Monday, November 12, 2012

A FRIGHTENING MOMENT FOR THE DOGS - unfounded

Wow - two entries in one day.  I just got through posting the entry below this one and now another already.  I had a scare an hour ago.  I noticed Chestnut Hound digging in the leaves that have fallen and packed tightly between the house and the outside air conditioning unit.  I suspected a rat or a mouse as snakes and ground moles have gone into dens and burrows since the advent of some serious cold weather a couple weeks ago.  I went over with a sturdy stick and began to scratch the leaves away from the house.  Something flew through the air with the leaves.  It was a snake - a baby snake.  I got Chestnut by the collar and pulled her away.  The snake appeared to be a copperhead by the markings on it.  Baby copperheads are most dangerous because they are born with the ability to inflict poison into prey at birth.  Furthermore, they will inject a full dose where as the adults will hold some back for the follow-up strike if needed.  This makes the babies a very dangerous article to deal with.  I studied the little fellow.  He had the markings of the copperhead and he flattened his head into the traditional arrow head shape because he was alarmed.  I looked for the pits below the eyes but could not see them.  I couldn't see his eyes at this distance either.  He was only a foot long.  I used the stick to flick the snake out into the open where he instantly coiled and began striking over and over all the while shaking his tail rapidly - so rapidly that the tip of his tail was a blur. The little snake actually advanced half his length toward me.  He's a scrappy little guy.  

Many snakes have similar markings and many are mistaken for copperheads.  I wasn't sure of this snake.  His head had beautiful markings on top and copperheads don't.

I was convinced I was looking at a copperhead.  I've read that they shake their tails when aroused and are an aggressive snake when disturbed.  This little snake was displaying all those traits.  The more I studied him the more he didn't look like a copperhead.  His head was just too small and he was too far away from me to see if he had the pits under his eyes designating him a pit viper.  I had the small camera on my belt.  The big lens would have brought things into view but  I couldn't leave the area because the dogs would be all over him and they definitely would be bitten.   I saw the leaves move over along the blocks of the house foundation and I took the stick and swiped it through the leaves.  Five more snakes appeared and scurried back into the leaves.  Whatever this snake was - he had brothers and sisters.  They made their winter home in the middle of those tightly packed leaves.  I imagine the heat of the past three days brought them out of their winter stupor.  

I sent these pictures to my friend Paul, a seasoned woodsman and TWRA coworker, who identified the snake as a corn snake.  He had my images on his computer and enlarged the shots where they could be studied up close.  Corn snake was the diagnosis.  I was relieved.  I've never seen a corn snake in Pennsylvania.  Corn snakes are a common variety here in the south.

   All this concern was for the dogs.  I didn't want them digging up a den of copperheads.  You can imagine the the results of that.  These snakes are a desirable creature to have on the property.  They will eat all the mice and will actually keep copperheads away by out competing them for food.  What started to be a big concern is ending up being a wonderful find.  There are a pile of these little guys against the house.  I'll let them alone and be thankful they are so close to us.
Above is a copperhead baby.  Note the pale or yellowish tail tip and the flat arrow head shaped head.  The markings are similar to the corn snake's.   Pit vipers have a hole, or pit, located in front of and slightly below their eyes.  These pits contains sensory glands that detect warmth.  They also have nose holes.  I couldn't see these pits on my snake due to his small size and my reluctance to get too close.  Pit vipers also have slit eyes, similar to a cat's.  Non poisonous snakes have round eyes surrounded by white.  
There is a storm approaching and I'll lose this internet signal shortly so I'll abruptly end this entry.  All is well that ends well.  I've got some new wildlife friends on the property.