An Eastern King Snake. This photo is courtesy of Bill Peterman. Check out his wonderful herpetology photos by clicking here.
One of the main reasons I want to homeschool is so that I can allow my child’s interests to guide us in the learning process. As if to test me on this philosophy, my five-year-old son has taken a keen interest in snakes.
I have never been particularly fond of reptiles or amphibians, but truthfully I just never gave them much thought until I met one of my best friends who is a herpetologist. She shared her love of frogs, salamanders and snakes with me and though you still won’t find me out trying to catch any, I have a respect for the little critters.
Now my son is into them, and thanks to the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, he gets to see and touch them quite often. We are taking classes out there, and we’ve been to snake day twice, and recently we went to Scary, Slimy, Oozy Day, which was their Halloween festival. It definitely satisfied my son’s slimy, oozy side.
A while back I bought my son two posters for his room at the Nature Center. One features photos of snakes and the other frogs. “Snakes of Georgia” hangs on his wall right next to his bed. Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking when I bought that poster, but seriously, I’m thrilled when he wants to learn about anything, snakes included.
And it’s funny how you can get used to “slimy and oozy” just like your nose gets used to bad smells. Now I’m kind of fascinated with snakes or at least one in particular: the Eastern Kingsnake.
I saw my first Eastern Kingsnake several weeks ago in our yard. I thought my cat was going after a lizard, and when I approached her to save the lizard, I saw it was really a baby snake. It was black with yellow strips – pretty, as far as snakes go. Unfortunately, the snake disappeared under a thick layer of leaves before my son could see it.
Curious, I ran upstairs to look at my son’s poster and found out that it was an Eastern Kingsnake, and I was relieved to note that it was not listed as venomous.
Several weeks later, my husband saw an Eastern Kingsnake while he was out jogging. It was near our house, so he ran to get us, and we watched the snake slither into the woods. I don’t know if it was the same snake that I saw, but it was also a small one.
Since then I have learned that Eastern Kingsnakes are very good snakes to have around. The main reason is because they eat venomous snakes, and a favorite meal is the copperhead. When I was at Slimy, Oozy Day, a UGA ecology student told me that copperheads are on the rise in Athens-Clarke County, and they think maybe one reason is because the Eastern Kingsnake is in decline.
I looked up the Eastern Kingsnake on the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory’s (SREL) Herpetology website, which is a great resource, if you’re interested in snakes or other reptiles or amphibians. This site describes Eastern Kingsnakes as “shiny-black, smooth-scaled snakes with white or yellow chain-link bands that cross the back and connect along the sides.”
I learned that Eastern Kingsnakes are resistant to the venom of pit-vipers, and they can eat copperheads, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes. They also eat lizards, rodents, birds and turtles eggs.
There is some concern that these snakes are in decline in some areas of the Coastal Plain and in Florida. The reason is unclear. There was once a large population of this snake near the Savannah River Site that has disappeared over the last 20 years.
So please take heed: If you see an Eastern Kingsnake in your yard, DO NOT KILL IT! In fact, you shouldn’t kill any snake. Most snakes are not venomous, and they are very beneficial. They eat rats, mice, insects and other pests.
According to Geoff Stein, author of “Snakes – Good for the Garden,” snakes do not damage the environment at all. “They don’t dig holes….They don’t chew or damage the landscape….They don’t contribute one bit to noise pollution,” he says. He goes on to point out that snakes will not bite unless stepped on, picked up or forced into a corner or otherwise threatened. Usually snakes just want to get away.
There are venomous snakes that we need to be wary of and usher out of our gardens, and if you’d like to learn more about those, the SREL website is a good place to go.
So, as scary, slimy and oozy as some of us think snakes are, we need to respect these creatures, who help balance the ecosystem in important ways.
This column was originally printed in the November 2, 2011 edition of the Barrow Journal.
OUR SNAKE PROJECT
Since my five-year-old loves snakes so much, I suggested another project for him. We’re making a “book” about snakes. We’re using his poster as a guide by going down the list from top to bottom. Our book is in a three-ring binder. We look up the snake online, and my son chooses a photo, and he writes the name of the snake on the page. Then I write in some facts about the snake. I hope that as he gets older and learns how to read, he’ll enjoy this little resource we’re making. (I always note where we get the information and give credit to the photographer, if possible.)
While we’re doing this, I read about the snake to my son, and he also likes to watch some video about the snake, if we can find one.
Would you be willing to visit a slimy and oozy world for the sake of your child’s passions?