The snake in the photos is Big Red, or at least that’s what I call it. It’s a Northern Water Snake and it resides in our Wetlands here at the Museum.
Since September 16 when the mercury (or alcohol) took a thirty degree nose dive on the temperature scale and I first noticed this snake heading for higher and presumably warmer ground, I’ve seen it make the crossing of the pavement several more times, in both directions. I’ve also seen it coiled up in the sun next to the path within a meter of hundreds of school kid’s feet as their field trips wound their way through Explore the Wild.
A familiar sight these past four weeks greeted me yesterday afternoon as I rounded the corner of the path below the Lemur House. It was Big Red. But something was different, the snake’s once long tail which used to narrow to a fine point was now a stump, about 7 or 8 inches of the tail was missing.
How did this snake loose its tail? I saw the snake a few days before and it still had all of its parts. I can only guess at what caused this snake’s unfortunate lose. There are plenty of raccoons wandering the Museum grounds and Gray Fox are residents. Perhaps our snake had a run in with one of those characters, either of which would eat a snake if the opportunity presented itself.
Or was it a Red-tailed Hawk or Barred Owl who thought this snake small enough to master, and found out different? Don’t know.
Does a snake really need its tail? Is this snake going to be any worse off without its tail? A wound a little higher up on the body would probably be a bit more problematic since the reproductive and waste organs are located at the spot where the tail begins.
It appears as though this snake had a narrow escape and will be fine. The next time though, that something grabs the snake by the tail, it just might be terminal.
UPDATE 13:30 10/14/11
I just spoke with Animal Keeper Mikey and he suggests that the tail was removed by a snapping turtle. That makes sense. If the snake had been in a tussle with a raccoon, fox, or raptor there would probably be other wounds visible on its body. There is one gray spot a few inches up from the current tip of the tail (visible in the small photo above), but other than that the snake looks clean, so maybe Mikey’s right.