Thursday, June 23, 2005

Northern Ringneck Snake in the Lawn

I found a new species on our property this afternoon -- northern ringneck snake, Diadophis punctatus edwardsii. Unfortunately I found it because I ran over it with the lawnmower. I had been worried about hitting the box turtle that comes around every June to nest. I looked for it before I started, walking the whole lawn, which isn't very big and which hadn't been mown in so long that three or four staghorn sumac saplings had sprouted.

She wasn't around so I began to mow. One of the things my kids complain about occasionally is that they'd like a lawn that somewhat resembles everyone else's -- smooth, with relatively regular grass, one that you can play on in bare feet without stepping on something sharp. I routinely mow so that I leave an island of little bluestem grass, 10 or 12 bunches, which grow to be three or four feet high and turn burnt-orange in the fall. Depending on which of the two bluebird boxes are occupied -- one is in a small meadow that hasn't been mown in six years, the other in what passes for our backyard -- I leave an apron of uncut grass, under the assumption that bluebirds like things shaggy. If a wildflower pops up, I mow around it, to let it seed.

I suppose that all this negligence makes our property somewhat more habitable for small animals than the typical place around here. Most of our neighbors tend to have lawn crews that use unconscionable amounts of fossil fuels to keep their places tidy. I'd be surprised if these lawns, mown every week, ever see the animals we see. We've had wood frogs and pickerel frogs, garter snakes and box turtle, and now a ringneck snake.

I found it when I turned over the mower to dislodge a clump of grass that had clogged the blade. It was wiggling and I shook it loose. It continued to wiggle but it didn't speed away and I thought I saw where the blade had cut it open, but by this time I was completely bummed and wasn't all that interested in examining it. Instead I went inside and looked it up in a field guide. It was obviously a northern ringneck. It was maybe 10 or 12 inches long and although I thought it was a baby, the guide said that adults range from nine to 16 inches. I went outside and looked at it again, then mowed another part of the lawn, then looked again. I couldn't find it. But I didn't look too hard because I wanted to believe it had recovered and slid away.


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