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Snakes and Frogs

A Texas garter snake lives under the back porch. Here he is sunning himself. Note that I have loosely cropped the picture so you can see that he is a tiny little thing, all out of proportion to the horror that snakes inspire in so many people. As soon as I snapped this picture, he slipped back under the slab and out of sight.


When we built the pond many years ago, southern leopard frogs moved in. There were hundreds! It sounded like we lived on the Orinoco River. Herons ate all the fish, but the frogs were undeterred. They were delighted when we built the pool. We had a little ramp built so animals wouldn't drown.

The frogs started laying eggs in the pool every night, to Craig's dismay. Then the snakes showed up. One was a beautiful rough green snake, who hung across the bushes by the back porch. Another was an eastern yellow-bellied racer. We saw several of those in various sizes. I suspected they were nesting in the West Yard

A rat snake ate the little rescued dove we called Needle-face (see Our History in Birds). A checkered garter snake lived by the pond, a blotched water snake lived in it, and a garter snake relentlessly patrolled the tall plants that grow around the back side of the pool, waiting in the grass by the little ramp. Every so often he managed to drag off a protesting frog into the bushes to be eaten. The bushes would quiver and the frog would say, "Ow." Really, just like that: Ow. His enunciation was so clear it was startling and not a little creepy.

I donít understand how snakes eat things. They have fangs, of course, which must serve as meat hooks. I peeked in the bushes and saw the frog struggling, with one big long frog leg pretty well swallowed by the snake. With a single strike the snake had gulped up the leg and sunk his fangs in the frogís thigh. They were both immobilized in this predicament. The snake has no hands and its teeth and jaws cannot rip or chew. I think they get right to the business of digestion without even first killing their prey.

The frog was much too big to swallow whole. It must have taken that snake all afternoon to work his way up the frogís body gulp by grab. Better to be the victim of an anaconda or a viper than to be eaten alive in a bush by a little garter snake.

Then along came the indigo snake that eats other snakes. He was eight or nine feet long. Craig saw him stretched out by the greenhouse, which is 8 feet by 10 feet, and the snake was almost as long as the long side.

I have found two big long snakeskins. One is longer than I am tall, and it is all shriveled. Imagine its original size. It might have been shed by that big indigo. I saw it hanging from a high branch of Normaís big oak tree, and made Craig go get it. He first politely asked Pat if it would be okay to take the snakeskin hanging in his tree. Pat said, by all means, feel free.

Once when jays were mobbing we saw the big indigo way up in a tree behind Lydiaís house. Lydia is afraid of snakes, and her husband is chainsaw-happy. They never noticed the snake in the tree, and I think itís just as well.

Indigos are excellent snakes, slow moving and docile toward humans. They eat rattlesnakes. I have never seen a rattlesnake anywhere near here, but itís nice to know we have an indigo, just in case.

The only dangerous snake we ever had was a coral snake that Craig said he saw in the oaks out front. But coral snakes are too small bite people. It only happens when people try to pick them up. That's how most snake bites occur. If you don't want to ever be bitten by a snake, it's pretty easy: leave them alone. There's no reason to be in a panic over snakes.

I know it sounds like we have a lot of snakes, but actually we rarely see them. And when we do they run away from us so fast that it's hard to get a good look. Anyway, the pond fell into disrepair, the frog population cratered, and the snakes are not as numerous now. This summer we may renovate the pond. Weíll see what happens if we do.

Here is where our garter snake lurks:


Garter Snake


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