2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 190,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 8 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Snake Temple – Home of the Wagler’s Pit Viper

Disclaimer: I do not intentionally poke fun of other people’s cultural or religious beliefs. I am simply a snake fan, that enjoys educating others about the many truths and myths regarding snakes. I apologize in advance, if any portion of the following article is offensive in any way, to your culture or faith. That said, please direct your attention to the “snake claims” highlighted in blue throughout the article. I will not address these claims directly, but will include content throughout, that will offer insight and logic about the statements. 

Furthermore, when writing articles about snakes not native to the country I live in, I am often at the mercy of on-line content and photos. I have done my best to give credit to those that took the included photographs, but many did not offer any details regarding this credit. If I have used one of your photos, please let me know, so that I can either give you credit, or remove your photo, if you prefer. Thank you!

Snake Temple

Originally called, “Temple of the Azure Clouds“, the structure below, was built in 1850, in honor of Bhudist monk, Chor Soo Kong, who was a renowned healer in his time. The temple is said to have been made possible, due to a large donation by a Scottish man, named David Brown. Brown was purportedly very thankful to Chor Soo Kong, for healing him of an “incurable” disease.

Snake Temple or Temple of the Azure Cloud - Penang, Malaysia

Snake Temple or Temple of the Azure Cloud – Penang, Malaysia

From the street, this more than a century-and-a-half-old building, could pass for just about any other small religious monument found in Malaysia. However, some may think that the inside of this temple, is as strange and twisted as its inhabitants. Chor Soo Kong not only helped people during his life, but was also renowned for offering shelter and sanctuary to serpents. (Snake Claim #1) It is reported, that after his death, the snakes made their way to the temple on their own, and have taken up permanent residence within the temple’s sacred walls.

Wagler's Vipers making themselves at home, within Snake Temple

Wagler’s Vipers making themselves at home, within Snake Temple

If you are the curious type, and want to make the trip to Penang, Malaysia, to visit this temple, you will find yourself observing religious followers, working monks, and a plethora of free-roaming snakes – most of which, are venomous Wagler’s Vipers. That’s right, I said “venomous and unconfined”! However, please don’t let me scare you into not making the pilgrimage to this unique sanctuary, as there are obviously very strict, and ample safety measures vigilantly enforced, to protect visitors….

Warning Sign posted in Snake Temple

Warning Sign posted in Snake Temple

Well, perhaps you may not find comfort in the strongly-worded warning above, but I’m sure that the snakes do.

You may ask yourself,  “So, how can I be certain, that my family and I will be safe, if we go here?” Well, I’m glad you asked. “The sign above, is obviously not the only safety precaution. Duh, that would be ludicrous. What you see pictured below, thank goodness, is the fool-proof, back-up security plan.

Incense burner, guarding the entrance of Snake Temple

Incense burner, guarding the entrance of Snake Temple

Okay, my bad! Perhaps I should not have mislead you into thinking that there was not a granite urn for burning incense at the entryway to the temple. To be fair though, if you were observant, you would have noticed this urn, in the first photo. lol   I shouldn’t have to remind you, that the smoke from burning incense is the natural equivalent of “slipping a mickey” to a wild animal, right? If you don’t believe me, just check out the “high-performance” guard dog on the left side of the photo. (Snake Claim #2) Believe it or not, the “incense theory”, truly is said to be the primary safety feature of the temple. Snake Temple devotees, claim that the smoke from the burning incense, lulls the venomous Temple Vipers into a semi-comatose, non-bitey state of peaceful harmony with temple visitors and tourists.

(Snake Claim #3) There are even additional claims that once the temple closes, the snakes descend from their perches, to consume copious amounts of the offerings left by temple worshipers. It is said, that they eat so much, and are so lively at night, that they are too exhausted to do anything but lay perfectly motionless the following day.

Offering of eggs presented to the Wagler's Vipers in Snake Temple

Offering of eggs presented to the Wagler’s Vipers in Snake Temple

Snake Temple offerings of rice, oranges and melons.

Snake Temple offerings of rice, oranges and melons.

The offerings donated by temple patrons might range anywhere from the items pictured above, to milk, wine, fruits, vegetables, grains, spices and breads.

Whether or not any of the claims made are accurate or not, the truth remains that hundreds of people come within striking distance of these snakes each day, and yet there have been (Snake Claim #4) no “reported bites” to visitors. Despite the cautionary signs posted about the temple, instructing visitors to “look – but don’t touch”, for a small fee, you can even drape a Temple Viper about yourself, and have your photo taken with the temple’s icon. Certainly, unless some of these claims are true, one would think that this behavior would result in a very dangerous bite, right?

Phot credit: Seismic_2000

Phot credit: Seismic_2000
Venomous Wagler’s Viper being held.
SnakeBuddies suggests NEVER handling any venomous snake!

Wagler’s Pit Vipers have long been one of my favorite venomous species of snake. I hope to use this article to share with you, the beauty of these reptiles, and to shed some light on the interesting relationship that has developed between these snakes, and the visitors of Snake Temple. We’ll discuss some of the natural characteristics and habits of these interesting reptiles, and share some photos, videos, and accounts from people that have spent time with the Temple Viper.

The Temple Viper

Wagler's Viper

Photo Credit – bm_photo
Wagler’s Vipers can be stunning specimens, donning bright colors, and a large – if almost comical – triangular head.

The Wagler’s Viper - Tropidolaemus wagleri, is indeed a venomous pit viper, which is defined by its heat-sensing facial pits and its long, retractable fangs. They have a large, predominately triangular head, and a strong hemotoxic venom which experts say, is potentially fatal to humans. Though heavy-bodied, these snakes are perfectly at home in the trees, and are primarily arboreal, with a strong prehensile tail, which aids them in climbing.

Though “Wagler’s Pit Viper” is a common name, these snakes are widely known as “Temple Vipers” due to their long-lasting presence in, and association with “Snake Temple”. The two are no longer truly, mutually exclusive – one being largely defined by the other. I would even venture to say that the relationship has become somewhat symbiotic, in that the snakes receive food and shelter from the temple, and the temple receives donations from the people coming to see the snakes.

Wagler’s Pit Vipers are found in parts of  Thailand,  Malaysia, Singapore, Borneo, Sumatra, Sulawesi and the Philippines. They come in a wide variety of colors or phases, typically determined by locality, although snakes within the same population do possess some variability as well. The snakes may come in different shades of green, blue, brown, gray or black, with banding that could be blue, red, gold, or orange, and the list goes on!

Young Temple Vipers are generally born with a light green color, with bands of varying color, but as the snakes age, their bands become wider and brighter. The following photos will give a better representation of the changes in pattern that may occur, as the snakes age and grow.

Photo credit - JP Lawrenece Young Temple Viper

Photo credit – JP Lawrenece
Baby Temple Viper, with hardly any pattern at all.

Wagler's Viper with Red Stripes

Young Wagler’s Viper with larger stripes.

Adult Wagler's Viper

Adult Wagler’s Viper

Keep in mind that the three photos above are not of the same snake, but hopefully they show the general progression of pattern and striping in this phase. I’ve added more photos below as well, to show some of the various colors and patterns found among this beautiful species.

Wagler's Viper

Adult Wagler’s Viper

Photo Credit - Jenningspony78 A very blue-ish example of a Temple Viper

Photo Credit – Jenningspony78
A very blue-ish example of a Temple Viper

Triangular head of the Wagler's Viper

Triangular head of the Wagler’s Viper

The following snake, is not considered an actual Wagler’s Viper, but is closely related to them, and is called a Broad-banded Temple Viper, so I figured I would add it as well. Honestly, it just happens to be an amazingly beautiful animal, in my opinion, and that’s all the excuse I really needed to add it to my blog. Heehee!

Braod-banded Temple Viper

Braod-banded Temple Viper
Tropidolaemus laticinctus


If you appreciate snakes at all, you can see why these snakes have been highly sought after by people in the pet trade. Beauty may be subjective, but by my standards, a Temple Viper would make for a stunning display animal.

Looks aside, Waglers possess other traits that seem to make them preferable over other venomous snakes as well. For starters, these snakes are naturally pretty laid back, by viper standards. Many owners of these reptiles, have tempted fate, and free-handled their Temple Viper without being bit. Even without burning incense, warning signs or ingesting five pounds of flour, they simply have a rather calm demeanor – most of the time. Again, I feel obligated to stress, that it is NEVER a good idea to put your hands on any venomous snake. Please don’t do it!

Below, is a video of my friend, Al Coritz (aka – ViperKeeper). He deals with venomous snakes every day, and has developed quite the following for his videos on YouTube. If you are a venomous snake fan, and like watching snake videos, make sure to subscribe to his channel! He’s a great guy, with a ton of knowledge concerning snakes. Just be warned, that if you are inexperienced with venomous snakes, and start asking him questions about wanting to keep a potentially deadly animal, you will be on the receiving end of deserved criticism and more. The Wagler’s Viper is the first snake highlighted in this video, for those of you who want to check it out. Unfortunately embedding has been disabled by Al, so you will have to click on the “watch on YouTube” link.

As you may have noticed right from the start, ViperKeeper’s Temple Viper did strike toward the camera. Please don’t let the stories of monks at snake temple entice you with magic incense, and make you think you can get away with holding one in your home. They can absolutely put you in the hospital.

So what of the many people at Snake Temple, who do put these snakes all over their bodies without getting bitten?  Despite my theories, it is completely commonplace, to allow people of all ages to pay a toll, to experience this rite of passage.

Children holding venomous Wagler's Vipers at Snake Temple.

Children holding venomous Wagler’s Vipers at Snake Temple.

Apparently these snakes are so “safe”, even the kids are doing it. Honestly, I’ve seen parents on the news, going to jail for endangering their children less. If you want to risk your life, that’s your business, but please think twice before putting these critters in the hands of your children. If you need any encouragement at all, please remember that you are in a foreign country far from home, medical care is a decade behind what can be found in other countries, and there is much less legal liability there. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think the thrill, is worth the risk.

Being eternal cynical, I delved a bit deeper into this relationship, and finally did come across some facts that add up a little better. To shed more light on how people get away with holding venomous snakes at Snake Temple, I refer you to a photo of an acquaintance of mine, Tom Crutchfield….

tom crutchfield and Wagler's Vipers

Tom Crutchfield and Wagler’s Vipers

Tom has been a life-long snake enthusiast, and is a dealer of legend in the snake trade. This photo was taken some 25 years ago. If you look closely, you will see that he is holding two snakes, and has another perched on his shoulder. It turns out, that while he was at Snake Temple, some of the monks actually admitted that the snakes they use for photos, have had their fangs removed. Being a snake expert, Tom was able to verify that this was the case… with some of the snakes. He did however, find several of them with fully functioning fangs as well, so it’s still not a fool-proof system.

Temple Viper marked with paint.

Temple Viper marked with paint.

Apparently, the snakes used in the photos, are sometimes decorated with a bit of paint, to indicate that they are “fang-less” and safe to handle. Perhaps this in one way that temple workers have been able to reduce or eliminate bites. It is at least one valid reason that I can finally sink my teeth into.

I truly hope it goes without saying, that removing the fangs from a snake, is unethical and abusive. I know I’m more conservative than some, but causing unnecessary pain and harm to any animal for the sake of exploitation, is not a human trait I condone, or can ever side with. Even if this practice is done entirely in the name of human safety, wouldn’t it make more sense, to bring in harmless snakes, that don’t pose a threat to humans in the first place?

Conservation

So earlier on, I mentioned that the relationship between Temple Vipers and Snake Temple, could be considered symbiotic. Is this really the case though? We see these relationships often enough in nature. Look at the Sea Anemone and the Clown Fish for example. The anemone provides shelter for the small, defenseless fish, and in return, the Clown Fish feeds its host. Or how about the ant and the aphid, or the Cape Buffalo and the Ox Pecker? In all of these latter instances, there is a very clear and definite, mutual benefit to the relationship. Is that really the case for the Temple Vipers?

Clown fish and Anemone

Symbiotic relationship of Clown fish and Anemone

Aphid and Ant Symbiosis

Photo credit: Charles Chien
Aphid and Ant Symbiosis

We know that the vipers get shelter from the wild in the Temple. There are bound to be less snake-eating predators in the temple, than in the jungle, so we’re off to a good start. We also established that people bring food offerings to the snakes. However, I’m kind of doubtful that the snakes are eating them. There is simply no such thing, as a vegetarian snake. They are all carnivorous. There is a species of snake that dines on eggs, but it lives in Africa, not Asia. If your snake consumes masses of grain or melons, you are soon going to have a very dead snake. But before I call foul too early, I admit that the offerings would attract rodents, that the snakes would surely gobble down, if given a chance.

Unfortunately, even if food and shelter are offered to the snakes, I think we still must look a bit closer. Perhaps our best resource here, would be people who have kept Wagler’s Vipers in captivity. You and I can both agree that they would be the experts, right? Well, in the venomous snake-keeping community, Temple Vipers are widely considered to be extremely difficult captives. In captivity, the snakes perish more often than not. They simply do not survive long for most people. There may be a handful of exceptions, but most conscientious dealers will tell you not to buy a Temple Viper. Could optimal conditions exist in Snake Temple, that snake experts cannot duplicate? They might, but I think that would be a stretch. I can’t imagine that the stress of having hundreds of humans handle them every day, or getting their fangs ripped out occasionally, would increase their lifespan.

I was able to identify a couple of other indicators as well, that might help us determine how the Wagler’s Vipers are fairing at Snake Temple. First, remember when I mentioned that the legend is that the snakes came into the temple on their own? I admit, that from a strictly religious perspective, stranger things have happened. But regardless of how the snakes originally became a part of Snake Temple, we still need to ask how the snakes are getting there now. 150 years ago, the temple may have been surrounded  by prime snake habitat, but today, the temple has a very urban address. The building is less than a mile from the airport, and any “jungle” it now belongs to, is made of concrete. Habitat destruction and urbanization are the leading causes for species decline. If you remove the jungle, you have effectively removed the jungle-dependent animals. So, either the snakes in the temple today, are the result of generations of breeding from the original population, or new snakes are being brought in. And if Snake Temple is home to a successfully breeding population of vipers, where are the babies? I’ve now looked at literally hundreds of photos, and have yet to see one photographed in Snake Temple. It may not be proof, but it is something to consider.

Next, if the snakes are not breeding regularly in the temple, and it is unlikely that wild ones are making it across miles of roadways to get there from the jungle, how are they getting in? We know that the primary revenue source for the temple, comes from donations by visitors coming to see the snakes. Pardon me while I put my “Cynic hat” back on, but it just might be possible, that wild snakes are being brought in, to keep the interest of paying tourists. Again, I have no proof of this personally, but it is yet another important consideration.

Perhaps, the one indication that makes my “Spidey-sense” tingle most, are several accounts I found in my research, from long-time Snake Temple fans, who have all noticed that the population of snakes in the Temple, is on a steep decline. Nowadays, Snake Temple ranks no better than 3 out of 5 stars on any tourism sites. There are lots of complaints that you really have to look now, to find snakes in the temple. The most common sentiment, is that “Snake Temple isn’t what it used to be.” At this point, I’m leaning toward the idea, that the snakes are becoming dramatically more scarce in the wild, making it more difficult for the temple to acquire them.

And now I come back to revisit the symbiotic relationship idea.  What an amazing occurrence it would be, if this was the case! But exactly how is this relationship beneficial to the snakes? I do not doubt that originally, the folks at Snake Temple had nothing but good intentions. They may have even thought that highlighting these snakes in their temple, would lead to a better understanding and appreciation of them, to the people that visited the temple. It is possible, that they did have a positive influence in helping some people overcome their fear of snakes. Unfortunately, what they could not foresee, is that the attention they have brought to the snakes, has ultimately led to thousands of them being removed from the wild, only to be shipped to Europe and America, where most of them have died. Habitat destruction is also a major contributor to the decline as well, which we can’t pin on anyone, but humankind. I am led to believe, that despite our best intentions, the relationship we have with these fascinating vipers, is not truly symbiotic at all.

My sincere hope, is that it is not too late for the Wagler’s Vipers and Snake Temple. How fantastic would it be, if resources were used to conserve prime Temple Viper habitat, and the on-going existence of these amazing animals? Maybe the folks at Snake Temple will see the impending end of their snakes, and use this realization as a catalyst, to study and research these vipers more, and master husbandry techniques that will allow them to keep them alive long-term, and get them to successfully breed on a regular basis. Doing so, would curb the demand of removing the snakes from the wild, and would allow the snake-keeping community to start producing their own snakes, to meet the demand of collectors.

To be honest, I started this article because I wanted to bring your attention an animal that I really enjoy. However, after hours of exhausting research (I have still found no comprehensive articles on this species through my limited resources), my findings made me realize that there was much more to this story than first meets the eye. At the end of it all, I do hope that I managed to show you a really cool reptile. But, if you close this page with a better understanding of our impact on the fragile species around us, well, that makes my time and work, all the more worthwhile.

If you liked this post, please subscribe to my blog with the “Sign me up” button at the top of the article. If you’d like even further serpentine related updates, please look up Snake Buddies on facebook and Twitter.

Your resident SnakeBuddy,

Jamison

Wagler's Viper
Photo Credit Angi Wallace
Posted in Beautiful snakes, rare, Temple Viper, variability, venomous | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Is this Snake Venomous? What to Look for when Dealing with Snakes.

Despite the inherent fear that many people face, when a snake crosses their path, wildlife respecting people will often ask themselves, “How do I know if this snake is dangerous or harmless?” As a snake conservationist, I appreciate and respect the people that ask these questions, before they start swinging the shovel.

I wanted to write this article to help the average person identify some of the telltale characteristics of our indigenous venomous snakes, and direct them toward more comprehensive resources for identification in their own back yard. As always, I will include photos that can better demonstrate these characteristics as well, and give folks a basis for what these critters will look like.

We will cover some of the most commonly discussed attributes, that many people have heard of, and use as the occasion arises. However, before we get started, let’s take a look at the photos below, and see if you can pick out which snakes are venomous, and which are harmless….

Photo by Dave Provencher

shovel nose

Photo: R. W. Van Devende

Photo by Kaptainkory

So, do you think you know? Did you utilize all your knowledge regarding triangular heads, elliptical pupils, and color patterns? Are you ready for the answers? Here we go!

Photo 1: This is a harmless Northern Water snake. Did we fool you? Water snakes and some other species, do have somewhat triangular-shaped heads, and can even flatten them out more when threatened, making themselves look more intimidating.

Photo 2: This is a harmless Sonoran Shovel-nosed snake. It may sport the same red on yellow pattern as the venomous Coral snake, but this little snake makes its living eating insects, and could no sooner hurt a human, than it could sprout wings and fly. We can also tell that this snake is NOT a venomous Coral Snake, because it does not have a black head, and its red and black bands do not go all of the way around the body, like the Coral Snake’s do. If you look closely, you will notice that the black and red bands fade to yellow toward the belly of the snake.

Photo 3: This is a harmless Lyre snake. It has elliptical pupils, but poses absolutely no threat to humans.

Photo 4: Wow this one looks dangerous, right? Well, I hate to disappoint, but this is yet another harmless snake. It is a Hog-nosed snake, and one of the better fakers in the snake kingdom. They can flatten their neck, almost like a cobra, and even have some enlarged teeth in the back of their mouths. However, even though they are technically considered “rear-fanged venomous” these guys are very popular in the pet trade, and again, do not make a habit of, or have the proper equipment, to hurt people.

Obviously, there are some snakes in the U.S. that do pose a threat to humans, and I want to highlight them as well. However, I wanted first to help you understand that many snakes are needlessly killed because they are confused for their “dangerous” relatives. With a little time and research, I am confident that you will be able to identify which snakes in your area can pose a threat to humans versus those that are not only harmless to people, but that are great to have around your home.

Hopefully the photos above have shown that there may be exceptions to every “rule”, but my intentions are not to cause more confusion. Despite the photos you just saw, many of the common identification tricks, are still “generally accurate”. I am not asking you to completely forget everything you thought you knew about venomous snakes, but am asking you to build upon your current understanding, by adding a little more knowledge to it.

Since there are vastly more harmless snakes in the United States than there are venomous ones, perhaps a good place to start, is by identifying the venomous ones. There are four general families of venomous snakes in the U.S. They are the Copperhead, Water Moccasin (or Cotton Mouth), the Coral Snake and the Rattlesnake. Let’s take a quick look at each of these families of snake, to get a general idea of what they might look like when we see one in the wild.

CopperheadAgkistrodon contortrix

Copperheads are fairly common in certain parts of the country, and because of their large geographic range, account for a fairly large percentage of venomous bites each year, That said, a Copperhead bite is very rarely life-threatening when proper medical treatment is administered. Their venom is relatively weak compared to our other native venomous snakes.

Copperheads are generally identified as a medium-sized snake with an alternating pattern  of tan bands separated by darker brown or rust-colored, hourglass-shaped crossbands. There are a handful of subspecies in the Copperhead family, so I’ve added the pictures below to help with identification.

Though I have better close-up photos of the snake below, I think this picture better captures what you might see in the wild, and also better highlights the hourglass-shaped crossbands I referred to earlier. My buddies (Jason and Shaun) and I found this Copperhead on a trip to Kansas and Missouri. I hadn’t seen one in the wild, since I was a kid living in Arkansas, it was a very welcome reunion.

Copperhead Agkistrodon contortrix

Photo by Jamison Hensley
Southern Copperhead I found in Missouri.

Below is a Northern Copperhead. Though it looks similar to the photo above, it becomes apparent that there can be some variation in color and pattern, and also in photography skills. Haha!

Photo by John White This is a beautiful Northern Copperhead

Photo by John White
This is a beautiful Northern Copperhead

Last is the Broad-Banded Copperhead. Though it lacks definition in the hourglass pattern, you see that it still resembles its close relatives above. There is also one other subspecies of Copperhead, called the Trans Pecos Copperhead in Texas, which looks very similar to the Broad-Banded below.

Photo by John White Broad-Banded Copperhead from Texas

Photo by John White
Broad-Banded Copperhead from Texas

Water MoccasinAgkistrodon piscivorous

The Water Moccasin (also known as the Cottonmouth) is closely related to the Copperhead, and they are often found in the same geographical ranges. The Water Moccasin, however, is much more dependent on an available water source where it can catch some of its favorite food items like fish and frogs. They are typically darker in color and more muted in pattern than the Copperhead, but young Cottonmouths are vibrantly patterned, and then lose much of their contrasting pattern as they age.

One of the most difficult times people have with separating harmless from venomous snakes, occurs between Cottonmouths, and the wide variety of Water Snakes (refer to the first photo in this article). Both species love the water, and can be quite similarly patterned. Their head shape can look triangular – though the Water Moccasin’s head is much more prominently triangle-shaped, and they are both relatively heavy-bodied (almost fat looking) snakes. The one major difference, which I will cover a bit later, is pupil shape. While Water Moccasins, as well as Rattlesnakes and Copperheads all have elliptical (vertical – or cat eye-shaped) pupils, Water Snakes do indeed have round pupils. If you need this characteristic to help you ID the snake, however, you may be a bit closer to a potentially venomous critter, than you want to be, so please exercise caution. Zooming in with your camera or using binoculars can come in quite handy here.

The Water Moccasin has perhaps the most notorious reputation in the U.S. for being overly aggressive. There are more urban legends about these “demons” than any other snake. I’ve heard everything from them chasing people, to jumping out of trees on folks, and even climbing into boats to bite hapless fishermen. In my experience, and in the experience of my many snake-expert friends, this reputation is completely undeserved. These snakes are as likely to flee from humans as pretty much any other snake.

Below is a photo I took in Central Florida of a young Water Moccasin I found crossing the road, late at night. Check out that triangular head, and chubby body! Although I do not encourage you to do this yourself, I really wanted to capture the iconic photo of this snake gaping at me, to show off its bright white mouth, that gives it its common name. Try as I might, the snake simply would not cooperate. I nudged it, prodded it, and even put a little pressure on it with my foot, but the darn thing refused to show off its mouth, or jump up and bite me on the face. He just kept crawling away! Maybe he was just exhausted from biting his limit of fishermen that day. Or maybe all those stories you’ve heard, are just fish tales. Consider the source. *wink*

Photo by Jamison Hensley My foot within striking distance of the nefarious Cotton Mouth

Photo by Jamison Hensley
My foot within striking distance of the nefarious Cotton Mouth

Below is a photo of an adult Western Water Moccasin. You’ll notice that it is much darker, and lacks much of the pattern of the young one above. This photographer was able to get the photo I was hoping for, and if you look closely, you can even see the elliptical pupil, differentiating it from the round pupil of the Water Snake.

Photo by Steve Metz Western Water Moccasin showing why it got the name Cotton Mouth

Photo by Steve Metz
Western Water Moccasin showing why it got the name Cotton Mouth

Coral Snake – For more information, please see my other article on Coral snakes here: Red and Yellow Kills a Fellow

Although Coral snakes are elapids, and pack a potent venom, they are quite cryptic, are quick to avoid interaction with humans, and are the cause of very few venomous bites in the United States each year. Coral snakes can be identified as a relatively small, tri-colored snake, with a black head, and yellow bands that separate black and red bands. These bands will also continue all the way around the snake – not stopping at the belly, as with most of the harmless tri-colored snakes. Remember the rhyme “Red touches yellow, kills a fellow. Red touches black, is a friend to Jack.”, and you will be well on your way to identifying friend from foe in the U.S. However, please note that this rhyme will not always work in other countries. 

Arizona Coral Snake - Micruroides euryxanthus

I took this photo in Southern Arizona. The snake was pencil-thin, and would not hold still for anything. Several friends and I surrounded this snake for a 15 minute photo-shoot, and despite being nose-to-nose with a “cold-blooded killer”, were in no more danger than we would be in our own kitchens. They simply pose very little threat to humans unless picked up.

Photo by Jamison Hensley Arizona Coral Snake

Photo by Jamison Hensley
Arizona Coral Snake

Eastern Coral Snake – Micrurus fulvius

The Eastern Coral Snake, has the same pattern sequence as the Arizona Coral, but can get a bit bigger, and is more likely to have black speckling on its red and yellow bands, giving it a less contrasting pattern.

Even if you do determine that you have found a Coral Snake, I can think of very few instances, when killing such an animal, is the best option. They are so incredibly shy, that accidental bites (an instance where someone was not picking up or harassing the animal) are virtually unheard of.

Photo by Pierson Hill Eastern Coral Snake

Photo by Pierson Hill
Eastern Coral Snake

Rattlesnakes

There are some 32 species of rattlesnakes, with even more subspecies. This family of snake is wide-ranging and diverse. They can differ drastically is size, habitat, color and pattern. However different they may be, rattlesnakes still have one defining characteristic in the United States, that is identifiable both by sight and sound. This of course, is the rattle. In the U.S., they’ve all got them. Babies have them, females have them, Pygmy Rattlesnakes have them, and so forth. The tail is your best indicator, in identifying if a snake is a rattler or not.

There are no rattlesnake/harmless snake hybrids roaming the hills that look harmless, but have the venom of a rattler. There are plenty of urban myths out there to suggest otherwise, but rest assured, they are not based in fact. I’ll go ahead and post several photos of various species of rattler, showing that they all have that one definitive characteristic in common.

Arizona Black Rattlesnake

Photo by Jamison Hensley
Arizona Black Rattlesnake

Photo by Jamison Hensley Arizona Ridge-nose Rattlesnake - Crotalus Willardi

Photo by Jamison Hensley
Arizona Ridge-nose Rattlesnake – Crotalus Willardi

First button of newborn rattlesnake (crotalus oreganus lutosus)

Photo by Jamison Hensley
Newborn Rattlesnake – Notice that it is born with a button of a rattle.

Photo by Jamison Hensley Timber Rattlesnake - Crotalus horridus

Photo by Jamison Hensley
Timber Rattlesnake – Crotalus horridus

The small rattlesnake below is a member of the Pygmy rattlesnake family. They do have small rattles, but they are certainly present.

Photo by Jamison Hensley Western Massasauga Rattlesnake - Sistrurus catenatus

Photo by Jamison Hensley
Western Massasauga Rattlesnake – Sistrurus catenatus

Photo by Jamison Hensley Speckled Rattlesnake - Crotalus mitchelli

Photo by Jamison Hensley
Speckled Rattlesnake – Crotalus mitchelli

Photo by Jamison Hensley Sidewinder Rattlesnake - Crotalus cerastes

Photo by Jamison Hensley
Sidewinder Rattlesnake – Crotalus cerastes

The photo below, is for my friend Kathy, who lives in Florida, and was told that Pygmy Rattlesnakes do not have rattles. The answer is yes, they do have rattles. However, their rattle is even more diminutive than the snake, and may only be perceptible from a range that would put you closer than you want to be. These rattles are so small, that they are sometimes almost inaudible. Truth be told, I have seen a couple of photos of these critters that have had an injury or deformity that has left the snake rattle-less. This is the exception though, not the rule. If you come across a snake, and you truly think it might be a rattlesnake, utilize the identification strategies we will discuss below, to determine if it is harmless or not.

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake - Sistrurus miliarius

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake – Sistrurus miliarius

Now that we have more or less covered what our 4 venomous snake families in the U.S. look  like, perhaps we can spend a little time looking into those characteristics that many people use, to help them identify a venomous snake from a harmless one in the wild.

Venomous snakes have a triangular-shaped head.

There are a couple of things to consider here. The first, which we have already discussed a bit, is that some non venomous snakes can also have triangular heads, leading to the needless killing of a harmless snake. Secondly, if you look at the Coral Snake, you will notice that despite its venomous nature, its head is completely rounded, like any other harmless species. This head shape characteristic is a good start to narrow things down, but we still need a couple of steps for proper and safe identification.

Let’s take a look at the photos below, and see if we can determine if they are safe or venomous.

Identification 1:

Photo by Fred Harer

One could argue that this snake has a triangular head. Your first impulse – especially since it is in a defensive position – should be to stop, give the animal a little space, and make a couple of quick observations.

1. Does the snake have a rattle on its tail? No – So it is not a rattlesnake.

2. What shape are the snakes’ pupils? Round –  So in addition to secondary proof that it is not a rattlesnake, you are also safe to conclude that the snake cannot be a Water Moccasin or Copperhead either. However, Coral Snakes do have round pupils, so we’ll go one step further.

3. Is this snake black, red and yellow? No – So the animal is not a Coral Snake.

Your conclusion:  This snake MUST be harmless!! This is, in fact, a harmless Gopher Snake.

Identification 2:

Am I harmless or venomous?

Am I harmless or venomous?

Did you go through the steps from our last photo? What do you think? Let’s walk through it again.

1. Does the snake have a triangular-shaped head?  Yes, from this angle it kind of looks like it does. We can’t make a positive ID yet, so let’s keep going.

2. Does the snake have a rattle on its tail? Unknown – We can’t see a rattle from this angle, and we don’t want to pick the snake up to find out, so we’d better keep going through our process of elimination.

3. What shape are the snakes pupils? Round – Now we know that this snake is not any of our North American pit vipers. We’ve eliminated Copperhead, Water Moccasin and Rattlesnake.

4. Is the snake black, red and yellow? Yes, it is. Oh crap! Is this a Coral Snake? Let’s ask one more question.

5. Does the snake have a solid black head, and black and red bands, separated by yellow bands? No. Thank goodness! This is not a Coral Snake.

Your conclusion: This snake is NOT venomous! It is actually a harmless, Red-sided Garter Snake.

Venomous snakes have vertical pupils

We already know that this statement is not completely accurate. There are some harmless snakes with vertical pupils, and the venomous Coral Snake has round pupils. However, since most snakes you will come across with vertical pupils will be venomous, it is another good characteristic to look into, when going through your process of elimination to identify that snake you just ran into. You already have a good start to the questions you will ask yourself, but let’s try to determine if the following snakes are venomous or harmless.

Identification 3:

Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo by Jamison Hensley

1. What shape are the snake’s pupils? Elliptical – This snake cannot be a Coral Snake.

2. Does the snake have a rattle?  No – So this cannot be a rattlesnake.

3. Does the snake have a triangular-shaped head? Kind of rounded, but a little pointy – It is unlikely that this snake is a Copperhead or Cotton Mouth.

4. Is the snake slender, or heavy-bodied? Fairly slender – It is again, unlikely that this snake is a Copperhead or Cotton Mouth.

5. Does the snake have facial pits (all American pit vipers – rattlesnakes, Copperheads and Water Moccasins have them) between its eyes and nostrils? No – This snake is not a Copperhead or Water Moccasin.

Your conclusion: This snake is harmless. The photo above is actually a Night Snake.

Identification 4:

Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo by Jamison Hensley

1. Is the snake red, yellow and black? I don’t know! You posted a black and white photo. You must be a complete moron. :)

2. Does the snake have elliptical pupils? Yes. So it must not be a Coral Snake.

3. Does the snake have a rattle? I can’t tell from this picture. Please refer to my “moron comment” above.

4. Does the snake have a triangular head? Yes it does – This one could be venomous.

5. Does the snake have facial pits between its eyes and nostrils? Yes it does!

Your conclusion: This snake is definitely venomous! Exercise caution around this animal.

At this point, our primary question is answered. We know the snake has a bite that could very well be of medical significance. We will treat this snake, like any other venomous snake, regardless of its specific species.

If, however, you are still anxious to know what family it belongs to, now would be the time to go back to what we know about venomous snake colors and patterns.

6. Are Copperheads or Water Moccasins white? No they are not. – So by process of elimination, this must be some type of rattlesnake.

The photo above, is in fact, a white phase Speckled Rattlesnake. I used this photo because I really like it, but it also offers a great view of those facial pits I referred to earlier. The nostrils are quite small and nearly indiscernible in the photo. However, that large, circular pit between the eye and mouth of this snake, is unmistakable.

If a snake shakes its tail, it is probably a rattlesnake

While true that rattlers do shake their tails when threatened, this observation is not enough to properly identify a snake. There are actually several species of snake, that when bothered, will assume a defensive position, strike, and even shake their tails.

I have seen this behavior in Corn Snakes, King Snakes, Racers, Gopher Snakes, and Milk Snakes, to name a few. If you see this behavior, instead of assuming it must be a baby rattlesnake that hasn’t grown a rattle yet (we already know rattlers are born with one segment of a rattle), it is best to utilize the process of elimination method that we’ve been practicing above. After-all, do you really want to get rid of a King Snake that may eat numerous rattlesnakes over the course of its life?

Below is a video of a Milk Snake exhibiting this very behavior, to give you an example.

Field guides and range maps

Two of your very best tools in determining if a snake is safe or dangerous, are field guides and range maps. The resources generally come with great photos or illustrations that you can use to help identify all of the snakes you might come across in nature. Even better, many of these guides are geographically specific, so you can find a resource that applies specifically to your state. It may not make sense to study up on the snakes of Mississippi, if you happen to live in Oregon. Finding these localized resources means much less studying for you, and who wants to anxiously thumb through 500 pages of snakes, while attempting to identify the one that is sitting three feet away from you?

Additionally, these resources can be great in helping you quickly eliminate certain possibilities. Range maps will tell you specifically which animals exist in your state. If you know from the start, that Water Moccasins do not live in your state, you don’t have to worry about the snake you are looking at, being one of them.

As an example, let’s say you live in Utah, and you find a red, black, and cream-colored snake. “Goodness, cream is kind of yellow, and I can’t remember that dumb red/black/yellow rhyme in the heat of the moment”.  You really don’t want to risk having a Coral Snake in your back yard, right? Well, if you look at the range map below, you will see that Coral Snakes don’t live in Utah at all, so you needn’t ever worry about one being in your back yard. With a little more research, you’ll also find that Copperheads and Water Moccasins don’t live in Utah. Knowing that the only dangerous snake you might come across in Utah, will have a rattle on the end of its tail, just made your job way more simple!

range map

You may want to go on-line, and buy a field guide specific to a region or state you plan to spend time in. One such example that I like to have with me, when I’m hiking in unfamiliar territory, is this one:

field guide

Field guides will often contain great information and details regarding other types of wildlife as well, turning your hike into an educational adventure.

However, please be aware that there are tons of free, on-line resources as well. I would suggest going to Google, and typing in “Snakes of your state“. For example, if you lived in Hawaii, you would type in “Snakes of Hawaii”, and then breathe a huge sigh of relief (unless your a snake fan, like me) when you open this link: You’re better off looking for snakes on Mars

If you do this, you will find an array of free, and readily available resources regarding the snakes that call your back yard home. As with any website or blog, not all sites are created equal. If this SnakeBuddies blog has taught you anything, it is that any dummy can publish an article on-line, and make it available to the masses. Don’t just pull up the first link you see! Go through a few of them, and utilize the one that is the most comprehensive and reliable.

What do I do, when I find a venomous snake?

Let’s say that you’ve found a snake, you’ve gone through our process of elimination exercise, and you find yourself looking at a definitively venomous creature. What do you do next? I really think your next move should depend greatly on the circumstance. Did you find the snake in your bathtub, or was it in the mountains? Was it entering a preschool, or was it swimming in a lake?

Secondly, put some thought into what options are available to you. Will you and others be safe, if you simply move away from the snake, or is it imperative that the snake be moved away from people? If the snake needs to be moved, is there a local reptile rescue or pest control company that will collect and relocate the animal, or do you have to do it yourself? I feel obliged to say, that dealing with any venomous snake, should be left to a professional, unless there is absolutely no alternative. Things can get crazy and super dangerous very quickly, when inexperienced people attempt to deal with snakes. If you live in a place where venomous snakes are relatively common, I highly suggest looking up local snake relocation experts now, and keeping their phone numbers close by.

A very important consideration, when dealing with any snake, is whether or not the animal is protected under state, or even federal law. It is illegal in several states to kill, or even touch certain snakes. If you kill a protected species, don’t be surprised if instead of getting a hero’s welcome, you get slapped with a hefty fine.

Please note that far more people are bitten every year while trying to catch or kill a snake, than the people who simply walk the other way. If you must deal with the snake yourself, please do so safely, and without putting any part of your body within striking distance. Although I encourage you to always seek an alternative to killing the animal, if you feel like there is no other option, consider using a method that keeps you far from the animal. Also note that even after decapitation, a snake is not immediately “dead”. If you pick up a freshly decapitated head, you could still very easily be bitten. Please remember that snakes – even venomous ones – play a very important part in our environment and ecosystem.

Final Test

Now that we’ve done some homework, and feel more confident in our venomous/harmless ID skills, let’s put this new-found knowledge into practice with a little quiz. I’ll post several photos below, and ask you to identify which are harmless and which are venomous. I’ll post the answers underneath. No peeking, and let us know how you did.

Photo 1 Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 1
Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 2 Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 2
Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 3 Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 3
Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 4 Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 4
Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 5 Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 5
Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 6 Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 6
Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 7 Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 7
Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 8 Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 8
Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 9 Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 9
Photo by Jamison Hensley

Photo 10

Photo 10

Photo 11 Photo by Carl J. Franklin

Photo 11
Photo by Carl J. Franklin

Alright, pencils down! Are you ready to see how well you did? Remember to post your scores, and which ones tripped you up. If you’re still having trouble, do a little more research, and you will get there.

Photo 1: Harmless – Round head and eyes, mean it’s not in the viper family, but the pattern is also wrong for a Coral Snake. It is a Ground snake.

Photo 2: Harmless – This Speckled Kingsnake has round eyes and head, and may occasionally feast on its venomous relatives.

Photo 3: Venomous – You can just make out this Sidewinder’s rattle in the background, but should have still noticed the elliptical pupils, big head, and those heat sensing pits.

Photo 4: Harmless – This Rosy Boa shares habitat with plenty of venomous critters, but the round eyes, and color pattern tell you it’s safe.

Photo 5: Venomous – Did you notice the heat pit between the eye and the nostril? The eyes, head shape and color pattern belong to the Copperhead.

Photo 6: Harmless – Nature loves to warn us of danger, by dressing its poisonous or venomous plants and animals in bright colors, but this Regal Ring-neck Snake is a faker, and is also a snake-eater.

Photo 7: Harmless – The Great Plains Rat Snake has a pattern similar to some rattlesnakes, but lacks the rattle, the elliptical pupils, and the triangular head.

Photo 8: Harmless – Not only is the critter non venomous, it is also non-snake! This is a Legless Lizard I found in Kansas. Notice the broken-off tail in the background?

Photo 9: Harmless – This little Central Plains Milk Snake is beautifully patterned like a Coral Snake, but the red bands are touching black, not yellow (or white in this case).

Photo 10: Harmless – This fat body, triangular head, and ROUND eyes, belong to a Diamondback Water Snake.

Photo 11: Venomous – Not all Water Moccasins will gape at you, but you can still correctly ID them, if you look for their elliptical pupils and facial pits.

Scoring

10-11 points: You know your snakes! Get out there, and put your knowledge to use.

8-9 points: Good job! You’re getting the hang of it. A field guide could be an excellent hiking companion, to help you with tricky snakes.

6-7 points: Hmmm – Someone was sleeping in class. Please re-read the blog, and practice up a bit more before going out to ID a snake.

0-5 points: Welcome to the world of birding! Snakes may not be your thing, and that’s ok. Let’s just stick to identifying creatures that can’t put you in the hospital if you misidentify them.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog! I do realize that this article was entirely too long, but wanted to give you folks useful resources and guidelines. I feel better knowing that you will now have the confidence to know when it’s okay to get close to a snake, and when you should call for backup. Though this article was still far from comprehensive, you now have what you need to be safe. Misinformation and lack of education, can prove more dangerous than that Cottonmouth climbing into your boat. Take care, and be safe out there!

Your Snake Buddy,

Jamison

Posted in coral snake, great basin rattlesnake, Ground Snake, harmless snakes, King Snake, Milk Snake, non-venomous, rattlesnake, Shovel-nose Snake, Snake Identification, Snake Quiz, Snakes, venomous | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 94,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Beautiful Snakes by the Dozen!

Slimy, ugly, disgusting, gross, evil, creepy and scary are among the first adjectives used by most, to describe snakes. My experience, is that many people feel that “ugly” creatures do not deserve our attention or conservation efforts. We smash spiders in our homes, step on beetles on the sidewalk, poison small rodents, and use our magnifying glasses on ant piles. Snakes have been demonized since the dawn of time, and have constantly been at odds with humans. Perhaps it is because they slither, or because some of them can deliver venomous, life-ending bites. Or maybe it is because books, folklore and the media have perpetuated the fear of snakes. Regardless of each circumstance, it is my personal belief that snakes would have less human enemies, if only they could win a beauty pageant once in a while.

photoshop snake

How to photoshop your snake pics 101

As you can see above, this post is all about photoshopping your snake pics, to make them beautiful. Just kidding! Although I can appreciate the talents of photoshop, I’m out to prove that natural snakes can look even better than the one above!

Admittedly, “pretty” isn’t typically the first descriptor that comes to mind, when we see most snakes. However, although beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, I thought I would share some photos of a handful of snakes that I personally think are extremely attractive.

I’ve spent a lot of time searching the web for photos of snakes with “normal” patterns (not genetic mutations), taken by people that know their way around a camera*. Great-looking snakes aren’t super common, and really nice photos of them, are even more rare.  Perhaps you might appreciate that beauty can be found in the most unexpected of places, and even admit to yourselves that not all snakes epitomize our unattractive expectations. I invite and encourage you readers to share this blog with a few of your snake-leery friends or family members, in hopes that you might just change someone’s opinion of our scaly pals.

Before we get started, let me admit that as soon as I put this list together, I thought of several other attractive serpents that likely deserve a spot on this blog. Please don’t feel insulted if your favorite snake doesn’t make the list. I would love to hear what snake/s you think should be included, so feel free to share your opinions and/or photos, and put me in my place! Happy reading….

Speckled RacerDrymobius margaretiferus

The Speckled Racer is one of my favorite non-venomous snakes, from a purely aesthetic perspective. They just barely range in the United States, found at the extreme Southern tip of Texas. The high-contrast, jewel-like, blue-green specks on a dark background, and that pretty cream-colored face, take this Racer from “wall-flower” to “Prom Queen”. I really hope to go on a trip to see these magnificent snakes in person.

Speckled Racer - Drymobius margaretiferus

Speckled Racer – Drymobius margaretiferus photo by Rio Bravo Reptiles

Bamboo Rat SnakeOreocrypthophis porphyracea laticincta

The juvenile Bamboo Rat Snake, is simply stunning! They are small, and live in areas much cooler than your average home, making them more suitable to the wild, than in a terrarium. As they age, they also lose most of their orange banding, and become predominately red with black stripes. I could stare at these snakes all day!

Bamboo Ratsnake

Bamboo Ratsnake photo by TGE

African Bush ViperAtheris sqaumigera

Some snakes are not only beautiful, but highly variable. The African Bush Viper is perhaps the best example of a venomous snake that can be born in just about any color imaginable, which makes them very popular in the exotic pet trade. As with any potentially lethal critter, it’s best to live by the “Look, but don’t touch!” philosophy.

bushvipers

Ethiopian Mountain AdderBitis parviocula

So our Ethiopian Mountain Adder may be a little more appealing to you folks that like a little bit of “junk in the trunk”. In the words of Lane Bryant, “Big is beautiful”. Bitis species (Rhinoceros Viper, Gaboon Viper, Puff Adder etc.) are notoriously heavy, but have unbelievable patterns. This one in particular, is quite new to the pet trade, and there is still a lot of work to be done before anyone can completely understand the nuances of this one. It comes from a very small range in the wild, and it has been reported that legally collected specimens do not exist. Since no one has yet to breed and produce any captive babies, I feel compelled to suggest that they not be purchased, even by experienced venomous keepers. Additionally, there is no antivenin to treat the extremely toxic bite of this gorgeous critter.

Ethiopian Mountain Adder - Bitis parviocula

Ethiopian Mountain Adder – Bitis parviocula photo by HGHjim

Wagler’s Temple Viper Tropidolaemus wagleri

Wagler’s Vipers have been a long-time favorite of mine, with their big heads, brilliant colors and pattern, and a notably docile demeanor. These are another snake that can be quite variable in pattern and color, depending on its geographic range. Also known as Temple Vipers, these snakes are famous for their abundance in and around the Temple of the Azure Cloud, in Malaysia. They are openly abundant within the temple, where many people visit regularly, yet bites are virtually unheard of.

Wagler's Temple Viper

Wgler’s Temple Viper – Tropidolaemus wagleri photo by Graeme

Mangrove Snake - Boiga dendrophilia

The Mangrove Snake is bumblebee patterned, with striking yellow stripes on a jet black body. This snake is nocturnal and more active/aggressive at night. Although the Mangrove is venomous, its bite is usually not medically significant to humans. However, it is likely best to leave this snake to an expert who knows how to take care of an occasionally aggressive, long and very agile snake.

Mangrove Snake  -  Boiga dendrophilia

Mangrove Snake – Boiga dendrophilia photo by HGHjim

Cape Coral CobraAspidelaps lubricus

Though not a true Cobra, this small and attractive snake is venomous. The Coral Cobra is another snake on the top of my wish list (in another life). I love its striking pattern, bold colors, and somewhat vulnerable appearance, perhaps enhanced by the black teardrops under each eye. Don’t ya just want to pick him up and give him a hug?

Coral Cobra

Coral Cobra – Aspidelaps lubricus photo by HGHjim

Pope’s Pit Viper -  Trimeresurus popeorum

The Pope’s Bamboo Viper is yet another handsome arboreal species. These snakes are sexually dimorphic, meaning that males and females have visually identifiable differences. The males sport vibrant greens separated by two distinct white and red lateral lines. This is also one of only a few snakes that has ruby-red eyes!

Pope's Pit Viper

Pope’s Pit Viper – Trimeresurus popeorum photo by Thomas Calame

Malaysian Blue Coral Snake Maticora bivirgata

Like many Coral Snakes, the Malaysian Blue is shy, reclusive, and has knock-out good looks. Like other coral snakes, this one is an elapid, and has a bite full of neurotoxic venom. Nature often warns us to steer clear of potentially dangerous critters, by brandishing them with bright colors and patterns, but the Blue Coral is an absolute show-stopper for me.

Malaysian Blue Coral Snake  -  Maticora bivirgata

Malaysian Blue Coral Snake – Maticora bivirgata photo by Peter Engelen

Mangshan Pit Viper Protobothrops Mangshanensis

This is another pit viper that is fairly new to the snake show. They have made their way to the U.S. exotic pet trade, and have made quite the splash among reptile enthusiasts. They are masters of camouflage, with their moss-like pattern, but place them against a contrasting background, and the color and pattern absolutely pops!

Mangshan Pit Viper

Mangshan Pit Viper – Protobothrops Mangshanensis

Kanburian Bamboo ViperCryptelytrops venustus

The poster-snake for Christmas, has to be this hot little viper!  Do yourself a favor, and pass on the urge to ask Santa to stuff one in your stocking though. Those red and green scales may look photo-shopped, but rest assured, he’s all natural.

KanburianBambooViper

Speckled RattlesnakeCrotalus mitchelli pyrrhus

A friend of mine, (Brendan O’Connor) took this photo in the Southwestern U.S. This is a completely naturally-occurring color variation of the Speckled Rattlesnake. This is an absolutely stunning specimen, that I look forward to seeing in the wild some day. If you enjoy great photos of venomous snakes, check out Brendan’s phenomenal book here: http://www.amazon.com/A-Guide-Rattlesnakes-United-States/dp/0975464124

White Speckled Rattlesnake

Speckled Rattlesnake photo by Brendan O’Connor

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t look at the photos in this post without a great deal of admiration for the vivid, natural beauty of the snakes that call our planet home. If these serpentine super-models can be the inspiration to humankind to think twice before wielding shovels or bird shot in their direction, they are worth their weight in gold.

Ultimately, it is up to us nature-lovers to educate those around us, and find opportunities to share our passion, and “preach” the message of conservation. With networks like Animal Planet airing hideously backward “reality” shows like Rattlesnake Republic, and glamorizing the thoughtless slaughter of snakes, and destruction of our ecosystem, it is more important than ever to make our voices heard, and be the advocates that snakes need us to be.

Lastly, it should be noted, that none of the snakes in this post, though beautiful, would make ideal pets. Only the first two on the list are non-venomous, and even they should only be kept by very experienced reptile experts. Many of the snakes above are also quite rare, and the last thing I want to do, is encourage the capture of sensitive species for the pet trade. Therefore, please reserve your “Where can I buy one of these snakes” comments, for a more pet-oriented blog.

Warmest regards and Merry Christmas to all,

Jamison “Snakebuddy” Hensley

*A very special thanks goes out to all the folks that used their time and resources to capture the amazing photos in this blog post. This topic would not have been possible without you. I gave credit for all photos when available, but if I have inadvertently infringed on your work in any way, please let me know, and I will gladly remove your photos.

Posted in Beautiful snakes, coral snake, non-venomous, rare, rattlesnake, Snakes, variability, venomous | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 6,400 times in 2010. That’s about 15 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 12 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 242 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 63mb. That’s about 5 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was December 7th with 136 views. The most popular post that day was Snakes 101 – An introduction to the Mighty Serpent. .

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were fieldherpforum.com, facebook.com, sukie.mt-wudan.com, uglyoverload.blogspot.com, and healthfitnesstherapy.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for snakes, emerald tree boa, python snake, boomslang, and snake eating itself.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Snakes 101 – An introduction to the Mighty Serpent. September 2010

2

Holy Weird Snakes, Batman! October 2010
6 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,

3

Red and Yellow Kills a Fellow? Your Identification Guide to Tri-color snakes. September 2010

4

Variability of the Great Basin Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus lutosus) October 2010
2 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,

5

Dragon Snake? November 2010

| 2 Comments

The Spider-Tailed Adder – Pseudocerastes urarachnoides

You all know that I love snakes, and if you’ve read more than one of my posts, you likely realize that venomous snakes are my passion.

As much as I love snakes, however, there are some animals that completely creep me out! I have a theory that the more legs an animal has, the creepier it is. Snakes are great, humans and birds are tolerable, four-leggers are decent enough, but after that things start getting more uncomfortable. Insects are a mixed bag for me, but spiders and scorpions give me the willies. At the top of the creepy ladder, are the centipedes. Their flesh piercing, chitonous legs, their formidable venomous fangs, and the grotesque fleshy membrane, visible between their protective plating makes my skin crawl. The thought of one of those nasties crawling up a pant leg is what nightmares are made of! Just writing about them makes me want to take a scalding shower in a mixture of Clorox and Raid.

Perhaps my literary description fails to impress upon you readers how genuinely “yucky” centipedes are. Maybe a photographic account will help shed some much needed light on the insidious qualities of these nefarious demons….

It was shortly after midnight, as we drove down a deserted road, deep in the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona. The previous day’s 16 hour drive, followed by a grueling hike, had left me exhausted and wary. Trying to stay awake, I scanned the surface of the paved road in the dim headlights ahead, hoping to see the familiar serpentine shape that brought me so close to the Mexican border. My hands were slightly shaking from the copious amount of Mountain Dew I had ingested to help keep me conscious for the last 40 plus hours, when all of a sudden, I saw a flash of light reflect off a shiny snakish body moving quickly off the road. Shaun slammed on his brakes and I jumped out of the car, flashlight in hand, as he rolled to a stop. We’d passed the yet unidentified critter by about 20 yards, so I ran back quickly – followed by Shaun, scanning the warm blacktop with my light for our slithery target. I saw quick movement out of the corner of my eye, as the beam of my light bounced over the fleeing fugitive. As we approached the animal, our heavy footsteps caused it to stop. My excitement quickly turned to morbid curiosity, and I broke out in a cold sweat when I looked down and discovered that our “snake” was actually a Giant Desert Centipede!

Wanting to document my find, and illustrate how large these things are, I told Shaun to put his hand down next to the bug for scale, while I took a photo. It was pitch black, so I used my flashlight to make sure I was centered on the centipede, then turned it off and snapped the picture. Right as the camera made its audible click, I heard a rapid flutter and stepped back, thinking the centipede was on the run. I quickly turned on my flashlight and this is what I saw.

Giant Desert Centipede eating Praying Mantis

Mantids are one of the bugs that I do find fascinating, and anyone who has studied them much, knows that they are formidable hunters, making quick work of their prey. I’ve see them take down large spiders, bees, and even a skink! This knowledge made this scene all the more unnerving, considering the centipede took all of one second to catch, overpower, and start consuming one of the greatest hunters in the insect world!

It wasn’t until we were in the car again, going through my photos, when I scrolled back and saw the original image I captured that night….

Giant Desert Centipede

Not only does the image detail Shaun’s fantastically manicured nails, it also shows the Mantis in mid air just a split second prior to its death!

As it turns out, this was the smallest of the centipedes we spotted during our trip, being less than half as long as the biggest. In case you are not creeped out enough yet, here is one more picture of a larger specimen on Shaun’s boot.

Giant Desert Centipede

It may not look it, but this one was nearly twice as long as the one in the other photo!

So why all the talk of centipedes in a snake blog, you ask??? Well, as it turns out, despite decades of snake-related research in books, on line, and talking with other snake enthusiasts, my attention was recently directed to a type of venomous snake I had never seen, or even heard of before in all my life. What’s more, is that this species appears to have evolved in such a way, as to have a strange similarity to centipedes. If you were to ask me what I would get if I crossed a venomous snake with a centipede, I don’t think, in my wildest imagination, that I could have come up with anything close to what mother nature has created.

Pseudocerastes urarachnoides

Pseudocerastes urarachnoides

So what’s so special about this serpent? It’s not an overly attractive species. It almost looks to be covered in moss. What makes this snake different, is better seen in the following photo:

Pseudocerastes urarachnoides tail

That’s right! This unique snake has mastered the art of mimicing a centipede with its tail. This snake is one of a handful of species in the world, that uses a caudal lure to attract prey. A caudal lure, is a tail that looks like a potential prey item to other animals, and is moved in such a way as to mimic a worm or bug, in hopes of attracting the hungry predator close enough, that the snake can bite, envenomate, and consume it.

To be fair (or at least make me feel better), this species, found in a small corner of Iran, was only described within the last 7 years or so, and only recently was given a common name – the Spider-tailed Adder. If you google this snake, you will find that all links point back to just one or two existing (yet very short) papers or photos of the animal.

As if the photo isn’t convincing enough, check out this short video!

I can’t imagine what on this earth would choose to make its living, consuming live centipedes, but I can only imagine its surprise when it jumps on this lure, thinking it will get a tasty snack, only to be ambushed by a much larger predator equipped with long fangs and potent venom.

Odd, rare and unusual animals make it easy to identify and appreciate Mother Nature’s hand in the evolution of them, but hopefully also help us understand that every animal on this planet is unique and fills an important niche in our ecosystem. Here’s hoping you came to this site and learned something completely new or unexpected. It’s exciting to wonder what new oddity in our animal kingdom might be discovered next. I definitely look forward to it!

Your resident Snake Buddy,

Jamison

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