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The Whitehurst Diaries: Snake encounters of the mistaken kind

The first 'expert' identification was that Willis' prey, dutifully and lovingly placed on her doorstep was a particularly fractious and dangerous kind of snake. Though it turned out be more terrifying in its fractious mode, it was really an environmental friend, better than even Willis at send vermin on to rodent heaven.
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By Sharon Whitehurst

I do not like viewing photos of snakes. I don't want to be surprised by such creatures and was alarmed by the discovery of a somewhat damaged snake near my bucket of potting earth on the front porch. The cats regularly present us with tiny snakelets that resemble a brown shoestring. I don't appreciate them, but they are small enough that I can deal with one - especially if it has already succumbed to the maulings of an enthusiastic feline.

I knew immediately that I was seeing a snake of a different pattern--even though it was on its back, opening its wide mouth and hissing feebly. I screamed for Jim, who gave me that "Foolish woman, what now?" look--until he prodded at it with his leather-cased knife and decided this was not the usual brown snake.

This snake, though seemingly on its last squirm, didn't cooperate with Jim's attempts to turn it over for observation, presenting its underside, until somewhat pinned down by Jim's hunting knife and a handy can of bug spray. [It should be noted that Willis-the-Cat was all too ready to assist in snake handling and had to be repeatedly pushed aside by Jim.] Had I been capable of rational thought at that point, I might have recalled our neighbor Jay's description of the antics of a hog-nosed snake. Confronted with a serpent of any ilk, removing myself--and my cats--from its immediate presence is foremost in my reactions.

I provided an empty plastic carton [with a lid!] and we conveyed the drooping serpent down the lane to where Pastor Fred was working in his garden. He was calm in his examination, allowed that it could be a young copperhead and we therefore were right to be wary. Fred then kindly offered to take it away and bury it in his garden. The snake at that point appeared to be moments away from expiration.

Back home I went on a mission of rounding up the cats who have outdoor privileges. Willis of course was fine and only too willing to help. None of the cats appear to be suffering from snake bite--a blessing, as one of them likely towed the serpent onto the porch. I potted my begonia slips and went out to dig around the edges of my soggy garden--but with a shivery sensation along my spine as I considered the possibilities; my imagination was fired by the thought of copperheads taking up residence on the front porch.

Later I posted photos of 'the snake' on my Face Book page. By evening Jim's cousins were weighing in with helpful comments. Cousin Ed, in Georgia, had recently finished a study unit on snakes with the church youth group he mentors. He noted that the pattern of splotches on the snake didn't fit the classic presentation of a copperhead and suggested rat snake or hog nose snake as alternatives.

'Hog-nosed snake!' Only then did I remember friend Jay's description of their distinctive performance--the hissing and rolling. With marked distaste, I googled hog-nosed snakes, pulled up photos, and setting my camera next the PC monitor, insisted that Jim make the necessary comparison. Jim dutifully scrutinized the pictured snakes--my photos and those online and decided we now had a correct identification of our visitor.

"Come here and look at these," he ordered. I shied away from the desk, arguing that I had seen enough snakes for one day! "We need to know what these snakes look like," insisted Jim.

I looked. I shuddered in classic cringing female style, but I looked and took note.

I am not, however, planning to go eye-to-eye with any serpent that appears. I don't want to be close enough to determine whether the eyes are slitted or otherwise.

For now, I am comforted that there was not a copperhead on the doormat!

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This story was posted on 2016-05-20 08:03:50
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The Whitehurst Diaries: 'Copperhead' turns out not to be one

2016-05-20 - Pellyton, Adair County, KY - Photo by Sharon Whitehurst.
The first 'expert' identification was that Willis' prey, dutifully and lovingly placed on her doorstep was a particularly fractious and dangerous kind of snake. Though it turned out be more terrifying in its fractious mode, it was really an environmental friend, better than even Willis at send vermin on to rodent heaven. The photo is actually of hog-nosed snake. Fortunately for Jim Whitehurst, another rat dispatcher, a black snake, has appeared to replaced the late hog-nose fellow.

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