Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ssssscaly Find

(Warning: not for the faint-hearted or squeamish)

While working in the garden this past weekend my hubby found this...



A snake had shed its skin near the wood pile. A super cool find in our household! We haven't seen any snakes in the garden yet this year but this is evidence that they are here. But who does this skin belong to? 

Northeast Georgia has a variety of non-venomous snakes including this Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus). He is often found basking in bushes but if startled will retreat to the nearest water source. They glide across the top of the water very gracefully.


And, this Rough Green snake (Opheodrys aestivus) the most arboreal snake in the Southeast. They spend most of their time climbing vegetation hunting for insects, spiders, and other invertebrates in the flora well above the ground. Not a bad little guy to have around.


But in most likelihood this skin belongs to a black rat snake (Scotophis alleghaniensis) a common snake we see occasionally in our garden during the hotter months.


The black rat snake is actually good to have around because they keep the venomous snakes at bay. If I had my choice I would rather have a black rat snake in my garden than a venomous snake any day.

Last spring we found these two (look closely and you can see two heads and two tails) at the back corner of our house. Admittedly, my heart starts to race when I see any snake but I calm myself knowing they are harmless and a sign of a thriving ecosystem in my garden. They eat mice, rats, squirrels and birds (and maybe the occasional vole or two).


I suspect these two were mating. Once they separated we could see that one snake was about 4 ft. long and the other about 6 ft. long.


But what is it about finding a snake skin that is so intriguing? The mear fact that snakes can shed their skin fascinates my children. There is just something about an animal that can slide out of its skin several times a year that fires the imagination. 

Snakes shed their old skin when they have outgrown their existing skin and formed a new layer of skin below it. When the old skin begins to disconnect the snake’s colors become dull and its eyes look milky or bluish. When the old skin is completely separated from the new skin it splits open at the snake’s nose and then begins to peel back. The snake helps the process by rubbing against a rough surface such as a rock or log. The new skin has the same patterns and colors as the old skin but the old skin doesn't look exactly the same as its replacement. It takes on a nearly transparent appearance. 


Here is a view of the interior of the skin layer.


Snakes are one of the most misunderstood and feared creatures in this world. But a snake in the garden helps deter unwanted visitors such as rabbits, mice, moles, voles, and some other snakes. They are a middle order predator which are food for Birds of Prey and other snakes.

So, don't fear the snake but respect it. 

Mother Nature has a purpose for the remarkable snake.

13 comments:

  1. Great photos Karin, but I am snake-shy. They scare the heck out of me. We have rat snakes too and they get large. I admire you getting such good closeups of them. The tree snake is really a pretty fellow.

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  2. Karin, I'm not a big snake lover either. Your question about mexican feather grass is an interesting one. Every time I plant it I end up moving to another state and never get to see if it's invasive. You might ask some of the Austin gardeners if they have a problem with it. One thing I have noticed is it takes a 6 week scarification period to get it to germinate.

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  3. I have to admit I would be worried if I find a snake in my garden. But you are right that the snakes are just part of ecology. I think they are like the monitor lizards, eating the smaller animals but many people find them scary.

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  4. I'll take a good snake in the garden over a rat or vole any day. Fascinating post. So far this year my snake count is one corn snake, one White Oak rat snake eating a squirrel and a hog-nosed snake.

    What did you do with the snakeskin? I always leave them where they are. It is interesting to watch them disappear as critters find them. The protein must make an attractive meal.

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  5. Jennifer@threedogsinagarden
    Hi Karin, My mother and a few other people I know have an unreasonable fear of snakes. Myself, I think they are interesting creatures. Disappointingly though, I have no snakes in my garden. Have a great weekend.

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  6. I love this post! If I saw a snakeskin in my yard I would do a happy dance for sure -- seeing snakes and/or lizards in my yard would be *the best* surprise. Snake sightings over the last 15 years can be counted on one hand. :-(

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  7. Karin, a wonderful and informative post. I like your detective work and photos. I, too, like having snakes in the garden. I figure they're part of the eco-system, and if they're there, it's a sign of a healthy eco-community. Also, I need all the help with voles I can get! Thanks for the information on the role they play as a mid-level predator.

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  8. I also like snakes and am very happy to see them in my garden. They do a lot more good than bad, and despite what people think they are very soft and smooth--not slimy. I love your photos of the skin...besides leaving it there where you found it, you can compost it as well.

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  9. I love snakes! We occasionally find snake skins in our firewood pile, probably because rodents like to hide there too. They're such a fun find, especially when they're shed intact in one piece!

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  10. They still creep me out a bit...they hang in our filter and we keep moving them...we just found a snake skin near the filter of the pond ....garter snakes all too small to take care of any rodents I think at this point...but who knows...

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  11. Although I like snakes yours look VERY large. I'm used to snakes that are less than a foot long so something that size would be pretty intimidating. The snakeskin is very cool though.

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  12. I'm not a big fan of snakes but do have complete admiration for them. I once found a snake skin in one of my containers. My dogs went crazy, growling and barking at the skin. Finally, I broke it in several pieces and gave a piece to each dog so they could shake it and tear it, "protecting" me from the snake. Great post!!!

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  13. Great shots, Karin ! Very interesting re: snake skin. That top snake looks a lot like our garter snake, and we also have a small green snake here (eastern smooth green snake) that resembles your 2nd shot. Fortunately no venomous snakes here, but we do get garter snakes around our pond - they love frogs !

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