from the Curator's Desk:
of a Snake Kind
(6/06) I'm zipping along on my bike headed south
along the road that follows the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware
River. I pick up quite a bit of speed when I see something lying
directly in the bike's path. I squint to make it out. What is
it? Piece of rope? A branch? A snake?
I manage to swing the bike just enough to miss the
head of this thing by about an inch. Wow! Interesting! A snake
in the road. Must be roadkill. Then, I get the bright idea...
I must be starting to think like a teacher 'cause
my bright idea is to recover the snake's body, preserve it in
a jar, and use it in class. Now, I really haven't thought this
through. I don't know anything about preserving dead stuff, nor
do I have a jar with me on the bike. I don't know what I am thinking
as far as carrying it. Hang it around my neck?
I manage to turn the bike around and go back to
take a look at the thing. By the time I get back there the "dead"
snake has moved. Not much. Just a little. The head is now pulled
back in an "S" position.
The first thing that strikes me about this is that
this means the snake is alive. However, I can see that it won't
be for long. It is lying on a part of the asphalt where, when
the next car comes down the road, the passenger side tires will
roll. The snake obviously does not understand the significance
of this. It just thinks it has found the nicest, flattest, darkest,
most comfortable rock in the world to sun itself on. What's more,
the snake also seems to be too dumb to move by itself when something
approaches since it didn't run for the woods when my bike just
missed it. Now I'm really concerned for the snake. Being a cyclist
and having had too many close calls with trucks, I am sympathetic
to road kill ("But for the grace of God there go I…").
If the snake stays out here where he is, he's a
goner. People hate snakes. I remember reading about a study somebody
did a couple of years ago. Scientists were interested in how people
react to different animals, so this researcher set up a hiding
place by a road and put fake animals in the path of the cars to
see what would happen. For "nice" animals, like turtles, they
would steer around them. In fact, one lady stopped her car and
actually got out to help a little, plastic turtle across the road.
Their reaction to the rubber snake was different. People always
ran over it. In fact, a few people would run over the fake snake,
then back up and run over it again. One fellow ran over the snake,
backed up over it, then got out with a gun to shoot it. It was
at this point the researcher had to hop out of the bushes to save
his rubber serpent from total destruction and himself from a trip
back to the fake snake store. Like I said, people hate snakes.
So, I know this little fella hasn't a chance if
he stays where he is. Actually, come to think of it, looking at
him, he isn't a little fellow. He is over two feet long. That's
a pretty big snake. In fact, this may be the biggest snake I've
seen where there wasn't a piece of thick glass between him and
Well, back to the problem of getting the snake out
of the middle of the road. I've watched plenty of episodes of
"Crocodile Hunter." Would it be possible to grab the snake by
its tail, Steve Irwin style, and move it? I have a brief vision
of myself, legs sprawled outward with the tail in one hand and
talking to the snake with an imaginary television camera pointed
at me. "Here, little fella. Don't be scared. The Snake Hunter
is just going to move you off the road!" In my little imaginary
drama, the snake is obviously not appreciating this and takes
a snap at me, which I (being the famous, experienced snake hunter)
That brings up another question. Could this thing
actually be dangerous? I take a close look at the rear end -
well, as close as you can get from about ten feet. There doesn't
seem to be a rattle. Good. It isn't a rattlesnake. How about
the front end? The head forms nearly a diamond or wedge shape
and the eyes are vertical slits. Now I seem to remember there
is some significance to a diamond shape. Are diamonds bad? Well,
I know that expert trails at ski resorts are marked with diamonds.
They are bad - at least for me. Does this symbolism carry over
to snakes, however?
I rack my brain for a minute and finally it comes
to me. The wedge shape head on a snake means that it is a viper!
That's it! What else do I know about the viper family? That
most of them are poisonous! That's right!
Can I be sure it is poisonous? I remember the
other way of telling for sure that something is a poisonous
viper is by the little pits - which act to heat detectors -
on its cheeks (hence the designation "pit viper"). Can I check
for the pits? Doesn't seem like a good idea as that would probably
require me getting my face within about a foot of the snake's
Finally, the other significance of the head being
pulled back in the "S" shape hits me. I got it. It's getting ready
GETTING READY TO STRIKE!
I don't know what the striking range of a snake
is, but I decide that ten feet is too close. In fact, a half
mile seems too close at this point, so I decide to ride away.
The snake will have to fend for itself.
Some checking on the internet when I get home reveals
that my little serpent friend was a Northern Copperhead, the most
abundant poisonous snake in Pennsylvania. I also see that it reacts
to danger by "freezing," which explains why it didn't move when
I nearly ran over it with the bike. However, I was glad to see
that, unlike the rattlesnakes, it isn't considered endangered,
so I don't have to feel too guilty about leaving him in the middle
of the road. In fact, I assuaged my conscience entirely the next
night by helping a beaver cross the road safely.
Copyright Lee Krystek 2006.
All Rights Reserved.