Dateline: June 13, 2015*
The other day I was doing my daily lap around the pond (on foot, I didn’t swim it 😉 ) when I nearly stepped on one of my slithering friends. A demure Peninsula Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus sackenii) was scouting through the littoral zone of the pond in search of something good to eat. This native Florida non-venomous snake is live bearing and has a diet that includes fishes, frogs, salamanders, and earthworms. Mind you, in central Florida it would be hard-pressed to find any earthworms, so it must have been waiting on the leopard frogs, or fishing for mosquito fish or topminnows.
The Peninsula Ribbon Snake is a subspecies of the Eastern Ribbon Snake. Both are members of the same genus as Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) which are found in many areas of the country. Garter snakes serve as food for many others up the food chain including herons, hawks, raccoons and other mammals, large fish, turtles and bullfrogs.
A few weeks back I had another ribbon snake visit up on the patio. Early morning finds many of the snakes seeking extra warmth from the sun on the impervious concrete surface of the patio. That particular one was hanging out on the brick skirting foundation around the base of the house using a decorative candleholder lamp as a hiding spot.
Ribbon snakes are long and slender reptiles with an average adult size at 20-28 inches. Record is 40 inches. My patio dweller was on the low end of the length, but the one back by the pond this week seems to be shooting for the record. His tail went on for days as I desperately tried to get a few photos without much luck. They move pretty quickly.
I have shared tales of the many species of snakes that call my place home. The non-venomous include Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata), Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) seen dining on frogs, Eastern Hognose (Heterodon platirhinos) playing dead to fool the resident Irish setter and myself and Southern Black Racer Snakes (Coluber constrictor priapus) which have shown that they can be cannibalistic.
On the scarier side are the venomous visitors to my place, including the Dusky Pigmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius barbouri) who have tasted two of my three dogs and the one species that really makes my heart stop, the Water Moccasin a.k.a. Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti), venomous with a capital “V”.
Other areas of the country such as California also are home to some potentially deadly visitors. If you garden in areas of the country that have venomous snakes, be sure you can identify what resides at your place and have an action plan in case the worst happens. And keep aware of your surroundings at all times. They are nothing to be afraid of, as they want less to do with you than you do with them, but you do need to be alert to avoid accidental encounters.
Snakes are beautiful and fascinating and a fun addition to the wildlife garden. Larger species provide pest control (think rats, mice, voles) so it is worth it to provide safe havens in brush piles to encourage them to take up residence to keep those species in check.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on June 13, 2015 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.