Saturday, July 30, 2011

Uninvited guests

All of us find wildlife in our homes at one time or another. A spider or ant may creep through a crack; a mouse may move in for the winter; a moth often flies through an open door to a light, and so forth. Birds only very rarely come indoors, and the vast majority of those encounters are accidents. Sometimes a species like a Carolina Wren may think an open garage with all sorts of nooks and crannies may be a great spot to nest...until that garage is closed. One of our readers recently had an intriguing experience as she found a different creature in the basement - a snake. Look at it in this photo after it had been removed from the basement and placed back outside.

This is a northern ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii). Twan Leenders, our Conservation Biologist and herpetologist, says they are infrequently found in cellars and similar areas. They are more typically found hibernating in such spots rather than spending a summer day there. The species can be tough to find in the field with its secretive nature, the fact it is nocturnal, and because it is small (this was said to be not much more than a foot long). You can see what it looks like from above, and the undersides are yellow with orange/red near the tail.

They do not typically attack any larger predator, whether it be something like a cat or a human. Twan says their primary defensive method is to release a strong odor that can be quite pungent and unpleasant. This apparently did not happen in this case. A rarely seen defense is turning over to show off the underside of their tail. Here is an incredible photo by Twan showing this behavior by a juvenile.

Adults apparently learn that showing off their tail is relatively pointless and go straight to stinking up the place when needed. Watch your basements, and if you ever find a snake you would rather have outside, please try to do so in the most humane way possible. Many snake species are so poorly studied for a variety of reasons, and some populations may be in steep decline in Connecticut. They are not exactly my cup of tea, but they are critical to our natural world and protecting them is important. Twan mentioned how often shovels are used and how poorly that ends up for the snake. Gloves were used in this case, and everyone ended up happy. Please always feel free to send us wildlife stories or photos.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Contributed photo; photo #2 © Twan Leenders

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