2018-02-16 / Community

Snakes in residence are both beautiful and dangerous


Corn snake, a non-venomous, voracious eater of rodents. Corn snake, a non-venomous, voracious eater of rodents. Entering the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Dalton Discovery Center, guests generally begin their tour by walking to the right, entering the upland habitat and working their way past the exhibits until they end up by the large patch reef tank.

The first animals they see are replicas of the four venomous snakes that may be found in Florida – the diamondback rattlesnake, the pygmy rattlesnake, the water moccasin (also called cottonmouth because of the stark white inner lining of its mouth), and the coral snake, beautifully colored but dangerous.

These are plastic models. A bit farther along the path are three large glass-enclosed cases, in which the non-venomous snakes live. In the last display lives a corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus), which more often than not is high in the tree, in a box placed there for him to rest, waiting patiently for his next meal.

The corn snake is a species of rat snake, named for its voracious, and beneficial, consumption of rodents. The corn snake is found throughout the Southeast, as far north as New Jersey and as far west as Texas. It is non-venomous, and harmless to anything other than the small animals it preys upon. Guests often look at the base of the tree in the display, expecting to see a snake on the ground; corn snakes, however, are excellent climbers, and are often found high in trees, hiding under bark, waiting to surprise unwary lizards, frogs, toads, rats, and even birds. They will also enter the nests of unsuspecting birds to eat their eggs.

Corn snakes themselves lay eggs that hatch during the summer. They are moderate-sized as adults, reaching lengths of 2 to (rarely) almost 6 feet. They may live as long as 22 years in captivity, and, unlike venomous snakes, are constrictors. Once they have captured their meal, they wrap their bodies around it and squeeze. This makes it impossible for the prey animal to breathe, and it very quickly dies.

Corn snakes, aside from being attractively colored, are fairly docile, reluctant to bite, and have become favorites in the pet trade. They are relatively easy to breed in captivity, and hobbyists have bred them to have a large multitude of colors and patterns.

Common names of animals often have a somewhat uncertain past. When Conservancy docents describe our corn snake, they may point out the belly scales, which are multicolored and resemble Indian corn – which, they say, is how the snake got its name. Another theory is that the name is based on the fact that farmers have for centuries noticed the snakes coming to their barns and grain cribs to prey on the mice and rats that live there.

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