Category Archives: Science

Recognizing the Snakes Native to Charlotte, NC

In writing my 32 page report about keeping snakes as pets, I came across a lot of information. The information was pretty contradicting at times, and it took work to figure out which sources to believe and which sources to disregard. I’ve found that this isn’t just true about pet snakes; it’s even truer when it comes to wild snakes both venomous and non-venomous.

There are a few misconceptions that I want to address before we get started.

  • Snakes are poisonous. No! Snakes are not poisonous. Poison must be eaten. Venom is injected into the bloodstream. Copperheads and other dangerous snakes are venomous because they inject their venom into their victim’s bloodstream.
  • Cat-like pupils mean venomous. Nope. There are plenty of nonvenomous snakes, including ones kept as beginner pets, that have this kind of pupil.
  • Round pupils mean nonvenomous. Also incorrect. While this may be true for some nonvenomous snakes, a copperhead’s pupil will dilate in low lighting. Pupil is no reliable indicator of anything.
  • Triangle head shape means venomous. Incorrect. Many nonvenomous snakes will flatten their heads to look triangular when threatened.

Remember that the best way to know if a snake is venomous or not is to memorize what your local venomous snakes look like. If the snake you want to identify doesn’t look like any of them, you’re probably dealing with a nonvenomous snake. We have only three venomous snakes, so I’m sure you can remember what they look like.

Venomous Snakes

Copperhead

This is an adult copperhead. Adults are usually 2-4 feet in length. Notice that the head is a copper color and the body is copper and almost pink. The markings along the side of the body are Hershey kiss shaped (although some in other areas may have bands across their back and no clear Hershey kiss shapes). Copperheads are venomous. You do not want to mess with a copperhead. Instead, if you see one just leave it alone. If you really need to move it spray it with a hose. It is extremely dangerous to attempt to kill any venomous snake because that puts you in a much larger risk of being bitten than just leaving it alone.

Below is a baby copperhead. It has the same markings as the adults and a bright yellow tail tip. There is a myth that baby snakes’ venom is more harmful than adult venom, but there isn’t any proof of this.

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Timber Rattlesnake

This is an adult timber rattlesnake. They are venomous and usually get about 3-6 feet. You can see the orange stripe that runs from the neck down the back. Like any other venomous snake, you should avoid getting too close. Give them space and they will move on with their day. Below is a baby timber rattlesnake.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

This is a venomous eastern diamondback rattlesnake. Some maps say that they are around here and others say that they aren’t, but I figured I would include it. There are diamonds down the back and it has a pretty distinct head shape. They get 3.5-6.5 feet long. Definitely respect these and give them space.

Keep in mind that this list is comprised of 3 snakes. If you live in or around Charlotte and see a snake that doesn’t look like any of these, it’s probably safe, but don’t mess with any snake when you aren’t positive of the species.

Nonvenomous Snakes

Ratsnakes

These are all non-venomous rat snakes. I think that they are so cute! They can be 3-8 feet long, depending on the species. For some reason rat snakes are often misidentified as copperheads which… Makes no sense to me. But whatever. They actually feed on copperheads among other things. If you come across one please leave it alone! They will move along and eat the mice trying to get into your basement. If you really do need it gone you can spray it with a hose or, if you’re gutsy, you could gently move it by hand. If they do bite it usually isn’t a big deal. Wash super well and you’re good to go. Just make sure you know what you’re handling before you handle it!

Eastern Coachwhip

Eastern coachwhips can get up to 8.5 feet, but are usually more like 6-7 feet when fully grown. They are nonvenomous, but they are easily scared and will bite if cornered or threatened. I would avoid trying to come up close to these for the sole reason that they tend to bite one after the other and their bites aren’t enjoyable.

Corn Snake

Corn snakes are extremely popular pet snakes because of their docile personality and easy care. They are nonvenomous and won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. They can reach 4-5.5 feet. They’re similar to rat snakes in that, if you want to, they won’t do too much to you if you try to move them somewhere else.

Garter Snakes

These two are both nonvenomous garter snakes. The top one is an eastern garter snake and the bottom one is a striped garter snake. These snakes can be 18-51 inches fully grown. They are harmless and great to have around your garden.

Dekay’s Brown Snake

I’ve seen three of these in my neighborhood this year! People usually think that they are babies, but these adults only reach 12 inches long. They are brown colored (sometimes a bit lighter brown than what these pictures show) with little dots going down their back. They are completely harmless. Their mouths are so small they can’t really bite you at all. In my experience, if they see you they will escape into grass or under pine needles.

There are many kinds of harmless snakes in in my area not included in this post. Always use caution when dealing with wild snakes. Be smart and realize that they have just as much right to be there as you do. Killing snakes puts you in a lot more danger of being bitten than just leaving them alone. I suggest joining the group titled “Snake Identification” on Facebook. You can have professionals identify the snake you post within minutes, and you learn a ton from just seeing the posts.

Thank you for reading! I hope you have a new appreciation and understanding of snakes. Feel free to comment and ask me any questions you may have!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snake Report

Lately I’ve gotten really interested in snakes. Our school is getting a snake named Ratters soon. Right now he lives with Jess until we have a cage for him (which she’s building). Since holding him and Jess and Zack’s other snakes a couple months ago I’ve been to a serpentarium (click to see my post about this trip) and Repticon.

After Repticon I asked my mom what it would take to for me to be able to have a snake, and she told me to write a thirty page report about snakes addressing the pros and cons of having a snake, as well as how to take care of them and keep yourself safe whilst doing so. I’ve been working on it for a couple of weeks (including over spring break in Universal) and I’m a quarter to a third of the way through depending on how you look at it.

So far I’ve written about rosy boas and I’m in the middle of writing about Pueblan milk snakes. I’ve explored how to care for the individual snakes in regards to food, water, heat, humidity, the enclosure they’re in, and shedding. Every kind of snake is so different in the care that they need! Rosy boas shouldn’t have too much access to water in case their cage gets too humid, but Pueblan milk snakes should have a water bowl big enough for them to soak in at all times.

Here’s what I wrote about rosy boas. Please let me know if I’m missing things, any information isn’t totally correct, or if you have experience with snakes and/or other reptiles. Distinguishing fact versus fiction with online information is hard, especially when I come across wildly varying articles and blog posts.

Rosy Boas

This is the rosy boa. They can come in many different colors including, but not limited to, rosy pink, salmon, orange, brown, gray, white, and black. They are easily identifiable by the three stripes down their backs.

Description

Rosy boas are are considered excellent beginner snakes for many reasons. They are easy to find because of their popularity and they are not expensive. You can get a Rosy boa for as little as 25 dollars. Other snakes cost hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars! Also, rosy boas’ temperaments are perfect for new snake owners and children. They are slow moving, docile and enjoy handling. They are also small snakes, even as adults. Their adult lengths are usually 2-3 feet, with very few reaching 4 feet. Their diameter as adults are around the size of a golf ball.

In the Wild

Rosy boas are found in the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico. They live in rocky places where they can hide under rocks. It is best to buy a captive-bred snake for a couple of reasons. First, if you buy a wild-caught snake their temperament won’t be like a captive-bred snake that was handled from birth. It may also have parasites and injuries. Even if a wild-caught rosy boa didn’t have any such issues, if too many of them are taken from the wild there could be a potential problem with population. It is best to purchase snakes from breeders who know about the individual snake, its parents, and any issues it might have. Breeders should also let you know if they have any concerns about the snakes. They should be able to tell you how the snake is with eating and handling, and what the snake’s enclosure will need for your snake to thrive.

Enclosure

Because rosy boas are small, their enclosures don’t need to be large. Adults do very well in 20 gallon tanks, which are usually 24 x 13 x 13 inches. The enclosure needs to be escape proof because rosy boas are known for trying to escape. The top should be made out of a specific kind of screen, because the snake may try to escape and injure itself if it’s too rough or the holds in the screen are too large. Instead, the top should be made out of a softer screen with smaller openings.

This tank would be an ideal tank (minus the cactus and leopard gecko; never house snakes with your other pets). This tank is selling for about $170, but it is also possible to build your own tank with a kit for less money.

All snakes need something called substrate. Substrate is the material on the floor of the enclosure. Substrate can be wood chips, sand, and many other things. The substrate you choose should depend on the type of snake you have and what it needs. Different substrates contribute different things to the humidity, heat, and comfort level in the  enclosure.

In the rosy boa’s case, it’s best to use newspaper, paper towels, wood chips, or CareFresh. Carefresh is like the bedding for hamsters or other rodents. Substrate should be changed every two months, and immediately if there is any smell. Also, with rosy boas, if any water is spilled in the substrate it should be changed immediately as this can lead to serious health problems. Besides the bimonthly cleanings, spot clean the enclosure 2-3 times per week.

Another part of the setup should be hides. Hides can be anything from elaborate little homes and (fake) skulls from the pet store to tissue boxes. Hides make the snakes feel safe. Some snakes like hides better than others, so for some hides aren’t as important.

Rosy boas like to have two hides; one on either side of the enclosure. One hide being the warm hide, and one being the cool hide. The temperature of the enclosure can be managed by heat tape or a heating pad and thermometers. The gradient of the enclosure should be the low 70s on the cool side and the high 80s on the warm side.

Something else very important when it comes to snakes is humidity. Some snakes, like the reticulated python, require very high humidity. Other snakes require very low humidity. Rosy boas are one of the latter. They live in very low humidity areas like deserts, so the humidity of the enclosure should not be more than 60%. If the humidity gets too high, the snake can quickly get respiratory issues. This is very dangerous and can quickly lead to death.

Water

To keep the humidity down for the reasons mentioned above, you shouldn’t give your rosy boa constant access to water. Instead, put a water bowl in for 1 day 1-2 times per month. This way, your rosy boa still has access to water and the humidity won’t reach a dangerous level. As long as the snake eats well, the snake will stay hydrated from the mixture of biweekly water access and mice.

Food

Related to the water is the food. Rosy boas only need to be fed one mouse 2-4 times per month. The age of the mouse will correspond with the size of the snake. Baby rosy boas will eat the baby mice, called pinkies, while adults can eat small adult mice. When you get the mouse, it will be frozen. When it is time for your snake to eat, take the mouse (it will be in plastic packaging) and submerge it in warm water. To make sure the mouse is completely defrosted, squeeze it in the middle. If it is completely soft and you don’t feel anything frozen, it is safe to feed to your snake. After feeding, snakes should not be handled for two days or until the mouse is no longer visible in the body. If the snake is handled at this point then it may regurgitate the mouse, and nobody wants that.

Thanks for reading!

Serpentarium 12+ Trip

*Blog for Feb 12-16

This week I went on a super fun trip with kids ages 12 and up. I’m part of a group where we take turns planning trips with/for the older kids and our latest trip was to a serpentarium in Wilmington, NC. Zack (@zelda) did a great job planning it. We stayed at his grandparents’ condo for two nights and went to the Cape Fear Serpentarium, the beach, the Fort Fisher Aquarium, Fort Fisher, and a couple of little shops near the condo.

Left to right: Kate, Liberty, Elisha, Caleb, Andrew, Ireland, Jordan, Zack, Me, Will, and Ralphie.

The Serpentarium

A serpentarium is like a museum/zoo that shows snakes, lizards, and other reptiles. We went to the Cape Fear Serpentarium which, according to the website, has the largest and most rare venomous snake collection in the country.

It was so amazing! I saw so many different types of snakes, including a black mamba (pictured) that either liked me or wanted to eat me. It was really cool to see a black mamba because when I was younger I was super interested in them and re watched a documentary about them probably five times. I felt proud of myself for knowing what kind of snake it was before looking at the sign. Black mambas are extremely venomous (5/5 on the venom scale) and their bites are known as the kiss of death.

Black mamba and me.

 

There were also lizards and turtles, as well as alligators and crocodiles. I was really impressed with the variety and sheer number and size of the collection. We learned that all of the animals are taken care of by one person. That’s a huge job! Jess got their contact information and I’m hoping we might be able to help them out some time. Here are some more pictures:

Not a snake.
Blood Boas
Friendly snake
This snake is so cool because it looks like leaves.
cute snek

Aquarium

Liberty and me at the aquarium.

We also went to the Fort Fisher Aquarium. That was a lot of fun. We saw a dive show where two scuba divers went into a huge tank with fish, sharks, turtles, and an eel and answered questions through an underwater walkie talkie system that we could hear outside the tank. We learned that green moray eels (pictured below) aren’t actually green. They’re blue, but the slime they secrete everywhere is yellow  making them appear green! I thought that was super cool.

Green moray eel

Something the Fort Fisher Aquarium is famous for is Luna; their albino alligator. Albino alligators can’t survive in the wild. A big reason is that because they’re albino, they can get sunburns super easily. An alligator’s instinct is to bask in the sun. If an albino alligator basked in the sun and did what they wanted for just a couple of weeks, they would probably die from sun poisoning.

 

Fort Fisher

Unfortunately, we had to go through Fort Fisher really fast. We didn’t have time to read the signs and I don’t really remember anything from the quick movie we watched beforehand. I will say that it was a nice walk around outside and the mounds around the fort were cool, though.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip. The reason this is so late is because I’m on spring break (Universal Studios!!) and just now had a free few minutes to finish this up.

Bye!

*Not at the Serpentarium, This is at Repticon the Sunday after the trip.

Punnet Squares

Today I’m going to be teaching you about punnet squares! Punnet squares are a simple way to find the odds of a person having certain traits such as eye color, nail shape, or genetic disorders. Of course, genetics is a really complicated subject, but punnet squares are a simple way to understand how traits are passed down through generations. Before we begin, here are some things to know:

  • Capital letters stand for a dominant trait, while lower case letters stand for recessive traits. Dominant traits override the recessive ones.
  • Alleles are what hold the certain traits. For a parent to pass a trait to their child, they actually pass down that allele (which is on a gene, which are segments of DNA, which are on chromosomes). Generally, each trait has two alleles.

This is Sharon and Mike. Sharon and Mike are expecting a baby, and they want to know what their child might look like.

Sharon has the following traits:

Black hair (B), Blue eyes (b), Freckles (F), Curly hair (C)

These are Mike’s Traits:

Red hair (r), Green eyes (g), Straight hair (s), No freckles (f)

Sharon’s traits are all dominant except for b (blue eyes), while all of Mike’s traits are recessive.

First, let’s look at the punnet square for hair texture.

This baby would have curly hair. This is because curly hair is dominant, and in every situation the baby has one curly hair allele, meaning curly hair is pretty much a definite. This baby’s alleles are heterozygous Cs.

Let’s move on to freckles.

In this situation, the baby does have freckles. This is because in every situation, Sharon gives the baby one dominant allele for freckles, and the dominant allele overpowers the recessive allele given by Mike. This baby’s alleles are heterozygous Ff.

Next is hair color.

You probably know the drill by now: Black hair is dominant, red hair is recessive, there are no situations where the baby has two recessive traits, therefore baby has black hair. This baby’s alleles are heterozygous Br.

Now for eye color!

This is where it gets fun! What do you do when the baby inherits two recessive traits from their parents? In this situation, the baby has a 100% chance of having the alleles gb (green, blue). Technically, these are both recessive traits. But, green eyes are actually dominant over blue eyes! So, even though green eyes are a recessive trait, the baby will still have green eyes. This baby’s alleles are heterozygous gb.

Now, last but not least, boy or girl? A baby’s sex is determined pretty much the same way other traits are determined. But instead of parents giving the child alleles, they each give the child a chromosome (specifically a sex determining chromosome).

Sharon is going to have two X chromosomes because she is a woman, and Mike is going to have one X and one Y because he is a man. Sharon is always going to give an X chromosome, while Mike could give either X or Y. If he gives an X the child will be a girl, and if he gives Y the child will be a boy. As you can see in the image above, the child has a 50/50 chance of being a girl or a boy.

So what does the child look like?

The baby has curly black hair, freckles, and green eyes.

He’s also a boy!

Now, what happens when the baby grows up and has a child?

His traits are pink and his wife’s are green.

And this, my friends, is how traits are passed down through generations.

Please ignore the fact that these babies have no bodies.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment and ask!

The Mystery of Loberg Lake

Hi! This week with Gamed Academy I learned about Loberg Lake, which is a lake in Alaska. This lake had two types of 3 Spined Stickleback fish. The fully armored  has multiple large spines (even though it is technically a THREE Spined Stickleback…) on its back and stomach as well as “armor” on its sides. The low armored variety has only three smaller spines on its back, and no armor on its side. Which fish would you rather be? I’ll bet you would rather be the fully armored one. We’ll see later if you’re correct!

Let’s get a few more facts before I begin with the story.

  • Fully Armored Stickleback like saltwater better, so they live in the sea and come back to the lake to breed. They get there through rivers and streams coming from the ocean. Only some stay behind in the lake, though, so there are far fewer of these than the Low Armored at Loberg.
  • Low Armored Stickleback like freshwater and can’t live in the ocean (as far as I know), so they stay in Loberg Lake and don’t leave like the Fully Armored fish do.

Now, let’s get on with the story,

It’s 1984 and the population of Loberg Lake is large. There are lots of Low Armored Sticklebacks and quite a few Fully Armored Sticklebacks. Then, some people decide to poison the lake to start over. They want to put Salmon and Tuna in the river and want nothing to do with the Sticklebacks.

Over the years, the Stickleback start to reappear. The Fully Armored Stickleback came from the ocean every year, and the Low Armored Sticklebacks came from somewhere (I’m not sure where they came from… I just know they came back). Now, there are more Fully Armored Sticklebacks than the Low Armored Sticklebacks.

Over some more years, the population starts to shift. There are now more Low Armored Sticklebacks than Fully Armored Sticklebacks! What happened?! Don’t worry, it’ll all make perfect sense in a moment.

Have you ever seen a baby dragon fly hunt? It doesn’t sound that terrifying, I know, but trust me. It is. Google it if you don’t believe me.

The issue with being a fully armored Stickleback is that they grow slower, meaning that the dragonflies have more time to hunt them. The low armored Sticklebacks, on the other hand grow relatively quickly, meaning that they are less likely to be hunted by the babies.

And that’s why it’s better to be a Low Armored Stickleback, and not a Fully Armored Stickleback.