I was out digging jack-in-the-pulpits when I heard something move through the dry leaves. An eastern brown snake! And the little dear was just sitting there, watching me. After a few minutes of restraint, I couldn’t take it any more, so with many apologies to the snake, I put him into my bucket so that he wouldn’t run off when I got up to get my camera.
I felt like a big meanie scaring him so much, but it was only for a moment. This is snake body language for “I’m in a bucket and it scares my pants off.”
I did use my gardening gloves when handling the little guy, just to be absolutely certain that he wasn’t an immature timber rattlesnake. But a bit of research afterwards showed me that rattlers are endangered (and protected) in Massachusetts, while brown snakes are quite common.
Eastern brown snakes are a wonderful way to introduce snakes to those who are fearful of them. They are tiny, and gentle. At their largest, they may reach a foot in length, and slugs are a preferred food. I learned this as a kid when we caught one in the yard and took it to a nature center to have it identified. The six-inch long “Speedy Gonzales” became our pet for the summer. Every night we collected slugs for him, and he liked coiling around our warm fingers. (How can you tell that a snake likes something? He doesn’t attempt to squirm away, for starters. Lots of tasting-the-air with that forked tongue is another clue, as is allowing his body to be vulnerably extended.) At the end of the summer we released him back into the yard.
I didn’t come up with any silly names for the one I found today – I just tipped him back out of the bucket and thanked him for the photo opportunity. And he surprised me by turning around and calmly watching me again.
This little fella wasn’t the least bit camera-shy!