Posts Tagged 'snakes'

A Blue View: Snakes In Our Backyards

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

In a two-part interview series with Dr. Kat Hadfield, Associate Veterinarian at National Aquarium, CEO John Racanelli discusses the endangered status of the world’s seven species of sea turtle and how organizations like the Aquarium and working to save them.

February 20, 2013: Snakes In Our Backyards

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss snakes
and their bad reputation with humans.

As spring approaches, the stray warm, sunny day is going to start waking up our natural world from its winter sleep. Grass will grow, buds will burst from trees and shrubs, birds will migrate, and yes, snakes will come out of hibernation.

For many, the thought of a snake basking in the sunshine on their driveway is enough to send them running for the moving boxes. There’s no doubt about it, snakes—often thought of as creepy, crawly, slimy, and scaly—have an undeservedly bad reputation. Yet these creatures fill a critical role in our environment, and they’re pretty amazing animals, too.

Did you know that some snakes, despite their lack of legs, can climb trees and cave walls in search of food? Or that all snakes can swim, with some, like the water snake, able to dive beneath the surface to feed on fish and frogs? Some species even have infrared heat receptors, allowing them to find prey in the dark.

The emerald tree boa is just one species of snake that makes its home up in the trees!

The emerald tree boa is just one species of snake that makes its home up in the trees!

Snakes are uniquely designed to locate their prey. Though they don’t hear very well, they pick up vibrations from the ground. When snakes stick out their forked tongues, they actually smell the air, using the two-prong shape to establish a direction. “Odor” molecules caught on a snake’s tongue are translated by something called a Jacobson’s Organ in the roof of its mouth, so snakes literally taste the scent. This forked tongue is also used to avoid predators and to help male snakes locate female snakes during the breeding season.

Like other reptiles, snakes are ectotherms, meaning they control their internal body temperature from heat derived from an external source. When cold, they move into the sun; when hot, they move into the shade. Extreme heat or cold can kill them. In winter, snakes hibernate in areas below the frostline, and their dens can be found in narrow crevices in rocks, under trees and wood piles, and occasionally in basements. When snakes bask in the sun—like on those early days of spring—people are often faced with an animal they aren’t comfortable seeing up close.

It’s when snakes seem to encroach on our human space—like our yards or roadways—that many people get distressed, and they often take drastic action to get rid of snakes without thinking about the consequences. After all, snake populations are vital to maintaining balance in our ecosystems, helping to effectively control the population of small mammals, like mice and rats, and also serving as a valuable food source for hawks and other predators.

Here in Maryland, we have 27 species and subspecies of snakes. Of these, only two are venomous, the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead. Neither is aggressive unless provoked, preferring instead to remain motionless and blend into their environment. Two species are endangered, but all native snakes in Maryland are protected under the state’s Endangered Species Conservation Act. This means that native snakes cannot be killed, possessed, bred, or sold without acquiring the proper permit from the Department of Natural Resources.

This spring, if you see a snake, don’t run in the opposite direction. Instead, reach for your camera. DNR’s Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas Project, also known as MARA, is conducting a five-year program, using data collected by people to create a current distribution map of Maryland reptiles and amphibians. If you see a snake or amphibian, simply take a photograph of it, record the location, and e-mail it to the DNR.

This information helps the DNR to develop conservation strategies for native species so snakes and humans can live peacefully together.

Want to learn more about different snake species found around the world? Join us in Washington, DC for our annual Reptile & Amphibian day


Hallowings and things…

In honor of Halloween, the animal encounters at the National Aquarium have been a bit spooky this week!  We have been introducing some of our slithery, slimy, creepy, crawly animals from the rainforest, and teaching visitors that these animals aren’t as scary as we may think..

One of the encounters includes tarantulas. Scared yet? Don’t be. Though these venomous crawlers are generally thought of as a danger to humans, they do not pose the slightest threat. Tarantulas have venom with the potency comparable to a bee, so their venom is generally not toxic to humans. 

What’s the slimiest creature you can think of? A snake? This preconceived notion about snakes is false! These reptiles are not slimy at all; in fact, they are covered with scales. Snakes have small scales on the top of their body and large scales on the bottom. The large scales, called scutes, help them move their legless bodies. The coloration of their scales helps snakes camouflage themselves in various surroundings. They can blend in with leaves, shadows and even rocks! 

What has six legs and teeth in their stomachs? Give up? Cockroaches! These fascinating creatures have existed for about 300 million years and were found even before dinosaurs! Even though we see them as pests, cockroaches actually do a lot for the earth. In the rainforest at the Aquarium they help spread nutrients from trees to the soil.

cockroach for blog

snake for blog







You can find out more about these animals and others at the Hallowings and Things encounters everyday at 10:30 a.m. through November 6th! 

We are also running a special special halloween contest on facebook through Monday. Click here to enter the Hallo-Marine AquaFaces contest! Build your creepiest AquaFace for a chance to win tickets to the National Aquarium’s Baltimore venue.

Happy Halloween!

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