Sunday, April 8, 2018

Get ready for this extremely long story. I ran a herping camp one week. Herps are reptiles, and amphibians - Herptiles. Snakes are often the flagships of the herping community. The weather had been seriously eliminating the likelihood of any snake cameos all week. Needless to say, most of the group was wishing for summers "Secret Santa" to bring us some snakes. Most of the boards I seeded (placed out) the previous month were all flipped by some careless individual who failed to replace them, greatly harming the odds of a snake find farther more. Then, on the last day, we were modestly gifted by a couple of Garters. My assistant ran through my youthful squad of snake enthusiasts, to get a front row seat. He, of course was forgetting he was an assistant and not a student (I don't blame him) and in his excitement, he even brushed a couple kids aside, only to scare the snakes into a hole in the ground. It seems my students had learned the herping etiquette better than he. I dove forward just in time to grasp the second snake just in front of its ventral region. I knew I must be careful not to harm the snake, but had to gain fair purchase, lest it escape into the depths of the under Earth. Through effort, I managed to coax her out. The kids were all around me with eyes of glittering glee. While I was handling the snake, I was adamant about pointing out my methods of  interacting with the snake were less than recommended, but I had promised them at least one wild snake. I then pointed out each and every warning sign displayed by the agitated garter, starting with the musk all over my hand. A bite was imminent, and I made sure everyone knew it was coming if I didn't release the poor snake. Well, one of the students was Russian and had never seen a snake as it was his third day here in the U.S. I held on a bit longer for his first sake sighting. Wrong! Allow the vice-grip of countless teeth to commence! Within a second, four rows of teeth were successfully caressing my metacarpals with much enthusiasm. I kept my "teaching face" and continued to explain play by play what exactly was occurring and that I was fairly warned and I deserved it. The snake had fully extended its gape just on point of impact, thus locking on and unable to release. There was blood. Lots of blood. Garter bite means anti-coagulant. What was most unfortunate at that very instant, was that a squadron of first graders arrived on the scene because their guide got word I found a snake and wanted to share it with their class also. My kids were mostly 4th graders in age - give or take. I immediately asked them to form a wall, so as not to allow the wee ones to glimpse what would likely traumatize them. They did so with success and suave. I explained to my group that this should never have happened, and that I caused it. Snakes do not look to bite people and she gave me so many warnings. My rough retrieval of her did not help. It was a good opportunity to demonstrate that it's best not to handle wild animals, and that they choose to flee rather than bite, and even then they bite as a last resort. The students understood well. The thing is, I have been bitten by various things before, though very rarely. Surprisingly, this particular bite officially hurt. A GARTER of all things. They usually won't bite and if they do, it barely hurts, if at all. To add to the discomfort, there was snake musk seeping into my wounds. Not how I wanted it to go. While I am teaching, I often talk with my hands, and there was some humor behind gesturing with my hands while a snake hangs off the back. It took some time and effort to unhook the teeth from my skin and remove the snakes jaws from my hand.  You could follow my bloody trail into the building where I gained access to the rubbing alcohol. I felt so unprofessional, but I seized the opportunity to teach about what went wrong and the science behind the bite. Far better than one of them getting hurt for sure! One of the students was a little shaken from the visual, but I remedied that quite well. The following year, some of the same students ran into me and told me how well I handled the situation and that, for them, it was an exciting adventure, though better perceived than experienced. They remembered every lesson I had given about the snake, and shared the story with others. They also thought I was Rambo - lol.


  1. I wish you had a picture of this little snake that did all this damage!