I've heard those sounds, most dramatically when they come out of me.

There is an unwritten, reflexive language sometimes spoken when humans suddenly discover a snake underfoot or in close quarters. It is fear in verbal form without the discipline of actual words.

It's the kind of sound you'd expect when you step out onto the porch and find that you have straddled a snake lying parallel to the threshold -- something akin to a black bear's death moan, only more abrupt.

It usually occurs concurrently with a form of muscular-induced levitation. And when you come down, you're usually a good distance away with no recollection of how you got there.

As spring presses toward summer, these sounds have arisen over the land in many places of human residences. In suburbia, we learn that we're not all that separated from herpetological beings. And a little more toward the sticks, we find that people and reptiles really are in this thing together.

Every year I field inquiries about elongated, slithering wildlife that shows up in people's yards, on patios, on porches or even in their homes. Sometimes there are photos of the offenders, although many of them are photos of dead offenders, all that's left after some shocked resident calls in martial operations to deal with the tubular invader.

There are usually two questions: What is it? Is it poisonous? But they generally hate the reptile no matter what.

Almost invariably the question about venom-loaded snakes is negative. We should respect the possibility, but rarely are these about-the-house snakes pit vipers, our only poison-packing varieties.

There are several species of snakes around, but in practice rather few regularly turn up in the neighborhood.

Most commonly encountered in your neighborhood I'd guess would be the black rat snake, which some people insist upon calling a chicken snake (which is confusing, because they may label other species as chicken snakes, too).

This can be a big one, up to 6 feet long, that's shiny black with maybe brown or grayish shades and a faint pattern of cream yellow amid darker scales. Younger rat snakes have much bolder, more contrasted patterns of brown to black chaining together with the cream color. Yet, some of the senior adults are almost solid glossy black. All tend to have lighter colored bellies.

Rat snakes can be particularly scary because they are among our largest snakes, but they are non-venomous and beneficial in that these constrictors eat rodents we'd like to see go away. On the negative, they are excellent tree climbers and do raid songbird nests for eggs and the young.

The eastern garter snake is another staple yard snake, one that grows barely over 2 feet long and is often shorter. It's usually got an olive/brownish back with black flecks, but this darker torso is marked with three lighter, yellowish stripes running the length of the back.

The garter snake is harmless, although it's a little on the wild side if you try to take charge of it. Pick up a garter snake and it may writhe violently to escape, and in desperation it may try to bite, although there's no real damage to be done.

The rough green snake, probably the most polite of all Kentucky snakes, is one often found in the yard, especially if your neighborhood has trees and shrubs for habitat. The slender green snake grows to a bit more than 2.5 feet long and stays true to its name by being a light green color unmarked by any contrasting pattern.

Green snakes are found mostly in the branches of trees and shrubs, where they feed on spiders and other bugs. They camouflage in green foliage rather well. If you see one on a limb or in the grass, however, you can pick it up for a greeting at no risk. A green snake may squirm a bit, but it's about the only species that will never bite, even in peril.

There are a few other snake species that may appear around your domicile, but the vast number of our native snakes are non-venomous and hardly warrant the fear and loathing we heap on them.

Our only venomous native snakes hereabouts are copperheads, cottonmouths and timber rattlesnakes. Copperheads are by far the most common of these, although there are cottonmouths in a smattering of far west Kentucky wetlands and swamps. Timber rattlers are a real presence, but realistically they are few are far between.

Any of our non-venomous snakes has a rather narrow head in relation to its body, will tend to be slim and has a long, skinny-tapered tail. If you can stand it, look at a harmless snake's eyes and you'll see they have round pupils, assuring no venom and no fangs within.

Our fewer poisonous snakes are all pit vipers. Each of these has a larger, wider head that flairs more abruptly from the neck. The pit viper body tends to be heavier and the tail is shorter with a more rapid taper. The no-doubt characteristic is that each pit viper has elliptical, cat's-eye pupils.

It's rarer to find a poisonous snake around most human dwellings, but harmless snakes turn up with some frequency. In most cases, it's best just to let them be. They aren't going to hurt you unless you charge into something immovable trying to flee.

Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at outdoors@paducahsun.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for Reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.