On my way to town one day I topped the rise out of the creek valley to find a car backing up swerving all over the road. The driver stopped and said he was after a cottonmouth.
What the driver had seen was a black rat snake.
After reading “America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake” by Ted Levin, this driver is in the majority.
I will admit snakes are not my favorite animals. They are not cute. They are not cuddly. What they are is useful.
In spite of this people seek out and kill snakes especially venomous ones like timber rattlesnakes. They make up lies to justify the slaughter.
These shy retiring snakes don’t seek out people to bite. People are too big to eat, the primary purpose of their venom. It takes food and energy to produce venom and the snakes don’t want to waste it.
Timber rattlesnakes can control whether or not they use venom so almost a quarter of bites are dry, or have no venom involved. What is crazy is more than a quarter of all timber rattlesnake bites involve someone, usually male, who has been drinking, goes looking for and aggravates a snake, even picking it up and kissing it!
The book is heavy going in some places. It is not technical but does go into the venom, the anatomy and the life cycles of timber rattlesnakes. It centers on the snakes of New England especially Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York as the author lives in Vermont and is most familiar with that area.
The parts of the book involving the people studying timber rattlesnakes were interesting. Levin’s descriptions of the woods and talus slopes where the snakes live can be beautiful.
One part really caught my interest. Lyme disease is a hot item. I know someone who lives with it as it is not always treatable.
Many people believe deer are the problem as so-called deer ticks really black-legged ticks carry the parasite. The true problems are mice and shrews, favorite hosts of these ticks and carriers of the parasite.
Guess what timber rattlesnakes eat? Guess what black rat snakes eat?
In the Middle Ages cats were condemned as witches’ familiars and killed. The result was a population explosion of mice and rats carrying the Black Plague.
The Ozarks has had a bumper crop of seeds and acorns this year. Next year will see a bumper crop of mice, chipmunks, shrews and other Lyme disease carriers.
A town in New England has timber rattlesnake dens near it and a Lyme disease prevalence of about 13 per 100,000 people in a year. The nearby town that killed off all its rattlesnakes has 129 cases in a year.
You don’t have to like snakes to appreciate their help. All you have to do is stop killing them so they can give their help.