DEEP: 2013 Is the Year of the Snake

March 26, 2013
 
2013 Is the Year of the Snake
 
DEEP to increase awareness of snake conservation in Connecticut

 
2013 has been proclaimed the Year of the Snake by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) to raise awareness for snake conservation.  The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Wildlife Division is participating in this effort by shining a spotlight on Connecticut’s native snake species throughout the year.  Various other state and federal wildlife agencies, along with several conservation and snake organizations, are also partnering with PARC to foster appreciation and understanding of snakes.

“The DEEP Wildlife Division has made a commitment to inform Connecticut residents about the state’s native snake species through regular press releases; informative articles and species profiles in issues of our bimonthly magazine, Connecticut Wildlife; a children’s art contest; and related events,” said Rick Jacobson, Director of the DEEP Wildlife Division.

Fourteen snake species occur in Connecticut.  Four of these snakes (common ribbonsnake, eastern hog-nosed snake, smooth greensnake, and timber rattlesnake) are currently on the state's List of Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species.  Only two of Connecticut’s snakes are venomous, the northern copperhead and the state-endangered timber rattlesnake.

 Connecticut’s Native Snake Species
Common Gartersnake Northern Brownsnake
Common Ribbonsnake (special concern) Northern Copperhead
Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake (special concern) Northern Watersnake
Eastern Milksnake Northern Red-bellied Snake
Eastern Ratsnake Ring-Necked Snake
Eastern Wormsnake Smooth Greensnake (special concern)
Northern Black Racer Timber Rattlesnake (endangered)
 
 
Snakes Are Fascinating
  • Snakes are reptiles that survive in some of the most extreme environments on Earth and occur in a variety of habitats.  They are long and slender, covered with scales, and have no limbs.
  • Snakes are ectothermic (cold-blooded); their body temperature changes with the temperature around them.  A snake will bask in the sun to warm up or it will take refuge in a cool, shady spot when the weather is hot.
  • Snakes are carnivores; they eat other animals, such as mice, birds, fish, frogs, insects, and even other snakes.
  • Snakes have a variety of ways to sense their environment. They can see, but use their tongues to “smell” and find food.  The Jacobson’s organ, located in the roof of the mouth, enables snakes to identify prey as well as other snakes and animals that may want to prey on them.  Pit vipers, a type of snake, use special nerve endings in their skin to detect the body heat of prey animals.  The only pit vipers found in Connecticut are the northern copperhead and timber rattlesnake.
  • Some snakes constrict their prey until it suffocates.  Some eat their prey alive. Venomous snakes inject their prey with venom through fangs.  Snakes have special jaws that help them swallow their food whole, and strong digestive juices, called enzymes, that dissolve prey, including fur, feathers, and bones.

Want to learn more about snakes? Visit the DEEP Website at www.ct.gov/deep/YearoftheSnake!

Threats to Snakes

Humans cause the largest harm to snake populations, but we have the power to make positive changes toward snake survival. The biggest threats to snake populations include:
  • Habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation;
  • Unnecessary killing of snakes, both venomous and non-venomous, due to fear, misunderstanding, and persecution;
  • Mortality from roads, agricultural machinery, and predation by cats and dogs;
  • Over-collection of wild snakes for the pet trade;
  • Climate change.
What You Can Do

Hundreds of snakes are needlessly killed by people each year because of mistaken identity, fear, and misunderstanding.  Very often, when a snake is found near a home, people panic and may even assume that the snake is dangerous or venomous.  Few Connecticut residents realize that they are unlikely to encounter a venomous snake around their home.  The two venomous snake species found in Connecticut (timber rattlesnake and copperhead) do not have wide distributions.  These venomous snakes, along with the other 12 Connecticut snake species, are NOT aggressive and will only bite if threatened or handled.  If left alone, snakes pose no threat to people.  If you encounter a snake in your yard or while enjoying the outdoors, observe and enjoy the snake from a distance and allow it to go on its way.
 
Other important ways you can help snakes include
  • Never releasing a captive, pet snake into the wild. It could have a disease that is difficult to detect, but can harm native snakes.
  • Never collecting a wild snake to keep as a pet. Any person who collects (or kills) a protected snake species could be faced with fines or legal action.
  • Watching for snakes basking on or crossing roads. Avoid running over snakes with your vehicle, but only if it is safe to do so.
  • Learning more about snakes and educating others.
Look for more information to come about snakes and snake conservation in Connecticut. One of the best ways to learn more about snakes during the “Year of the Snake” is to subscribe to the DEEP’s Connecticut Wildlife magazine (www.ct.gov/deep/wildlifemagazine).  You also can visit PARC’s Web site at www.yearofthesnake.org, as well as the Year of the Snake page on the DEEP’s Web site (www.ct.gov/deep/YearoftheSnake).
 
What Is PARC?

Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) is an inclusive partnership dedicated to the conservation of the herpetofauna--reptiles and amphibians--and their habitats.  Membership comes from all walks of life and includes individuals from state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, museums, pet trade industry, nature centers, zoos, energy industry, universities, herpetological organizations, research laboratories, forest industries, and environmental consultants.  The diversity of its membership makes PARC the most comprehensive conservation effort ever undertaken for amphibians and reptiles.  PARC is habitat focused, and centers on endangered and threatened species and keeping common native species common.
 
{Photo of an Eastern Milksnake}
 
The non-venomous eastern milksnake is often confused with the venomous northern copperhead. Both species of snakes are NOT aggressive and will only bite if threatened or handled.
 
Photo credit: Paul J. Fusco, DEEP Wildlife Division