Most people cringe when we mention snakes. And that’s all right, we feel, as long as they respect the serpent’s place in nature and leave them alone to go about their business of eating rodents and other nuisance critters.
But occasionally we encounter someone who, even though they may be a bit intimidated by slithery creatures, actually seek them out and enjoy identifying and observing them. This happened recently as we walked a trail at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge in DeLeon Springs, Florida.
“You look like a person who knows snakes,” a visitor said as he approached and noticed the snake hook Chuck carried. “Maybe you can tell me what this snake is.” He held up his cell phone with a somewhat blurry shot of a snake he had seen some time ago and was unable to identify from his guide books.
Chuck examined the small picture. “It’s a banded water snake,” he said after some consideration. “It would be difficult to identify in many books because they can appear in different color phases.”
Satisfied that he now knew the identity of this snake after fruitless searches, the visitor continued to discuss different snakes he had encountered on the Refuge and elsewhere.
“You must be a snake person,” I suggested.
“No, not really,” he said. “I just like seeing them and other wildlife. It’s interesting to watch how they move, and I always try to identify the species.”
If only more people took time to merely watch snakes and realize that they are not the threat to humans that myth and movies indicate! According to an article that appeared on the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife website, “Besides their ecological value, snakes offer the careful wildlife viewer a chance to watch one of nature’s most efficient predators.”
While our refuge visitor enjoys observing wildlife, he indicated that he is careful not to harass or injure snakes and other animals. “My daughter and I were riding our bikes out here one day recently,” he said, “and she almost ran over a snake. Luckily, she saw it in time and swerved to avoid it.”
Many people don’t realize the important role snakes play in nature. Some folks even go out of their way to cripple or kill reptiles or animals they don’t understand or value. “All snakes are an important part of the natural food chain,” writes Washington’s Department of Fish & Wildlife. “Snakes should be left alone and, except for a rattlesnake that poses an immediate danger to people or pets, no snake should ever be killed. Observe snakes, like all wild animals, from a respectful distance. Don’t attempt to capture them, and don’t keep wild ones as pets.”
If more people would adhere to this advice and behave as our Refuge visitor, snakes and all wildlife would benefit greatly. Their lives are difficult enough without additional stress.