Ready for “Year of the snake?”
Snakes are among the most misunderstood of animals. Myths abound: Most snakes are poisonous, snakes can jump two feet, snakes will not cross a rope, snakes only strike when coiled and snakes travel in pairs. All of these myths are untrue as are many of the others that circulate, but in the absence of information, people often believe them. In this fact sheet, we provide facts about Oregon’s native snakes that dispel myths and promote a better understanding of these wonderful, ecologically important animals.
In general, snakes are relatively inactive except when looking for a spot in the sun or shade or when hunting. Like other reptiles, snakes are ectotherms meaning their body temperature is regulated directly by the surrounding temperature. They generally have poor eyesight and hearing, but have a well-developed sense of smell and the ability to “taste” their immediate environment. To do this, they flick their tongues to pick up gaseous particles out of the air and into a sensing organ (Jacobsen’s organ) in the roof of their mouths. This helps them sense danger, find mates and locate or track prey.
There are 15 native snake species in Oregon. Of these, only the Western Rattlesnake has poisonous venom that is dangerous to humans.
Oregon’s snakes are plagued by misconceptions, which often leads to them being killed for no other reason than the fact they are present. To help conserve our native snakes, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has created two new fact sheets. One is a comprehensive flyer that provides photos and information about each of the 15 species of snakes that live in the state and advice on preventing and addressing conflicts. The other, S-s-s-s-s-snakes!, is designed for kids to learn more about these fascinating, ecologically important animals.
Wildlife biologist Chris Rombough spends a lot of time out of cell phone range in the spring and summer. His cell phone message is fair warning: “This is Chris. I’m out in the field getting wet and muddy, leave me a message and I’ll call you back.”
And he does call back, as soon as gets a wireless signal. This day in June, he is in Eastern Oregon, studying Columbia spotted frogs for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
“I do a lot of work on frogs and turtles and other species, but most of the work I do on snakes is on my own time. It’s hard to get funding for snake research.”
There are two reasons for this, according to Rombough. “First, none of Oregon’s snakes are endangered, and second, snakes are not cute. There is too much fear.”
The fear factor is one Rombough is adamant about addressing in his role as an on-the-ground biologist and a wildlife control operator. “Last year, I got 30 calls to remove snakes, and I didn’t have to remove any, because I spent the time talking to folks, explaining snake behavior and their benefits. One-to-one education is important. There is just too much general killing of snakes for no reason.”
Rombough’s personal research includes collecting life history data for a variety of snake species, but his passion is the western rattlesnake, which he has been studying for 14 years, whenever he can find the time.
To order the ODFW flyers, go to: www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/snakes.asp
Images above: Photo By Simon Wray, ODFW
A Western rattlesnake basking in a sunny spot. Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation has designated 2013 as the year of the snake. The group lists illegal wild harvesting and intentional human inflicted mortality as significant threats to snake populations around the world.
Biologist Chris Rombough with a Great Basin gopher snake.
McKenzie River Reflections