Thursday, September 11, 2008

Garter snake

I literally stepped over this juvenile Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans vagrans) on a riparian trail. Like a Wild West gunslinger, I whipped out my camera and rudely started flashing away. The poor thing slithered into a little nook, but I was able to shove my lens in its face to get this shot. Notice the brown effluent on its head and side. Garter snakes exude this secretion from their anal glands when frightened. If Princess Di had used this technique with the paparazzi, perhaps she would have been left alone. There is nothing like a stinky black mass delicately dabbed behind each ear to deter the voyeurs.

I like snakes because they are true sun worshipers. Being cold blooded (heterothermic for you science types), snakes bask in the morning sun to give themselves the energy to get through the day. I am the same way. I’ll take a nice flat rock in the sun over caffeine any day.

Garter snakes are non-venomous and terribly interesting but then most snakes are. It is hard for us bi-peds to imagine a life with no limbs even less a life eating frogs, leeches, lizards, and rodents. Did you know that Garter snakes talk to each other via pheromones? What is really interesting is that some males will secrete both male and female pheromones. These she-males confuse males and have better luck mating with the females. Take note alpha males, letting your inner woman out might actually help you with the chicks.

I always thought that snakes hibernated but they actually brumate, which is metabolically different. Hibernation involves a decreased heart rate and body temperature. Brumation is a form a dormancy in which energy is saved by minimizing metabolic growth. I kind of like the hibernate version. It involves a summer-time feeding frenzy to add a few love handles to the pantry before winter. That sounds much more fun.

I am surprised that I don’t see more snakes on the trail in Colorado. I guess since they can sense vibration through the ground, a herd of boot-clad hikers is easily avoided. Keep your eyes peeled for these interesting inhabitants.

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