For this snake, ‘rough’ takes on new meaning


A personal wildlife story, by Tara Allison
Do you have a story to share?

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, but I’ll use “he” for convenience) began coiling and taking short lunges at us. Something wasn’t right with him.

As I studied him, I saw he had a problem, a significant one: A small piece of plastic netting was wrapped around part of his body. It was the kind of red-colored netting you often see produce, like whole garlic and lemons, packaged in at the grocery store. Only a tiny bit of the net remained, but one opening in it was encircling the snake — a plastic strand stretched so thin it was now no thicker than a thread. It was clear the snake had been wearing it for a while, since he was younger and smaller. The neet was now constricting and embedding into his body. This little Rough Green Snake couldn’t move very well and was having a very rough time (pun intended). 

I had no way of helping him there, if at all. So, knowing he wasn’t venomous, I swiftly grabbed him up by the tail, held him away from my body and off we went — a woman, two large dogs and a 30-inch-long snake whipping back and forth below her outstretched arm — looking for help.

Soon we attracted the attention of a man peering out his backdoor (and probably several other people who were hiding in fear of the crazy lady.) As I approached him to ask for help, I saw he was an older gent and somewhat frail. Still, he stepped out of his house, apparently willing to help. I suspect that was mostly because he couldn’t see all that well — the closer we got, the bigger his eyes got!

We introduced ourselves. I explained the situation to Mr. Glover* and he was willing to help. “What do you need?” he asked, his eyes glued to the snake. I replied, “Gloves and tiny scissors, please.” He brought me a rubbery gardening glove and two enormous carving knives. I suggested something smaller, much smaller, like cuticle scissors, or even nail clippers might do. So, he then brought out grass clippers and large tin snips. To my astonishment, 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 cutting the net, and something smaller still would be better.” Cheerful and agreeable, Mr. Glover, shuffled back inside and brought out two pairs of scissors — large and very, very large! Sensing I was defeated, I took the large scissors and oh-so-carefully tried to clip the strand with the tip of the scissors without cutting the snake. I did it! And, with relief, I carefully cut off the rest of the net. Whew!

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

I just wish I could have transported him to Great Plains Nature Center here in Wichita, where he would have been assessed and cared for. But, I knew I couldn’t handle a rowdy snake and my two large, boisterous dogs on the long walk back to my house. Too late, I realized I might have been able to borrow a pillowcase or bag to put the snake in to carry back home.

I trundled back to my dogs and Mr. Glover. He and I both now had 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 immediately climbed aboard and rode along with me for a while. My best walk ever!

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 flung 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.

Share your story

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