This is a lot less Happy-Go-Lucky than most of my posts, just a heads up, I’m going to try to control my GRR factor, but it’s been simmering all day. This blog post will probably give y’all a bit more insight into my inner workings and personality, and cares and all that stuff. The pictures used are NOT ones which pertain much to the story, they’re just there for visual interest. I didn’t take pictures of the incident.
((Randomly, this is, I’m pretty sure a Garter Snake, outside chance of being a Ribbon Snake or something similar))
Today I saw a road crew of guy working on one of the back roads. I’m not sure what they were doing on the side of the road, but just as I passed by, all of them (somewhere more than a couple and less than a half-dozen) jumped back and exclaimed, and one guy had a shovel and I think something sort of landed in the middle of the road.
I stopped to see what they had found, as I wasn’t traveling very fast, and I’d overheard a random scattering of words which made me think it was an interesting critter.
And I walked up and asked what they’d found. As I walked up, I think I heard one say it jumped right at him. One of the guys answered me with …
Turns out it was (GASP THE HORROR) a (cue the du-du-DUUUUUUHHHHHH sound effects) A Copperhead. (Or a Moccasin? He only said it once, and he was facing away, and I’m not exactly from rural PA, so I have an accent which is different from here so I’m not super sure, but I think he said Copperhead but it doesn’t make sense. Neither does Moccasin… Maybe it was Cottonmouth? Still…but anyway…).
At this point, the snake already has a gash across it’s upper torso, so it’s decently injured, and it’s scared, and it’s been flung through the air, and it’s in pain in the middle of the road in the sun. Of course it’s got it’s mouth wide open, exposing the light colored inside of the mouth, and of course it’s gaping and threatening the large predators (uh, humans) surrounding it. Essentially “Stay Back! STAY BACK!! DON’T MAKE ME HURT YOU!” is what the snake is saying… “STAY BACK OR I’LL BE FORCED TO DO IT, SO DON’T MAKE ME!”
One of the guys says to the other guy, who already has the shovel, something like “You don’t like snakes, you do it” and the guys takes a few good whacks and mostly takes off it’s head/neck. Ok, it was a quick death, and it was probably pretty seriously injured.
As he starts doing this, I say “Awww” and the guy with the accent tells me “they wouldn’t do that if it was a black snake, but since it’s since it’s a Copperhead, well yah know...they’re dangerous.” (ok he said it again, but I can’t remember which one he said it was) So Shovel Guy shovel pitched the corpse off the road, and I said have a great one, and headed off on my way.
((Black Rat or Black Snake … there are a few names given to these guys and gals, they’re beautiful though!))
I do remember thinking as it was going down that if the snake hadn’t already been injured, I would have insisted they didn’t smack it, and if necessary, I would have used their shovel to prod it to an area of the road where it would be out of their way. The odds are high that the snake would have, given time and a bit of encouragement, decided that leaving was a better idea than threatening and tensing up.
Instead, I was thinking. And simmering. And trying to make sure I remembered what I did see of the snake. A stocky, dark colored snake. The scales were really pronounced, if I remember correctly. The mouth was light inside, but the body was somewhere around a muddy dark brown greyish color. Or washed out black. No real obvious pattern, but potentially maybe some blotches in a really low contrast colors, but for the most part, a dark colored, non-patterend snake. I didn’t get a great look at the eyes, and I didn’t get a great look at the upper lip, or even at the neck in particular, but there wasn’t a really really obvious arrowhead /heart shape to the head that I can remember… I mean the head and neck were distinct, but not like … well, not like a cartoon dragon with the tail tip that narrows to a point, and then has a heart stuck to it with the bumps towards the body and the point away… it was just a neck and head… sort-of off the body. Poor snake. It was maybe 1 1/2 – 2 feet long. Not a super huge snake, but stout in the body. And I do remember looking in the mouth and not seeing super obvious fangs from the view I had.
((If I remember right, this is a young Black Snake))
And now that I’ve had a chance to do some confirmation work on the web, I’m fuming.
I would bet money that was a Northern Water Snake. Like most snakes, they’re not exactly a species that’s looking for trouble unless it’s foist upon them, based on info from the browsing on the web I’ve done (and from my personal experience… or lack of experiencing them. I do have a thing for looking for critters wherever, and I like streams and river edges and swimming and come from a swimming/water sports heavy area, etc… and yet I’m not really even sure I’ve seen one (or maybe two?)…).
((One of the several species of Brown Snake)).
As I said, I have maybe seen one Northern Water Snake other in my life (I’m not sure, the one or two I’ve potentially seen have been making themselves scarce in turbid water and could have been garter snakes or what else?), and I would have loved to get a great look at this one, alive. I’d have loved to make a better check on the identification, so I’d have been more sure, but I didn’t get a chance to check out the pre-injured very threatened snake. Ok, maybe when they were doing whatever they were doing, they dislodged a rock or shoveled the snake initially accidentally, I accept that… there were a lot of rocks along the side of the road, and there are a lot of little streams along a lot of the roads around this whole area. It’s a great place for a snake to hide, to find a sun bathing spot, or whatever. It’s not like they hunted it down or anything. Maybe it did even strike at them, especially if it had been startled, or felt cornered or stabbed. I’d probably take a swing at someone who slashed my arm open on accident until I figured out what was going on, especially if they were about 100 times taller than me and I couldn’t hide. I might try to talk a bit too.. Like, HEY DON’T DO THAT AGAIN OR I’LL … hm a lot like the snake. But while just about anything will bite if they’re grabbed or cornered, they’re not venomous (although I just ran across a source that said they often have a small amount of anticoagulant in their bites so if you get bit it’s better to have it medically looked at–cool I’ve learned something!) they’re not something to be like KILL IF YOU SEE IT. (OK, even if it was venomous that’s NOT a reason to kill it if you see it…). We definitely do get Northern Water Snakes in this area of Pennsylvania.
We get Copperheads in this part of Pennsylvania. But Copperheads are TOTALLY NOT a uniform brownish black! Yes, Copperheads are venomous. But they have head/necks shaped a lot like the related Rattlesnakes… they have that heart shaped head with a tiny neck onto the body… (ok the cheeks are really bulgy? …whatever, I’m sure you know what shape I’m trying to describe!). If I’d had a chance to look at the face from a better and safe but closer vantage, I’m betting there would not have been any pits for the heat detecting organs Copperheads have (like Rattlesnakes). I didn’t see any super obvious pits, but my view wasn’t close, and I’ve definitely not seen one in the wild from this distance so maybe I wouldn’t have seen them? But then again, the snake was not anywhere colored like a combination of carrots, pumpkins, burnt pumpkins, or even dark cinnamon or pennies… so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a Copper head. And even if it was the most subdued Copperhead ever, they still have a noticeable pattern on their body. And cat-slit eyes (ok I didn’t get the greatest look at the eyes, but definitely didn’t notice any obvious slit to them in the pupil-tightening bright light in the middle of the road).
And ok, so a Water Moccasin (also known as the Cottonmouth) does have a white mouth on the inside. And yes, as an adult, it can often be a somewhat non-patterned drab dark color… but hm. Oh yes. It’s not found in Pennsylvania, so the odds of one finding one in the wild? Slim to none. And the attitude of “Oh, of course that’s a (if that’s what he said, we always and only kill them if they’re the scary villainous Cottonmouth” would be a bit daft then too… because what are the odds of seeing 2… let alone enough of them for him (them?) to have developed the kill it only if it’s one of those snakes? I mean, if they’re not here, unless this guy lived a LOT farther south or southwest where he’d possibly have seen them often enough to get good at ID, his reaction should have been (if this had actually been a Water Moccasin) “Hm, that looks a bit weird for the snakes I normally see, treat with caution and respect, maintain a safe distance!” And of course, it would have looked different, even if the color was similar (very generalized: drab dark mud, no real pattern). This snake is also a ‘pit viper’, a large group of related snakes which have those holes in their face and the organ that allows them to sense heat. And they have pupils with vertical slits when contracted, not the round dots like humans and dogs, and many kinds of snakes. (Speaking of other snakes, and I can’t speak for other places, or of snakes that aren’t native, but all of the 3 species of venomous snakes that ARE native to PA have the slit pupils... and the heart shaped head, and the heat seeking pits…we have Copperheads, and two kinds of Rattlesnakes (one is called a Massasauga).) So… um. Yah, this snake was SO not a Cottonmouth / Water Moccasin.
It was NOT a Copperhead.
Yet it died because some guys with a shovel thought it was.
SO FOLKS, IF YOU’RE GOING TO KILL IT AT LEAST KNOW FOR SURE WHAT IT IS. LIKE, DO SOME RESEARCH. MAYBE DO A LOT OF RESEARCH.
And honestly, really, if it was uninjured, would you really have needed to kill it? Seriously, work around it, keep an eye on it, it DOESN’T WANT TO HURT YOU. It wants to just do it’s own thing and not get eaten or hurt by you. Seriously. I mean, really, you’re too big to swallow, if you want to strip it to the absolute fact. So there’s no reason to try to kill you, unless it’s to stop you hurting it. And there’s no reason to try to hurt you unless you are already making it think it needs to so you don’t hurt it.
((Brown Snake again))
Ok, and if you’re read to this point, you can tell that Addie likes snakes, like she likes just about any critter. And gets really aggravated when people call things the wrong name, especially when they’re darn sure they are identifying something correctly but NOT, and it’s something that’s OBVIOUSLY wrong with just a little research. Especially when it’s less of “oh, look an elephant” but “oh, that’s a crocodile I’m gonna kill it.” I don’t mind mistakes when it’s not so easy to figure out something, but seriously this one was NOT hard to ID or at least to rule out some obvious “It’s NOT a” species, anyway. I could see saying “Ok, well it’s not a threat but the rock gashed it’s side open, and I don’t want it to die slowly, so this sucks but I’m going to finish it quickly….”
IGNORANCE IS NOT AN EXCUSE WHEN A LIFE IS ON THE LINE.
You’ve probably guessed that I’m a bit of a info-geek, I like learning, and knowing things. And one reason is so I … well, I know what I’m looking at. A lot of the pictures I take of flowers, birds, whatever, are so I can figure out what they are and remember for later. And I like to know what I’m looking at beyond the name, but having an ID for something is a big help if your going to get to know a bit about them.
Thanks for reading. Sorry snake. I hope that this anger fueled rant may have helped save a critter in the future? I at least learned at least one new thing (maybe two, I knew the Hognose snake would puff up when threatened, but I didn’t remember knowing that some people call it a “puff adder” even though that’s a snake (or snakes?) that live in, oh yah, AFRICA… sigh. Oh wait, at least three new things… I didn’t know there was a myth out there that Black snakes and I think it was Copperheads suddenly decided to get it on and make a new species of snake that’s venomous… when they … well, they can’t for several reasons….for example one of them hatches their eggs internally and then gives birth to live young (but not quite the same way as mammals) and one lays the eggs into a nest of some sort and then the eggs incubate and hatch outside mama snake….where do these myths even come from? Does someone just sit around thinking of silly things to spread around?). So thanks, snake. At least that horrible incident caused me to learn some stuff!