News about the state of snakes: Who knew?
For the Chinese, 2013 is the Year of the Snake. While the number 13 and snakes rank about equally low in public opinion, a U.S. group advocating amphibian and reptile conservation declared 2013 its own Year of the Snake to encourage paying more attention to snakes and to the various threats — including public opinion — causing snakes’ decline. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has joined this effort. Maybe Milfordites would be interested.
Snakes don’t seek attention. According to one expert, “Most warm-blooded critters are basically exhibitionists.
You can go in your backyard and have a pretty good chance of seeing the same squirrel several times a week, or seeing all the robins within 50 yards. Not snakes. The concept of detection probability — the odds that you’ll see a snake if it’s nearby — may be the most important concept in snake ecology.
For certain habitats, more individual snakes live in a given area than the total of all birds and mammals in that area combined, and yet if you took a walk there you might see few to no snakes.
Most folks have no idea of how many snakes are around, or what an important role they play in the environment.
Humans tend come upon snakes by surprise, which scares both species unnecessarily, and sometimes in such a way that neither one can do anything but defend itself, compounding the confusion. Where knowledge suffers, myths thrive.
Fourteen species of snake live in Connecticut. Two are venomous — the Timber Rattlesnake and the Northern Copperhead; 12 are not. Of the 12, three species are declining or warrant special concern, seven are doing fine, and two are so shy that no one knows.
Milford contains habitats appropriate for nine of the 12. Among these, the most common residents here are the ones that tolerate development — the Eastern Garter Snake and the Northern Brown Snake, which look a lot alike. As to the venomous snakes, Milford does contain habitat for copperheads, but that species is declining, while rattlesnakes are nearly extinct, and presently are limited to northwest and central Connecticut.
All of this information is on the DEEP website, ct.gov/deep, which should be a Milfordite’s first stop on the way to celebrating the Year of the Snake. The second stop should be yearofthesnake.org, a website for Year of the Snake News. This family-oriented monthly newsletter offers both comprehensive information about snakes and readable ways to appreciate their place in the natural world. Readers have the opportunity to submit their own articles and photos.
The third stop — perhaps only the end of another fascinating beginning — should be snakecount.org. This describes the annual Snake Count, a citizen-science project begun in 2011. Count months are May and October. Anyone can register free anytime. During 2012, only four snake sightings were made in the whole state, just one in New Haven County (Meriden), so the count in Milford is wide open.
Who could heart snakes? Prepare to be surprised.