The Friendly Snake

Natural Wakulla by Les Harrison

The warmer weather’s return has many residents of Wakulla County believing the winter of 2017/18 is done, and it might be.  The nightly ruckus of toads and frogs staking out their territory becomes louder each evening, and even mosquitos and no-see-ums have returned in small numbers.

Unseen in most cases, but just as active as the other cold blooded residents, snakes have resumed their activities.  While frogs can be entertaining and mosquitos irritating, snakes evoke a completely different reaction.

No creature appears to embody slimy, malevolent wickedness as much as a snake.  It is no coincidence the devil is portrayed as a snake in the Garden of Eden.

The unblinking eyes, the silent movement, and the consistently flicking tongue combine to project the essence of evil intentions.  It is no wonder many local discussions of snakes begin with the statement, “The only good snake is a dead snake.”

On many occasions a snake is mistakenly identified in the haste of the moment as a venomous species. The scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides ) has the misfortune of being one of these easily misidentified species, and the reactions are fairly predictable.

Scarlet Kingsnake

The scarlet king snake is a north Florida native, but is confused with a coral snake on too many occasions. Unfortunately, this leads to the destruction of a harmless reptile.
Photo by Les Harrison

Mistaken Identity

Regrettably many scarlet kingsnake have met an untimely end for the offence of only appearing dangerous. To the observant and discerning individual, there are several easily identifiable characteristics which would prevent the lethal generalization about all similarly appearing snakes encountered.

The quickest and most certain way of differentiating a scarlet kingsnake from a coral snake is its nose color. Since the head is the “business end” of any snake, it is fortunate the easily observed difference exist.

Only the coral snake has an obviously black nose. The scarlet kingsnake and the scarlet snake, as similar species, both have red noses.

Additionally, there is the ditty, “If red touches black, it is a friend of Jack” which describes the arrangement of colors on the scarlet kingsnake. The bands on this species are relatively broad and the tones are unmistakable.

In addition to the black nose, the coral snakes band arrangement is different. “If red touches yellow, it will kill a fellow” is the lyrical way to remember the order.

It is also important to remember neither snake is aggressive and will retreat from human contact if given the opportunity. Both of these species are usually well under 16 inches and spend their lives hidden in debris on the forest floor.

A Snake’s Purpose

While it is true all snakes are natural predators, humans have never been on the menu in north Florida. Amphibians, insects, and small reptiles make up a bulk of the diet for these diminutive hunters.

Only the larger native snakes eat birds and small mammals, but any snake will strike if it perceives a threat. Even unintended encounters can have tragic results.

A Wakulla County without snakes would be a very different and much less hospitable place.  Without snakes controlling the excess populations, many types of destructive pests would have free range to dine on innumerable components of humanity’s infrastructure and foodstuffs.

Maybe they are not the most popular of wild creatures, but they do have a purpose here.  Whether red touches yellow or black, Jack should give the snake a chance to disappear back into the woods.

To learn more about snakes in Wakulla County contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://wakulla.ifas.ufl.edu/.

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