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South Williamsport, PA
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The “Snake Whisperer”

The “Snake Whisperer”
My granddaughter, Addy, holding Spot after he calmed down.

Last week a couple of neighborhood boys were at their grandmother’s house when she summoned me to come over and remove a large black rat snake crawling next to her house. The nearly six-foot-long snake was less than pleased when I picked it up, but in a short time it calmed down when it realized

Last week a couple of neighborhood boys were at their grandmother’s house when she summoned me to come over and remove a large black rat snake crawling next to her house. The nearly six-foot-long snake was less than pleased when I picked it up, but in a short time it calmed down when it realized I wasn’t a serious threat; the boys have now dubbed me the “Snake Whisperer.”

Actually, ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a fascination with snakes. Unlike a lot of folks, I do not fear snakes, nor do I kill them when I see them, and in most cases, I just let them go about their business. There are times of course when a snake ends up someplace where it’s not at all welcome like the one years ago that got into the neighbor lady’s trailer home; I quickly removed it to a new location in the field out back.

Just last week my daughter-in-law called me and asked me to come down to their place about a half-mile away and get the snake out of their hen house. Their chickens utilize five-gallon buckets placed on their sides and up on racks to lay their eggs. When I arrived, it took me a couple of minutes dodging strikes from the large black rat snake until I could nab it behind the head and remove it from the bucket. Here again, after a short time of handling, the snake calmed down and could easily be held without a problem. I decided to move the egg thief elsewhere so as I often do, I took the snake to my house and released it in my woodpile near the garage with the attached “man porch.”

Now, what’s interesting about this particular black rat snake is that my son had, on two or three previous occasions, captured and removed that same snake from the hen house. How do we know it’s the same snake? The small white patch of paint he put on its back makes for positive identification; hence the name “Spot.” Each time he removed the snake more than a hundred yards down into the woods, but it kept coming back to the hen house to devour more eggs.

The day after I released Spot into my wood pile, I sat down on a chair on my man porch and coiled up under the chair across from me was Spot. He didn’t like my company and soon headed back over to the wood pile. The following day the neighbor called me over to remove a large black rat snake from near her house-it was Spot ( Yes, I know a lot of you are glad I’m not your neighbor). This time I carried Spot several hundred yards back to the edge of the woods thinking, we would never see him again. The next afternoon when I pulled into my driveway, a large black rat snake was sunning itself in the gravel – it was Spot; I put him back into the field behind the house.

While snakes have relatively poor eyesight and limited hearing they do have an excellent sense of smell and obviously have no problem “smelling” their way back to a chicken coup or a wood pile that may have chipmunks, mice or other potential prey. Their nostrils are mostly for respiration and may detect some odors, but the tongue plays an even greater role in smelling. Unlike people, a snake doesn’t stick its tongue out at you because it doesn’t like you or to be rude, but rather it’s wet, forked tongue is gathering odor molecules to see if you are foe or prey or nothing to be concerned about.

The tongue doesn’t actually smell but instead transfers the gathered molecules into the mouth where they find their way through two small openings in the roof of the mouth into the Jacobson’s organ. The Jacobson’s organ transfers that information to the brain, and the brain tells the snake how to react-all in about one second. Interesting, isn’t it?

Well, now that I’m finished writing this piece I’m headed over to the man porch to see if Spot wants to join me for a glass of iced tea.

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