Herp Update: Snake covers – October 13, 2021

Artificial Cover for Snakes

A common method to survey for snakes is to put out artificial cover in good snake habitat. I have a series of slate “sandwiches” on my property that I have put out to attract snakes and where I can take my granddaughter when we want to go find a snake. My covers are in an overgrown field that does not have the kind of natural cover that you can easily look under. The sunny edges of old fields are good locations to place snake covers.

Artificial cover could be made of anything from old plywood, old tin roofing, old tarps, car hoods, rubber mats, anything that would provide protection for a snake and heat up during the day. I like pieces of slate because they heat up well and hold that heat through the evening. I use two rectangles of slate separated by a wooden spacer to create a space for the snakes. My covers work well for snakes up to about 18 inches long. We have started to construct snake “motels” for the larger snakes. I will talk more about snake motels another time.

I have a long series of slate covers that we put out back in 2000 that I use to monitor snake populations at a privately funded research site called Colby Hill Ecological Reserve. We check those covers once a week throughout the fall until the snakes go underground. At our research site we have 45 pairs of covers. We check them in the morning before the snakes have had a chance to warm up and leave.

For some reason this year we have been seeing more snakes than ever at this site. Back on September 13 we found 56 snakes of four species using these covers (Common Gartersnake-49, Red-bellied Snake-5, Eastern Milksnake-1, DeKay’s Brownsnake-1).

Often ants will create a nest under the bottom cover. The larger tunnels made by the ants are as big around as my little finger. This is plenty big enough for the little Red-bellied Snakes to crawl down into for the winter.

Erin Talmage filmed portions of a couple of our recent visits to our study site. Matt Gorton edited these and put them together into a short video showing the covers and a few of the snake species found there.

Watch it here

or check it out at our YouTube station: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvIr9ZmWCuY

Snakes on Roads

Last Friday afternoon, Matt and I checked the snake crossing site that I mentioned in my last Herp Update. We checked roughly 3/4 of a mile of road and found 70 snakes on the road surface. Sadly 64 were dead and only 6 were alive. Keep in mind that the dead snakes had been accumulating for a period of days and the living snakes probably only starting crossing the road minutes before we arrived.

Jim Andrews

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