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Rural Living for July 9, 2009

Yikes, Snake!

by Carol Dunn

HUERFANO- Before you speed up to smash that snake on the highway or drive off course to chase one down with your lawn mower, think twice.  Ninety-three percent of snakes in Huerfano County are harmless to people and beneficial in controlling pests.  In general, snakes prefer to eat the most abundant mammals in their territory, usually rodents.  A healthy adult snake will eat a rodent every couple days.  In fact, the bull snake (found in eastern Colorado) and its cousin in our area, the gopher snake, will prey upon rattlesnakes.  Some smaller snakes eat ants and termites.  According to a list published in 2000 by the Colorado Herpetological Society, 15 species of snakes have been documented in Huerfano County.  

    Only one of those species, the Western Rattlesnake, is venomous to humans.  Even if you can rationalize killing the rattlesnakes you see, there is only one chance in 15 (and probably less) that you’ll nail a rattlesnake when you swerve to drive over a snake on the highway.  More likely, you will inadvertently be guaranteeing the safety of numerous gophers, rats and mice in the area.

    Unfortunately, the gopher snake’s defensive posture of flattening its head and body and vibrating its tail like a rattlesnake, plus a throaty imitation of the sound of rattles and a tendency to strike when threatened, has doomed its kind many times when encountered by people with a “kill first–ask questions later” attitude.  

    Give all snakes a wide berth.  They may have a bad reputation, but they’re not all bad.

    For pictures and information on Huerfano County’s 15 snake species, go to: http://webspinners.com/coloherp/geo/counties/couhuer.php .