World Snake Day Celebrated July 16

Juvenile gopher snake after being released from a glue trap by using olive oil to dissolve the glue  Courtesy photo

Los Alamos

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. Perhaps you missed the articles last year that stated “One-fifth of all snakes, turtles, and other reptiles face extinction. More than a fifth of all reptilian species — over 1,800 — are threatened with extinction, and 31 species have permanently vanished already, according to a new study in the journal Nature.”

Or perhaps when you read that New Mexico’s health officials stated there have now been 6 hantavirus cases so far this year (an above-average count) and two of the cases have led to death, that it didn’t concern you. Snakes in the ecosystem equal a healthy environment for all creatures including humans.

In Los Alamos County, the three most common species of nonvenomous snakes are the garter snake, Western Coachwhip and the gopher snake.  Please know that these snakes are harmless to humans and they are your allies. They help to keep down the rodent population which in turn will protect humans from the Plague and the hantavirus. 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 learn about the different species of snakes in Los Alamos County. 

Most nonvenomous 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. Snakes are really very shy creatures and just want to be left alone to do what they do best. 

There is so much misinformation about snakes. Snakes will not chase you; you are probably in their way to where they were going. Snakes are not aggressive but they can be defensive. To a snake, you are a giant creature that may or may not want to harm them. 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, breast cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis. Snakes are helping humans and it is our turn to help snakes. Many states in the US are now protecting their snake species and in many states it is illegal to kill certain species that are considered endangered. Even in New Mexico some species are protected.

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 Los Alamos Police Dispatcher at the non-emergency number (505) 662-8222. They have a list of those who will relocate snakes.

Please appreciate the snakes we do have and respect that we share this earth with them. No one has said that you have to like snakes but you do not have to harm them. One can always use a stream of water from a hose (please run the water first if water is hot from sitting in the sun before aiming it at the snake) 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. We seem to be in drought conditions and with this heat, water becomes so important to all living creatures. Snakes need water just like we humans do to survive. 

Please celebrate the beauty and diversity of snakes and respect the amazing abilities of these wonderful creatures who are so underrated for all the good they do. Snakes have been here for millions of years but their continued existence depends on us humans. Please do not let other’s hatred and misinformation destroy a creature that has just as much right as we do to exist on this Earth.  Thank you.