For Goodness Snakes!

As LAist pointed out yesterday in a post about hiking Temescal Canyon, it’s that time of the year when there’s an abundance of snakes in them there hills (and the fact that there’s also so much more stuff out there for this year’s snakes to snack on, there’s a good bet next year’s serpent population will be sssssspectacular as well). Certainly such opportunities for increased encounters are good reasons to be more safe and careful wherever you may tread offroad, but with me being one of them unparalleled animal lovers who attempts (however lamely) to battle abject fear with reason, allow me to offer up a defense of snakes in general and specifically for this fine and very cooperative specimen of gopher snake pictured at the right (click for a larger view) that I photographed a few weeks back on a hike with my fiancee Susan and fellow contributor Cybele on the Lower Beacon Trail in the southeast end of Griffith Park.

Gopher snakes are nonvenomous (they kill by constriction), and true to their common name they go after gophers as well as birds, bird eggs, other rodents, rabbits, and lizards. Farmers go crazy for ’em because they keep crop-damaging critters in check, but here in the urban jungle, they don’t feel much love ó and part of this is their fault. See, at some point gopher snakes (and the equally harmless-to-humans king snakes and rat snakes for that matter) figured out that the defensive habits of rattlesnakes totally kicked ass in warding off enemies ó and as such they became excellent rattlesnake impersonators. A stressed-out gopher snake will flatten its head giving it the broader more triangular shape of a pit viper, hiss loudly, coil up, and even rapidly vibrate its tail, although it has no rattle. Scary shit. Now, such impressive mimicry is often successful in sending predators like coyotes or bobcats or birds of prey off in search of less risky eats. But that bluff doesn’t fool a lot of us humans. Not one bit. We know a hellbound rattler when we see one and the only retreat worth making is one to go off in search of a hefty rock or sturdy tree branch with which to return and send the slithering ssssucker on a one-way trip out of here for daring to hang out on the wrong side of the trail where they clearly have no right to be. Stupid snake. Better off dead anyway.

It should be noted that gophers fucking love it when this happens. In fact, any who witness such a slaying often launch into the “Caddy Shack ” dance and then they go off and make more gophers. A dead gopher snake means Par-TAY! time for them, but is never much cause for celebration for me, I’m afraid.

My point? Nothing earth cracking. Just be smart and safe. Enjoy and respect the great outdoors, wherever your treks take you. And should you encounter some of the native fauna (even if it’s potentially hazardous to your health), just remember there’s room and reason for all of us.

3 thoughts on “For Goodness Snakes!”

  1. I would just like to point out that the Google ads in the RSS feed of this story (and on the webpage as well) are displaying “Copperhead Snakes – www. ebay. com, Quality new and used items. Find copperhead snakes now!” Will, maybe you guys can open up a side business. ;)

  2. i hiked the switzer’s falls trail over the weekend with a friend, and we saw all manner of slithering friends — salamanders, lizards, several garter snakes, one watersnake, and one we were quite convinced was a coral snake. there are all these great mnemonic devices to remind you which ones are poisonous, but of course mainlining adrenaline while trying to stop your trail-cruise in mid-air so you don’t land on a coiled poisonous-looking snake is not the most conducive method for recalling doggerel verse.

    For anyone who’s interested, the apparently correct rhyme with respect to king snakes vs. (poisonous) coral snakes is, “Red next to black is a friend of Jack; red next to yellow will kill a fellow”.

    Fortunately, it turns out there are no coral snakes in california!

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