Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: More Snakes Are around Now Than Any Other Time

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: More Snakes Are around Now Than Any Other Time

Article excerpt

Late August began with an outstanding encounter in the woods when my grandson and I found an enormous canebrake rattlesnake stretched out in front of a tree stump. The snake rattled at us and then languidly crawled into a large hole beneath the stump.

It was in the same place on three more visits over the next two weeks. Those visits were cool enough, but the fifth visit was really special. The big snake was still there, and stretched or coiled around the stump were five baby canebrakes.

Rattlesnakes do not lay eggs. They are livebearers, so the mother is around, intentionally or not, to protect her newborn young. Within a day or so after birth, a snake generally sheds its skin. Sure enough, when we went back to our family cabin three days after seeing the babies, we found five shed skins around the stump and no snakes. My grandson is pleased to know that at least six canebrake rattlesnakes are roaming around in the woods we enjoy walking through. So am I.

Most North American snakes are born between midsummer and early fall. The baby rattlesnakes emphasize a point I have made before -- more snakes are present in early autumn than at any other time of the year. Most snakes mate in the spring, so adults are usually more conspicuous then, usually within a few days or weeks after winter is over.

But across the country, all snake species actually reach their highest numbers in August and September because of the appearance of hatchlings. Rat snakes, corn snakes, kingsnakes and racers are among the kinds that lay eggs in early summer; these hatch in late summer. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths and watersnakes hold their babies in the body and give live birth during the same season.

Because of natural mortality rates that affect all animal species, the actual population size of every snake species begins to decrease by mid autumn. More small snakes are likely to be seen in the fall because the recently born young are moving around in search of their first meal while it is still warm. …

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