By Eric Duran
So, I understand that this article may not be for everyone. Snakes are not the most popular animals in the world. Some snakes are dangerous. There’s something kind of alien about their long limbless bodies and unblinking eyes.
That is actually why I like them. These very different looking creatures lead interesting lives. They are also massively important to the ecosystems where they live as control on the populations of rodents and other small animals. In this way, they are actually beneficial to humans, as well. This month, we look at a few species of non-venomous snake, found in and around Bellaire and West University.
Milk snakes are a group of brightly colored king snakes that mimic venomous coral snakes. Besides eating small mammals, frogs and lizards, milk snakes also eat other snakes (just like the other king snakes). They are thought to be immune to the venoms of some venomous snakes. Milk snakes get their name from an old belief that they feed on the milk from livestock. This is not the case. If you have trouble figuring out the difference between a milk snake and a venomous coral snake (they have similar colors), remember to look at the order of the color bands and learn these 2 rhymes: “Red and yellow, kill a fellow” and “Red and black, friend of Jack.”
The Eastern Hognose is a peculiar snake. It uses its sharp upturned nose to dig into the ground for its favorite prey, toads. These snakes are somehow able to withstand and digest the toxins created in the toad’s skin. Hognoses use a pair of fangs in the rear of their mouth — and a toxic saliva that is evolutionarily formulated to amphibian prey — to subdue the toads. Hognoses are well known for playing dead when disturbed by larger creatures. They will flip over, loll out their tongues, and even go so far as to create a death-like odor. All of this is to dissuade potential predators.
One of the more common “garden snakes” found near people’s homes is the Western Ribbon Snake. Ribbon snakes are garter snakes that have complete longitudinal stripes. They spend a lot of time near water, and feed on fish and frogs, as well large earthworms and lizards. They are fast slender snakes, and are known to be quite vicious if picked up — biting copiously and rubbing feces and musk all over the hands of the curious naturalist. Like many snakes that live in or around water, ribbon snakes give live birth (unlike the previous two snakes mentioned, which lay eggs).
I hope you found these profiles of some of our local native non-venomous snakes to be interesting, and I hope this has helped to engender more of an appreciation for snakes, if you didn’t already have one.
If you’d like to find out more about our local snakes, come out to the Nature Discovery Center and visit with a few live snakes in our collection or try to find some on a hike in the park.
For more info about snakes, feel free to contact one of our naturalists at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-667-6550.
Duran is the head naturalist at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr., Bellaire, NatureDiscoveryCenter.org.