Even if a snake is not poisonous, it should pretend to be venomous.
I’d add to that proverb to treat an unknown snake as if it is poisonous, just to be on the safe side. Guess that caution is true about treating many things in life.
Recently I was home by myself doing some mowing as was approaching sunset. The push mower died yet again in a too heavy patch of weeds. The sun was down and was getting dark, so I quit and pushed the mower up near the barn to cool off before putting it away.
Our barn has a fence panel that we use as a large gate . There is an open door into the “tack” room that has the light switch just inside the doorway. I pulled back the fence panel and stepped in under the barn to turn on the light. Using what must be built-in instinct I stopped without thinking why, looked down and jumped backwards. Was that a dark shape on the ground moving? It was difficult to make out looking through my dusty sweaty no-line bifocals in the post sunset light. Was it my imagination? The shape moved again away from me. I took a half-step and leaned into the tack room to turn on the light. Whoa… a big snake heading along the edge of the wall towards where we store our hay bales. I moved off to the side to try to get a better look at it.
Snake was beige / brownish and at least 2 feet long and fatter than my thumb. It knew I was there. The snake curled up slightly when it got to the small corner. If the snake just moved over 3-4 inches then it would have a clear path into the hay area.
Suddenly I wished I’d paid more attention to my snake identification. I knew it wasn’t a Rattlesnake. Wasn’t a Coral snake. Wasn’t a friendly little Garter snake. I kept my distance. Wasn’t sure whether friend or foe. Whatever it was, I didn’t want it to go inside to hide amongst our hay bales. Thankfully I wasn’t feeling panicky and merely felt a healthy cautious respect towards the snake.
Horses were out in the yard grazing thankfully and out of the way. If need be, I could jump over the fence panel to get away. The sawdust rake happened to be right next to me. I had seen snake wranglers on tv use snake hooks to lift a snake up to move them without causing them upset. This plastic rake could work similarly and would keep the snake 6 feet away from me.
The snake was in a loose curled up S-shape at the corner keeping an eye on me. The snake blended very well into our sandy reddish tinted dirt. Even in the light would be easy to not notice this snake. They have very good camouflage.
I took the rake and slid the plastic tines up under the snake lifting it gently about 6 inches off the ground. I moved the snake away from the hay area. It slithered and fell off. Picked the snake up again and got it moved a bit more. It fell off again. Kept repeating. My snake handling technique was improving. I got it out of the gate panel and several feet away from the barn. It was in even poorer light now.
At this point the snake was about 2 – 3 feet away from being able to get back into a completely dark area beside the barn through some fence panels or under wheelbarrows or the push lawnmower. What to do? Had to decide fast!
I’ve been soaking the horse’s hay in a wheeled plastic cooler to lower the sugar levels in the hay. I had not gotten around to soaking more hay earlier in the day and just given them hay in the slow-feeder small mesh hay bags. The cooler was even dry inside. The cooler was open about 3 feet away with the lid nearby.
The snake moved back towards the dark. I picked it up again and with a couple of tries was able to lift it up and tried to get it into the open cooler. Half way in and the snake fell off back to the ground immediately heading off again. Where was the lid? Just off to the side of where I was standing by about 3 feet. I picked the snake up again and lifted it into the cooler this time, then reached over for the lid taking no more than a second or two. The snake was up and out of the cooler. Again lifted it up and into the cooler, this time keeping the rake over the top to discourage the snake from getting out while I grabbed the lid at my feet. The snake was at the bottom of the cooler. I quickly put on the lid and pushed down. Whoo!
Okay…some sort of beige / brown snake with patches on the body was in the cooler. I’d tried to figure out what shape of head or what the colored patches were like, but couldn’t see it well enough to know for sure. Didn’t see what type of eye pupil shape.
I closed the barn gate leaving on the light and carefully wheeled the snake in the cooler across the backyard and out the other gate onto the driveway under the good flood light at the garage. There was a heavy grey paving stone type brick up by the house, which I put on the cooler lid. I definitely was not going to open up the cooler to peek.
I went inside to clean my glasses, calm down and cool off sitting at my desk by a fan. Made myself some tea and searched the “Inter-webs” to try to figure out what type of snake this might be. I was treating it as if the snake was dangerous. Even if it wasn’t dangerous, I didn’t want a large snake in my hay area. We don’t have a rodent problem.
Steve’s Snaketuary in Texas had a video comparison between a non-venomous Texas Rat snake and a venomous Copperhead on Youtube. So was the snake a Texas Rat snake? I sure wanted it to be a Texas Rat snake, but if it wasn’t then I was sure glad it was gotten safely out of my barn and in that closed cooler on the driveway.
Uploaded by VirginCowSteven on Sep 26, 2010
Thought I could safely release it to the wild. I was not going to transport the snake, even if in a container, by putting it in the car. I could call Animal Control, but would they probably kill it? I didn’t see any reason to kill the snake. Called my hubby, who was visiting his Mom, to let him know my plan to take the wheeled cooler with the snake safely closed inside to a nearby field to release it. There is a field area off to the side of a road with woods and bramble not too far away. There was good street lighting at a spot right by the road. That was doable and seemed best option for the snake.
Got the plastic rake, a large flashlight, and put on a head lamp. Locked up the house and wheeled the snake with the heavy brick on the lid down the street. The grass on the side of the road by the field and woods was 2 feet high. No doubt there were other snakes possibly right in that grass. I positioned the cooler off the edge of the road and into the grass. I took the brick off the lid and set it aside on the road edge. Bumped the cooler to make sure the snake was knocked down and pulled off the lid and stood back. The light from the street light and my head light shone down into the cooler. The snake was down at the bottom in what had been darkness. The snake in a second rose up with his head out the top of the cooler. I had a very good view.
Oh my! It was most definitely a venomous Copperhead snake! The snake moved out of the cooler and disappeared into the grass. I waited a bit, then pulled the cooler off onto the road and put the brick inside. Put on the lid and moved to the other side of the road. Whoo! No sign of Mr. or Ms. Copperhead. Shaken just a bit… I headed back home pulling the cooler with the brick. I stopped and called my hubby on the way.
I had read before my trek about Rat snakes and Copperheads. Copperheads are not very aggressive and unlikely to strike unless cornered and threatened. Most strikes are because they get stepped on. I was glad to know that their venom won’t kill you, though hurts badly and would make you very sick or lose some tissue near the bite. The initial strike often has no venom. The snake doesn’t want to waste the venom for a warning. The Copperhead has cat-like pupils. The Rat Snake has round pupils.
Didn’t know until later that they have an 8 – 24 acre range of territory, so still within range of our house. Our barn backs up to a small wooded area. No doubt there are more snakes behind our barn. Copperheads give birth to live babies about 8 inches long that are as venomous as the adults.
I’ve only seen one Copperhead a few years ago when out walking on a trail. We’ve lived here for over 20 years and I’ve only seen a large snake in the yard about 3 times usually when mowing. They always slither off in fear. I try to then just avoid the area for awhile. None have been near the barn.
I was glad I had carried my cell phone with me that night when out mowing in the backyard. Since that night I had planned to always head out to the barn with a flashlight after dark, but already haven’t done so. We should get some better lighting by at least fixing a broken switch that leaves some areas dark. I am more often taking my phone with me.
That’s my adventure – a snake in the barn.
Copperhead snake by Tom Spinker on Flickr (Creative Commons License)
Upcoming posts will be “How to tell the difference between a Rat Snake and a Copperhead.” and “Can you find the Copperhead?” They have very good camouflage.