Snakes Are Welcome at Tree Hill

Tree Hill Nature Center uses its limited budget, dedicated volunteers, and committed staff to oversee the care of 50 acres in the middle of Arlington. Youth educational programs are critical to the mission of Tree Hill Nature Center, but the hallmark work being done is protecting those acres to serve as contiguous and robust habitat for native plants and animals. This means hours of removing non-native species, working through extreme summer heat and being prepared throughout hurricane season; this hidden gem is worth the sweat and muscle ache. The staff at Tree Hill appreciates kind words, positive reviews, and satisfied feedback from teachers who have brought their students for field trips. Yet, another ‘stamp of approval’ comes directly from the native species that use the space. Most recently was a visit from a banded water snake to the pool out front of the Center, across from the Happy Hen Hotel.

The banded water snake, Nerodia fasciata, is related to the garter snake, and as such, is nonvenomous. There are three subspecies of the water snake, all native to the southern part of the country. Given current climate conditions, the banded water snakes tend not to venture beyond the Carolinas. They are typically found basking on rocks, hiding beneath rocks or resting in the trees. Their colors can vary, but they all have the distinct banded marking and a stripe leading back from their eye towards their jaw. They all live near water, and rely on small reptiles and amphibians for their food source. Slower moving fish, salamanders, and frogs are some of their favorite menu items. During the spring they mate. Typically a female mates with only one male, and youngsters arrive during July and August. The banded water snake is not an egg layer; instead they are ‘viviparous’, which means they birth live young.

The banded water snake is nonvenomous, though this does little to prevent unnecessary killings of the animal. An adaptation of the species is its ability to puff its body up to look like a water moccasin, commonly referred to as a cottonmouth. The banded water snake is a longer, slimmer snake lacking the angular head and slitted eyelid of the water moccasin, but fear often gets the best of folks and the banded water snake pays the ultimate price. The water snake also presents aggressively to help ward off potential threats, which is another attribute that does not serve it well against humans. It is always best to keep an eye out when around ponds, lakes or large pools of water. It is best to err on the side of caution and avoid approaching snakes in the wild.

Seeing the banded water snake at Tree Hill Nature Center was a rare treat, and a gentle reminder of the positive impact that our work is having on the community around us, both human and non-human. As the heat of the summer sets in we encourage you to visit us early in the day, when the dappled sunlight on the trails makes for great photo ops and journaling or drawing opportunities. If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to email us at info@treehill.org or to call us at 904-724-4646. More information at: nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=2271

About Katie Salz

october, 2021

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