Wondrous Wildlife
By Vern and Lori Gieger
Yellow, Red and Black Jack

     Milk snakes and the scarlet king mimic the coloration of coral snakes. King snakes and milk snakes are closely related and share many characteristics; they are masters of disguise! While this may deter their wild predators from attacking them, it does not protect them from humans. This disguise can mean death for the snake when encountered by those who cannot tell the difference. More often than not they are mistaken for coral snakes and killed. Actually, king and milk snakes are noted for killing and eating venomous snakes, since they are immune to their venom.
     Coral snakes can be distinguished from a milk or king snake “at a distance.” Remember this rhyme: Red touching yellow can kill a fellow; red touching black is safe for you and Jack. Alternatively, try remembering this: think of a “stoplight” yellow, red stop! In addition, corals are small delicate snakes rarely exceeding more than 12 inches in length; milk and king snakes grow much larger. All three species of coral snakes found throughout Jalisco are in critical danger of extinction. You have a better chance at winning the lottery than you do of encountering a “true” coral snake!
     The worst effect a milk or king snake has, is frightening humans who are not aware that it is harmless. We (LWRR) have received many snake calls from people who believed they were dealing with coral snake. All proved to be harmless milk snakes. Most were poked, prodded and agitated to the point where they were very aggressively trying to defend themselves by striking at their attackers.
     Attitudes towards snakes are slowly changing to tolerance, and even appreciation, as people learn the important role snakes play in ecosystems, as education about these fascinating animals increases. More people will consider themselves lucky to catch a glimpse of a snake basking on a rock on a warm sunny day; especially if it is a “Lake Chapala Milk Snake,” which is typically only found in this area. We should all take the time to learn more about them, knowledge can put our fears in perspective.
     It is disheartening that many people’s first response to something they fear do not like, or understand, is to destroy it. Nothing should die because of human ignorance. We do not have to love snakes; we just need to realize their importance. They are as deserving of life as any other creature and an important link in the chain of life. The more education we have about wildlife, the better chance the snakes, bats and other “unlovables” have of surviving.
     Most snakes are shy creatures preferring to avoid humans and animals larger than themselves. They know what’s on the menu and what’s not. Snakes are often found in barns and feeding areas of livestock. These places are all night diners to snakes because they provide abundant food in the form of small rats and mice. In return for this buffet, the snakes provide the free service of environmentally safe pest control.
     Under Mexican law ART. #420, it is a federal crime to kill any wild animal (without a license). These laws were designed to protect wildlife, our ecosystem and ultimately ourselves.
     (Note: Help protect our local milk snakes. Talk to your gardeners; explain not only are they harmless but extremely beneficial and should not be killed.)