The Stork is Coming – As well as Death himself
Tomorrow is September 1st. In my mind, this date marks the “start” of baby snake season. I am not sure why September 1st is the start especially since many snakes have already hatched or been born and had their first meals. I guess it is because September marks the beginning of late summer/early fall and a GREAT month to find lots of snakes—especially the small babies that no one thinks about. It is also the month when many snakes are killed on roads. There are some stretches of roads that are littered with dead baby snakes. In the fall of 2005, I was in Somerset County, Pennsylvania conducting carcass searches under a new wind farm. The daily collection of dead birds and bats did not bother me (although it should have) but I can still vividly remember the small stretch of road that had several dead neonate (baby) milk snakes, a dead smooth green snake, and a soon to be dead neonate ring-necked snake. The ring-necked snake was less than 4 inches long and had made it halfway across a 25’ wide road without being hit. Its chances of making it the rest of the way were very slim as traffic was picking up because the local folks were headed home from work. This stretch of road was bisected an overgrown pasture and was lined with trees on both sides. There was a small creek across the pasture and rocky hillsides all around. Most people would say that the area was beautiful but I cannot look past the devastation this small road was having on the recruitment of new milk snakes, green snakes, and ring-necked snakes in the area. There is no such thing as the “only good snake is a dead snake” especially on a road.
Fall is an exciting time for me since I typically find a lot of snakes in September. Unfortunately, I also find a lot of dead snakes. Most of the dead snakes in the fall are neonate snakes that have just left their eggs with umbilical scars still present on their bellies. Does this have an impact on snake populations? We do not know what the natural survivorship of these babies would be without the road present in their landscape so we cannot say. However, I can say that our roads remove many, many snakes from the ecosystem and we have no idea what the short-term or long-term impacts this has.
Back in 2005, I was still shooting print or slide film in my camera and so I was not as loose with my photography. This means that I do not have photographs of the carnage along that stretch of road in PA. However, things are different today. In one day this past June, I photo documented 48 snakes dead on roads while road cruising (I will have to devote another blog to the art of road cruising soon) east of Denver. Yes—this number is staggering but can easily be eclipsed in the fall as neonate snakes make their way from their eggs or mother to their first meal and overwintering location.
As I head out tomorrow to take my three young boys camping and snake hunting, I will be thinking about the snake babies attempting to cross a road. I will hopefully be able to see the babies to avoid them but many are much too small to see from a vehicle or it may be too dangerous to avoid them while driving 65mph pulling a pop-up camper. The reality is that roads kill snakes and they kill a lot of baby snakes. Depressing. Slow down, see the snakes, help the snakes, conserve our ecosystems. To find out how you can help snakes, please visit www.snakeconservation.org.