Monday, January 24, 2011

A January surprise and a doubly sad conclusion

Mom came to me on January  9th and told me that there was a snake on the front porch. We have had snakes on the front porch in the past, but never in January. When I went out to the porch, sure enough, there was a snake, a juvenile black rat snake, Elaphe obsoleta,  about thirty inches long. It was a cold day and the temperature was just a bit above freezing.

The snake did not move when I opened the door. And at first I was not sure it was even alive. But when I touched it, it did move a bit.

Where in the world did it come from? It seemed to have some injuries on its back, and I began to wonder if one of the neighborhood cats had brought it in and the cat owner had dropped the snake off on our porch. Some people in the neighborhood seem to think that the snakes are all mine.

After taking some pictures, I moved the snake into my most protected cold frame. Because there are rodent tunnels there, I assumed the snake could easily get out of the frame when the time came for it to do so.

Yesterday I went out to see if the snake had moved. I had placed the snake in an open plastic bag when I moved it into the frame. The bag was still there, but when I touched the bag I immediately realized that the snake was not. My first thought was “Great, it has moved on.” But then I took a closer look: something under the bag had caught my attention. It was the skeleton of the snake, picked clean of almost all skin and fleshy matter. I assumed some rodents had had a feast. 

As it turned out, there is more to the story. The presence of rodents in those frames disturbed me. So I set four mouse traps, expecting to catch some deer mice. When I came back the next day, I had caught something to be sure,  but it was not a mouse. It was a short-tailed shrew, Blarina brevicauda. That explained the neatly cleaned snake skeleton. This only added to my sense of distress: the shrews are a gardener's friend. The shrew would have been the solution to the snail problem in the frames. Was this a solitary individual? Are there others in the immediate area? And if there are no more shrews, will mice move into the tunnels? 

No comments: