Startled by a Night Snake

I was out early watching for birds in a South Mountain wash when suddenly a small snake writhed and coiled right at my feet.  Sliding smoothly into a perfectly circular shape, it wove its head back and forth like a mini cobra, threatening me.

What is it about snakes that scare us to pieces?  The entire coil of this snake was no more than two inches across.   Yet I stepped well back to give him plenty of room, and looked around, making sure I wasn’t in the midst of an entire family of baby snakes.

This was no rattler, as I feared, but a Desert Night Snake, somehow tumbled from its den right into my path in broad daylight.  Did it appreciate having its picture taken?  Surely it was glad when the giant human finally walked away so it could return to its hideout. 

And I walked with even greater care. It is the smooth circular edge of the coil that catches one’s eye.  A snake’s coloring is designed to perfectly match the ground it lies on, and this is a high form of art.  Snakes are beautiful and fascinating even if a bit scary.  Often not much is known about their habits, adding an aura of mystery to any encounter.

We do know the strictly nocturnal Night Snake is widespread in the west, from British Columbia all the way down into Mexico.  They live in many habitats from mountain meadows to deserts.  Mostly people encounter them on quiet rural roads at night, where they soak up the last of the day’s heat.

Youngsters feed on a variety of insects, while adults eat lizards, small rodents and snakes, reptile eggs and even frogs.  The Night Snake subdues its prey with a mild venom injected through teeth at the back of the mouth.  Like all snakes, the Night Snake swallows its prey whole.

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