The Utterly Innocent Milk Snake
By Vern and Lori Gieger
Chapala is noted for many things, but how about our very own snake?
There are many species and sub-species of milk snake found in North
America including Jalisco. However, Herpetologists are currently studying
the Lake Chapala Milk Snake.
What makes them so special? It is believed
to be a new subspecies, unique to the Lake Chapala area. Although they
closely resemble the Jalisco milk snake, there is evidence that suggests
they do not interbreed even though they are found in close proximity
to one another.
Milk snakes are very shy and secretive
and are seldom seen. Like most snakes, they are nocturnal, seeking out
food after dark. Yes, they are very pretty but they are also masters
of disguise! Milk snakes mimic the coloration of poisonous snakes. The
Lake Chapala Milk Snake is no exception. While this may
deter their wild predators from attacking them, it does not protect
them from humans. Unfortunately, this adaptation can mean death for
the snake when encountered by humans who cannot tell the difference.
They are often mistaken for coral snakes and are killed. Actually, king
and milk snakes are known for killing and eating venomous snakes, since
they are immune to their venom.
Fortunately coral snakes can be easily
identified from milk snakes 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!
These brightly colored, shy creatures
prefer to avoid humans and most other animals larger than themselves.
Because they are often found in barns and feeding areas of livestock.
It was once believed by some farmers that the snakes were sneaking into
their barns at night and milking their cows. They blamed the snakes
for their cows low productivity. Henceforth the name Milk
Snake. When the farmers killed the snakes, they did not get more
milk. They did, however, get more mice! All snakes completely lack the
anatomy necessary to suck milk (or anything else for that matter). Not
to mention snakes have small but very sharp teeth, and no cow would
stand still for that! Barns are all-night diners to milk 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 pest control.
The worst effect a milk 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 a poisonous
snake. All proved to be harmless milk snakes, rat snakes, or garter
snakes. Most of these snakes were poked, prodded and agitated to the
point where they were very aggressively trying to defend themselves
by striking at their attackers.
Attitudes towards our wild neighbor, the
snake, 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. We should
all take the time to learn a little more about them, knowledge can put
our fears in perspective. It is disheartening that many peoples
first response to something they fear, do not like, or understand, is
to destroy it. Nothing should have to 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.
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 eco-system and ultimately ourselves.