Many people lose their breath, get excited or feel threatened when coming upon a snake in the yard, field or woods. Seems hard to believe, most snakes are actually more afraid of people than people are of snakes and we have very little reason to fear snakes. With the warm weather, cold blooded snakes are much more likely to be seen now since both people and snakes are more active outside. Here are some interesting facts about snakes for your next game of outdoor trivia. Snakes have no moveable eyelids, thus snakes never blink or close their eyes. Snakes do not have external ears, but have a sense of hearing through the bones in the head that sense vibrations. Snakes not only smell by the same method used by humans, but also taste the air and ground with their forked tongues. Mating season for most snakes is in the spring after they emerge from hibernation. Some snakes lay eggs while other snakes hatch eggs internally and bear live young. Water snakes, garter snakes, brown snakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes all bear live young.
Interestingly, it is not until late summer or early fall that young either emerge from the egg or are born live. Also snakes have no claws or chewing teeth, so they must swallow food (prey) whole.
For most folks, the first question that comes to mind-Is this snake poisonous?
Likely the answer is no. There are only four venomous snakes in Indiana and these are not geographically distributed over the entire state. All of the venomous snakes have a sensory pit between the nostril and the eye to sense heat aiding capture of warm blooded animals even in the dark. Perhaps a safer determination so one does not get so close to the snake would be to observe that non-venomous snakes have round eyes whereas venomous snakes have elliptical or oval pupils. Indiana's poisonous snakes are all very heavy bodied or appearing "fat" when compared to their nonpoisonous counterparts. Venomous snakes also have broad, spade-shaped heads that are distinctly wider than their narrower necks. Most non-venomous snakes have heads that are the same width as their bodies. However remember that snakes do swallow prey whole and may appear fatter or have a fatter area that misleads one to assuming a poisonous viper is at hand. Of the four venomous snakes, Owen County residents are more likely to encounter either the copperhead or timber rattlesnake than Clay County residents. The massasauga rattlesnake is rarely seen and only found in northern Indiana around wetlands and marsh areas. I have heard much talk about cottonmouth snakes in the Clay County strip pits. However the only cottonmouth snakes in Indiana are found in one small swamp in Dubois County down in Southern Indiana. It is rarely seen by even those who go looking for the snake. Those who believe they have made cottonmouth observations in the Clay/Owen area should rest assured they have seen some other water snake. Three of the four venomous species found in Indiana are considered endangered. The most likely candidate for a poisonous snake encounter in Clay or Owen county areas is the copperhead. However the timber rattlesnake, most likely found in southern Indiana, can also extend up as far as eastern Clay, Owen, Morgan and southern Putnam County.
To keep snakes out of the home, the most obvious is to seal cracks, holes or other crevices mortar, 1/8 inch hardware cloth, sheet metal, or steel wool. Habitat is critical for any wildlife to survive, so making the house unattractive to snakes is probably most important. This can be done by keeping the area around the home trimmed up with mowing and trimming. Remove any debris that may attract mice, rats or other rodents since these are the primary food of many snakes. On the contrary, I welcome a black rat snake in the yard to keep the mice and rats away. In fact chipmunk problems in the garden often go away when there is a snake around.
Purdue publication FNR-173 entitled "Snakes of Indiana" is available for only $10.
Also FNR-3 entitled "Snakes of the Midwest" is a CD available for $18. Both media have excellent photo's with descriptions of Indiana geographic location, habitat, and diet profiles.
You can contact the local Purdue Extension Office by calling 829-5020 ext. 1 in Owen County or 448-9041 in Clay County for more information or publication copies regarding this week's column topic or to RSVP for upcoming events. It is always best to call first to assure items are ready when you arrive and to RSVP for programs.
While most publications are free, some do have a fee. All times listed are Eastern Time.
May 19-21 Indiana Recycling Coalition Conference & Exhibition, Bloomington
May 21 Small Farm Ideas and Marketing for Success, Spencer, 6:30 p.m.
June 10 Ribeye Steak COPS/Owen Community Blood Drive, Spencer 3-6 p.m.
June 12 Ribeye Steak COP/Clay County Blood Drive, Brazil, 3-6 p.m.