Harmless and cute garter snake. Photo by Jan Macek
Harmless gopher snake. Photo by Jan Macek
BY JAN MACEK
World Snake Day is celebrated every year on July 16 to raise awareness about the different types of snake species and the important role they play in maintaining ecological balance.
In Los Alamos County, the three most common species of nonvenomous snakes are the garter snake, Western Coachwhip and the gopher snake. It doesn’t matter what name you use; garden snake (garter), red racer (Western coachwhip) or bull snake (gopher snake) just know that these snakes are harmless to humans and they are your allies. We do have two species of rattlesnakes, Western diamond back and prairie rattlesnake. Just be aware of your surroundings and enjoy the sight from a safe distance.
Please note that most snake species in one way or another will mimic a rattlesnake. Many will flatten their heads to appear triangular in shape resembling a rattlesnake; they will hiss and vibrate their tail to sound like a rattlesnake’s rattle. Please learn about the different species of snakes in Los Alamos County http://www.nmherpsociety.org/reptiles/snakes/index Snakes are very shy creatures and just want to be left alone to do what they do best. Snakes will not chase you. They are not aggressive but they can be defensive. They are more afraid of you than you should ever be of them.
Snakes protect us from the hantavirus and the plague that rodents can carry and ticks that carry lyme disease. Snake venoms are serving as templates for some of the top medicines used in high blood pressure, heart failure, pain relief and heart attack. Treatments for other neurological conditions are in the works and further drugs are also in development for stoke and cardiovascular disease as well as conditions such as prostate cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis. Snakes are helping humans and it is our turn to help snakes.
Please do not mishandle these wonderful creatures; holding a snake by it’s neck or by it’s tail without supporting the snake’s body can damage it’s spine. Snakes feel pain just like we humans do. Just leave them alone or have them relocated. If you feel you can not co-exist with that nonvenomous snake or have a rattlesnake on your property, please call the police dispatcher at 505-662-8222. They have a list of those who will relocate. Please appreciate the snakes we do have and respect that we share this earth with them. You do not have to like snakes-just do not harm them. One can always use a stream of water from a hose to direct the snake from where it is not wanted.
Snakes are declining all over the world and because they are both predator and food for other creatures, snakes are essential players in nature’s ecosystem and the conservation of them is vital. Habitat loss, climate change, fungal disease in snakes, attitudes of humans, rattlesnake roundups, the use of chemicals and other harmful elements, dogs and especially cats are taking a toll on our snake population. There is much we can do to help snakes by not using chemicals, (some snakes eat insects) or poisons which gets in the food chain, bird netting or glue traps (both trap and can kill if not found quickly), by providing a safe haven in your yard for the nonvenomous, by educating residents and by keeping your pets under control.
Please celebrate the beauty and diversity of snakes and respect the amazing abilities of these wonderful creatures who are misunderstood and underrated. Snakes have been here for millions of years but their continued existence depends on us humans.