Noah and the Mole King
On my regular naturing walks with Noah this spring, we’ve been going out of our way to try to turn up as many friendly herps as we possibly can. We’ve been pretty lucky in the way of salamanders and turtles, but I haven’t yet come across any snakes while I’ve been out with Noah. And Noah really wants to see a snake, to the extent that he tells me to bring them home for him if I turn them up. So, with his blessing and in the interests of fostering that interest in nature by whatever means necessary, I’ve been carrying around an old pillowcase in my car for the last couple weeks on the chance that if I find a friendly rat snake or kingsnake that I can take home to him, I’ll have a place to stash it.
This past week I’ve been off work for Spring Break, and on my way back from dropping Noah off at day care, I’ve been regularly checking a cover board transect near Duke Forest. A fellow birder, who does research at Duke, has set up a small series of plywood and tin covers along the edge of a forest for several years, checking them regularly to tell what herps have been using them over time. It’s the same place where I found the Copperhead I posted last week. The only snake I’ve been seeing with any regularity was that Copper, but once last week I found a beautiful big Mole Kingsnake, exactly the sort of thing I was looking for.
Mole Kingsnake is a common snake in the east, but because they spend so much of their time lurking in subterranean burrows feasting upon burrowing rodents, they’re not commonly encountered. And it’s a real shame too, because they’re amazing snakes, with a gorgeous banded body that gets darker with age and a docile disposition. This particular snake was nearly all brown, and a bit ragged in the way of some damaged scales along its body. But despite the fact that it appeared to be gearing up for a shed (which generally makes snakes a tad more fiesty), it was well-behaved as I handled it. A perfect snake for an excited two-year old.
So, and I readily admit I’m not super proud of this, I bagged it and took it home for photographs and to show Noah when he got home from school. I know, I know. But it’s for the future generation.
I’m not much of a snake photographer, and as it turns out they’re not the best subjects. I had to have one hand on the snake and the other on the camera lest the sucker head off out of my backyard. And the mid-day light was not the best. Poets may sing the praises of dappled light through the oak boughs, but it’s hell on photographs.
Plus, and I thought this was really odd, the snake just didn’t like cameras. The only time it ever looked like it was going to threaten to strike was when the lens was pointed at it. To whit…
I guess I can’t blame it. One gawky biped is bad enough but make it a giant cyclops? Freaky-deaky.
Anyway, later that afternoon Noah came home excited to see his first real snake, and the Mole King was every bit as good as I’d hoped. The species of snake, the gray phase of which is found in the south-central US and called Prairie Kingsnake, it widely used as an education animal for a reason. Nothing phases it. If I were the kind of person* who captures snakes for pets, I would be sorely tempted to hang on to this individual.
*depraved, immoral, ethically challenged person
After Noah had his fun with the snake, I loaded it back up in its bag and returned to the spot I’d found it. It paused for a moment, posing in exactly the way I’d wished it had when I had a camera in my hand, before disappearing beneath the very same piece of tin where I’d found it a few hours earlier, to tackle a mess of Cotton Rats, no doubt.
A great snake. Now Noah wants a smaller one that I’ll let him actually hold. No rest for the wicked.