Monday, June 30, 2008

Why I Love Internet - Reason #1 - Identifying Snakes

Remember when you were a kid, fascinated by a meandering creek or stream? Think back to how fun it was to turn over rocks and search for critters like frogs and crawdads. I still enjoy roving creeks and streams, searching for wildlife; not so much because I've managed to hang on to that childhood fascination, but more because I want to pass it on to my kids.

A couple weeks ago the four of us (Anna, Andrew, and Audrey are my four year old triplets) we're roaming a creek close to our house when Anna came across a small snake. "A snake, Daddy!" she yelled as I dashed up to where she was standing. I managed to catch a glimpse of it as it slithered under a rock. It was small with a very attractive pattern on its back. With thoughts of Steve Irwin in my head, I lifted up the rock and had every intention picking up the snake and allowing my kids to observe it and even touch it. The snake had other thoughts.

Ignoring the fact that the snake was coiled in a defensive pose and was ready to strike, I reached down, grasped it by the tail (or the end furthest from its head), and picked it up. It did not want to be picked up. It immediately began thrusting its head up towards my hand, trying to bite me. After a few tries, it was successful. I dropped it to the ground, and, undeterred, I again reached down to grab the snake, and, for a second time, he bit me. One of the strikes broke the skin, though no more than a paper cut would.

What was I thinking? Why would I continue to pick up an aggressive snake? For one, the snake was small and far from frightening. Furthermore, I was in no danger from its bite; living in Ohio, I was sure that the bites had released no venom because there are no poisonous snakes where I live. I'm no biologist though, and a slight sense of anxiety lingered throughout the rest of our trip to the creek.

When I got home, I jumped on the computer and googled "Ohio snakes." The first result was a page called "What's That Snake?" from the Ohio Public Library Information Network (OPLIN). The site allows you identify snakes based on their markings by taking you through a series of screens, each with a pair of choices. Your job is to try to determine which of the two choices better fits your snake, and then go on to the next screen.

Anyway, using this identification system I was unable to figure out precisely what the snake was that bit me. My anxiety grew a little after one of the possibilities turned out to be a Northern Copperhead! Luckily though, the Eastern Milk Snake and the Kirtland Snake also resembled the one that bit me. I've experienced no ill effects of the bite, so it obviously wasn't the copperhead.

Since that trip, I've repeated my searches with spiders, leaves, and even salamanders. Having the Internet as a resource has turned me into an amateur biologist and once my kids are old enough, I'll have them searching with me.


Unknown said...

I would like to add one omre site for learning knots ..
here you get animated knot with very easy tricks and tips.


Mike Frerichs said...

Hi James,
I read this post when I was in Alaska this summer, but my Internet there is too slow to respond. If you hike with your family, I highly recommend you carry a Sawyer Extractor Kit with you. This little kit weighs nothing and works much faster than the Internet in the woods. It works on everything from insect bites to snake bites.

My wife and I were hiking the Osgood Trail near Mount Madison N.H. about 20 years ago when our beagle stuck his nose in a nest of ground hornets. He was swarmed and immediately ran by us. We were each stung at least a dozen times before we all outran the swarm. Within minutes we were able to use the extractor to remove the stingers and were soon on our way up the trail.

In contrast, we had a yellow jacket epidemic in Fairbanks, Alaska, in the summer of 2006. One young man died of an allergic reaction to a sting wile he was driving himself to the hospital. They found that he had done an Internet search on yellow jacket stings on his computer before he had left his house. I don't know if the extractor kit would have saved him, but removal of the stinger would have been time better spent in that emergency.

Here's a site for the Sawyer Extractor: