Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Two-toned Copperhead

Old skin off the back half - REK
When we took the cover off the firewood stack there was a copperhead laying between the logs at eye level.  Ordinarily I would capture it and transport it into the woods but this one could easily slither into the stack, leaving us with the memory every time we got a log so I had to dispatch it with a shot to the head.

Rat snake shed, eye covered - REK
When I started to salvage the skin I learned why it had remained so still.  As I started to skin it I found that it had just started to shed.  When that occurs, the old skin covering the eyes acts almost like a cataract, effectively blinding it until the skin is pulled off.  We commonly find snake sheds in our house but haven't caught one in the act before.

Old above, peeled new skin below
Snakes obviously don't shed all their skin, they just lose the outer layer, leaving soft underlying cells which allow it to grow into a new skin, not unlike a crawdad.  This is called ecdysis, a term that is generally associated with insects (think of locust "shells" beloved by many young kids).  Sometimes during dry periods snakes can have problems getting the outer layer off, a possibility in this case as it was under a waterproof cover during a dry spell.

When I picked up the snake several hours later some of the skin came off on my fingers.  I peeled some of the outer skin off the back half, leaving the bright shiny new skin below. The beauty of it made me further regret the unavoidable sacrifice of its life.

Note:
I would not advocate the killing of any snake unless it is a potential danger to humans or their animals.  Sometimes it is impossible to safely remove a snake.  It is illegal to sell a non-game animal skin.

MDC Editor's note from Conservationist Magazine, August, 2000
"We have a controversy among several of us about whether it is legal or illegal to kill snakes in Missouri?"
Garvis Myers, Festus

"The Wildlife Code of Missouri is permissive, in that it details what wildlife related activities are allowed. Any wildlife-related activities not included in the Wildlife Code are, therefore, not permitted. This includes the killing of snakes. However, the Code does permit Missourians to protect their property and family from immediate harm from wildlife, which means that under certain circumstances venomous snakes may be killed to protect people in the immediate area. Most snakes are not venomous, and the few venomous snakes you may encounter can usually be avoided."

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