Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Snake self defence

Iris and I were on our way up Blake St from the BART station to our house.
At the corner of Walnut St, I exclaimed, "Oh!"
"What! What!? What?" Iris responded.
"A garter snake!"
The sleek black ribbon, two feet long and no more than half an inch wide, with a bright yellow strip up its back, was frantically trying to wriggle out of the street and onto the curb. That corner has no curb-cut, and its movements were too disorganized to allow it to climb the 6-inch curb.
Three facts jumped to mind:
1. It was clearly overheated by being on the black pavement in the sun, and would cook to death or get run-over unless we rescued it.
2. Garter snakes are not poisonous, but can bite.
3. It probably came from El Cerrito Hillside Natural Area, 200m up the street.

So I handed my cane and groceries to Iris and grabbed the snake with both hands. But I had forgotten that the hotter a snake is, the faster it can move. Before I could get a finger on it, my thumb was bleeding from multiple tiny punctures. I grabbed the little snot anyway and held firmly, but without squeezing, on the back of its skull. Then it hit me with a garter-snake's last line of defense: musk. A garter snake's musk glands are in its vent (a.k.a. cloaca, a.k.a. butt) and can rapidly discharge a surprising quantity of a fluid that smells somewhere between a port-a-potty and old gym-socks.

With one hand bleeding and the other clamped on a snake and stinking, I looked up at Iris. She handed me my cane and retreated up the street.

Thamnophis elegans - Western Terrestrial Gartersnake

1 comment:

jte said...

Yay, Dan! Future generations of garter snakes in El Cerrito may well venerate your bravery.