garer snake

Snakes can rouse during warm spikes even in late winter. Garter snakes are among species most likely to be encountered in this area.

If one were to take a hike back through time, into the world of around 120 million years ago, the trail would be cluttered with a huge variety of strange creatures.

This was a time of rapid growth and diversification for both plants and animals, with mammoth ferns and ginkgo trees living alongside hulking dinosaurs and clouds of opportunistic insects.

It was during this time that flowering plants were beginning to differentiate themselves from the dominant cone and spore producers around them.

With dry land quickly filling up with both flora and fauna, life struggled to fill every niche available in order to eke out a meager existence. In this never-ending search for greener pastures, some particularly lanky lizards found refuge underground.

Over time, these creatures began to develop smaller limbs to help accommodate their crawling into tight spaces. Eventually, some lost their limbs altogether, preferring a more streamlined physique over the lumbering forms of most land animals.

Slowly losing their sense of sight, and beginning to rely heavily on a keen sense of smell, they were aided in part by their forked tongues, rare in the animal world.

Today, we refer to these creatures as snakes.

At the time of their humble origins, they were truly underdogs, living humble lives tucked away in the corners of the world, which helped them stay out from underneath the feet of the dominant animals of the time. Scientists also believe that their attraction to underground spaces helped shelter them from the cataclysmic event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Immediately following the loss of the dinosaurs and many other dominant life forms at the end of the Cretaceous period, snakes were able to diversify themselves to feed on a wide variety of newly emerging mammalian and insect prey.

This led to the wide diversity of shapes, sizes and hunting styles of snakes that we can find even locally today.

There are 14 species of snakes that reside locally, with the common garter snake, northern watersnake, and brown snake the most likely to be encountered by humans.

All snakes prefer to avoid confrontation whenever possible, and they save their precious venom as a last resort in the case of attack.

Watch your step and use a hiking stick to clear debris piles in your way. Look up pictures and descriptions of copperheads and timber rattlesnakes, as they are the only two species deadly to humans in this area. 

A good deal of non-venomous snakes mimic these in both coloration and demeanor, however, so the best thing to do if stumbling upon a slitherer is to vacate the area in a timely and efficient manner. All snakes are beneficial predators, and should be left alone whenever possible.

As the weather begins to cool in the fall and winter, snakes and other cold-blooded animals must seek shelter for a time. Most snakes take refuge underground, in abandoned groundhog nests or other enclosures.

Many times these spaces are filled with multiple animals of different species, calling a truce to any animosities until the growing season is rekindled.

If you have a semi-open space that could be a tempting winter retreat, make sure to close off any snake-sized openings before the weather begins to freeze.

Snakes don’t enter a true hibernative state, and instead can and do rouse when temperatures warm for a day or two, even in late winter. It’s for this reason that you should always keep your eye out for these helpful garden patrollers as you go about your outdoor business, especially in warmer sunny spots. When given the opportunity, these animals will easily keep your local rodent populations in check.

Brannen Basham and his wife, Jill Jacobs, operate Spriggly’s Beescaping, a business dedicated to the preservation of pollinators. He can be reached at brannen.basham@gmail.com.