats or squirrels. Frogs and salamanders are on the list for some species, too. The timber rattlesnake, the only venomous snake in our region, is a mammal specialist. It can detect infrared heat signatures from warm-blooded prey. It will lie in wait, strike and envenomate the unsuspecting animal. It then waits for its prey to become incapacitated before consuming it.

The snakes pictured in this week’s column are a few of a dozen snakes I found one day last week on state forest land in Pike County.

If you would like to learn more about snakes and other reptiles and amphibians in the region, visit the Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptile Survey (PARS) at www.paherpsurvey.org.

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