A Snake In the Grass

     Well, you never know what you’re going to find when exploring outside. 

     Last week when I went out after a rainy night, in search of box turtles, I found instead a ribbonsnake.   There it was on the grassy hillside by our home, a still length of green between two yellow ‘racing’ stripes.  Its head was erect, and no part of its sleek, narrow body moved. 

     I stood watching, just a few feet away.  How long would the snake remain so still, I wondered.  Every minute or so I stepped a little closer, just as quietly as I could.  The snake remained motionless.  But when I knelt to get a picture, it reacted instantly.  Whipping its head away from me, and bringing its bnody along, it glided swiftly through the dried leaves and grass.  Now at a safe distance, it gathered itself into something of a coil and stared at me, its tongue darting in and out.  A sign of distress, I assumed.

     I stepped back, and before long, the tongue darting stopped.  I assumed the snake felt safe once again.  But it kept watching me.  And just to ensure its safety, or so it seemed to me, the snake’s head disappeared between two rocks that formed part of a small wall of a little herb garden.  The snake’s entire length followed the head into the tiny space between the rocks and vanished, leaving me amazed.  How could the snake’s entire length of two feet or so fit inside that bed of soil behind the wall?

     Well, since that day, I have walked down the hill twice more, including this morning, in hopes of seeing the ribbonsnake again.  And both times I have.  The second time, though, I startled it, and it slipped into the same wall into which it had disappeared before.

     In vain, I waited silently, hoping the snake would emerge from the wall.  No such luck.  But I did hear a rustling sound from inside the wall.   It had to be the snake moving in there!–April Moore

More about the ribbonsnake:
     Seeing the ribbonsnake so ‘up close and personal’ made me curious to learn more about the animal.  And here’s what I found out: 

     The ribbonsnake is a very common species, with four sub-species, found pretty much all over the U.S.  Non-poisonous, it is a member of the garter snake family.  The name ‘ribbonsnake’ comes from its slender body;  its circumference is much less than that of many other snakes. 

     I was surprised to read that the tail of this snake is about a third of the snake’s length.  But since when does a snake have a tail, I wondered.  Where does a snake’s body end and its tail begin?

     Also to my surprise, everything I read about the ribbonsnake indicated that this snake lives near water, where it swims to capture aquatic prey.  So what is it doing on our dry, rocky hillside, I wondered.  Then I read that it may also be found near a seeping spring.  Indeed, water has flowed out of our hillside in the vicinity of the ribbonsnake’s “home,” during and after some raging storms we’ve had in the last few months.  Or maybe our watering of the few plants in the terrace garden where this fellow seems to live has provided enough moisture to attract a water-loving snake.

     The ribbonsnake’s diet is varied, apparently, and includes fish (not here), newts, salamanders, frogs, worms, spiders, caterpillars, and a variety of insects.  In turn, the ribbonsnake may be eaten by weasels, large fish (not here), other carnivorous animals, and some other snakes, including rattlesnakes.

      Ribbonsnakes mate in May, and females give birth to 3-26 live young in August.  In the colder parts of its range, the ribbonsnake hibernates, choosing a rocky crevice or an ant mound or the burrow of some small mammal.

     Below are a couple of photos I caught of the ribbonsnake that seems to live on our hillside.–April Moore


a ribbonsnake on the hillside near our house

a ribbonsnake on the hillside near our house




the ribbonsnake coiling away in distress

the ribbonsnake coiling away in distress







3 Responses to “A Snake In the Grass”

  1. Kent Says:

    Watch out for the box turtle when you drive by my house. He’s an old acquaintance, and has been living here for longer than I have. I saw him today for the first time this year after my mother-in-law told me she saw him fall into the fish pond beside my workshop. I scooped him out and set him into the zen garden in front of the pond, and a few minutes later he had gone on his way.
    I have no idea how old he is, but some site I found indicated he could live into his 80s. I suspect he’s quite old now because he’s a bit of a crab. He has had only one eye all the years I have known him. The first year I ran over him with the lawn mower, but it just scared us both. Another year I hit him with the weed whacker, but that was just on his shell and I don’t think he was hurt. Despite my apologies and an offering of a tomato, he still seemed quite put out by the experience. I guess I can understand why he’s not always happy to see me, so hopefully plucking him from the fish pond today made up for some of the things before.

  2. Joan Brundage Says:

    Interesting! Now I know the name of this snake which I’ve seen before. Thanks, April.

  3. Francina Estorga Says:

    Snakes are elongate, legless, carnivorous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes that can be distinguished from legless lizards by their lack of eyelids and external ears. Like all squamates, snakes are ectothermic, amniote vertebrates covered in overlapping scales. .

    Take a look at our new web site as well

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