For this snake, ‘rough’ takes on new meaning

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I was taking an afternoon walk with my two dogs, when I spotted a Rough Green Snake on the narrow asphalt path ahead of us. These snakes aren’t aggressive and usually move pretty quickly out of sight, so that’s what I expected. However, this one stayed in place. As we got closer, he ( or she) began coiling and taking short lunges at us. Something wasn’t right with it.

As I studied it, I saw it had a problem, a pretty significant one: A small piece of thin plastic netting was wrapped around part of his body. The kind of netting you sometimes see produce, like whole garlic and lemons, packaged in at the grocery store. In fact, I could see it had once been just that. Now, only a tiny bit of the net remained, but one opening in it was encircling the snake. Made of strands that were now stretched so thin they were no thicker than thread, it was clear the snake had been wearing it since it was younger — its body was scarred, bruised and misshapen under and around the netting, which had been constricting and embedding into his body as he grew older and larger. I think this little snake could hardly move and was suffering terribly.

I had no way of helping it there. So, knowing it wasn’t venomous, I quickly grabbed it up by the tail, held it away from my body and off we went — a little woman, her two large dogs and a 30-inch-long snake dangling from her outstretched arm. It was going to be a long walk home, in more ways than one…

Soon, however, we attracted the attention of an elderly man peering out his door (and probably several other people who hid in fear of the crazy lady.) I approached to ask him for help and saw that he was fearless, but mostly because he obviously couldn’t see very well. The closer we got, the wider his eyes got.

He was a good sport, though, and willing. “What do you need?” he asked, his eyes glued to the snake. I said “gloves and tiny scissors, please.” He brought me some good rubbery gardening gloves to put on and two huge carving knives. I suggested something smaller, much smaller, like cuticle scissors or even nail clippers. So, he brought me grass clippers and large tin snips. Then he asked on which side of the netting he should cut the snake in two!

“Umm, maybe I should do the cutting,” I said, “it’s just for the netting and something smaller still would be better.” A very cheerful, agreeable gent, he shuffled back inside and brought me out two pair of scissors — large and very, very large! Defeated, I took the large scissors and oh-so-carefully tried to clip the loosest bit of the netting I could see. It came free and I was able to unwrap it a bit, enough that I could get hold of another tiny piece. And, with that, and a sigh of relief, I gently pulled free all the netting. Whew!

I thought about asking the man if he had a camera, but I was afraid it would be a large wooden one mounted on a tripod, along with a black hood! He watched my dogs for me while I carried the exhausted snake back to where I found it. When I put it down, it quickly slithered away into the tall grasses. I took that as a good sign.

I trundled back to my dogs and sweet, kindly man, Mr. Gordon. We both now have a good story to tell. Oh, and after that, my dogs and I came across a Seven-spotted Lady Beetle sitting on the path. I put my hand down and it climbed aboard and rode along with me for a while. My best walk ever!

Of course, there’s an important moral to this story. A reminder for all of us to keep our trash in our trash cans. We throw away 200 million tons of trash every year in the U.S. alone. Some of it escapes when wildlife or wind draws it out of unsecured trash receptacles. Some of it is carelessly thrown into the environment by people camping or picnicking. Discarded fishing lines trap waterfowl and other animals. Broken glass cuts the feet of animals. Unbroken bottles and jars are hazards to lizards or other animals who crawl into them seeking leftovers, but can’t squeeze back out, or who get their heads caught in the opening. Plastic six-pack holders are notorious for trapping wildlife. The examples can go on and on.

– Tara Allison

*Top photo is not the snake in the story: Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus). (© Diana-Terry Hibbitts / EOL; cc by-nc 3.0)

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