The Serpent in the Garden (not Eden by Any Means)

Bummer of a pattern--often mistaken for a copperhead. Unless it IS.

If you are doing something you think will be simple, it won’t be. It’s one of Mr. Murphy’s laws, more or less.

I’d gone out to (reluctantly) spray the railroad ties on the steeper side of the garden because there was evidence of a rather large colony of carpenter ants, whose likely food source was not the treated railroad ties but the untreated pine of the garden shed.

It would take five minutes after mixing a half-gallon of (ick!) Diazanon to spot treat the obvious center of the colony some feet from anything growing in the garden.

But while I was down there, I noticed the yellow crookneck seeds I planted in some small nursery flats had sprouted. I stopped to water them, and randomly pulled back the black plastic where I intend to plant them, just to be sure I had not created the perfect habitat for carpenter ants.

No. I’d  created the perfect habitat for a rather large snake, whose banded pattern at first startled me, because we have seen, in the 13 years we’ve lived here, two copperhead.

And wouldn’t you know: the dog, never around when you want her to be, was pacing me up and down along the garden fence, and would NOT go away. She stood some two feet from the suspect snake that I was ALMOST certain was a corn snake. I knew it would retreat in her direction, and could not for the life of me get her out of harm’s way.

I am now almost certain (any expertise welcomed) that it was indeed a corn snake, and the very largest of several we have seen here over the years. I’m happy to have it living in my garden, and only hope it has a taste for the many moles that live there, undermining my beans and carrots.

But if you watch this short and very awkward video to the end, you can see the gleeful and clueless dog was NOT going to go away. So poor Dr. Science had to work under very difficult circumstances to bring you this Animal Planet quality (NOT!) reptile video.

And I’ll be on the lookout for this handsome creature, non-poisonous in the best of all worlds. I’m sure it was a corn snake. Mostly. The black borders on the ‘saddles’ and the shape of the head are key features.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I think it’s a corn snake too–and a big one! My first thought was a milk snake, which has a very similar pattern, but after looking at photos, I agree with you that it’s a corn snake. I am sure it’s not a copperhead. Both corn and milk snakes are good pretenders, but there’s no denying the head shape of a poisonous snake, even when the body pattern is much the same.

    Last week I found a large black snake and could not get my own Baby Dog to look at it. Every time I said “look” she looked in the trees for a squirrel. The black snake was about 4 ft. long and only a foot from her toes but she was sure there was a squirrel I was trying to get her to look at.