Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

May 9, 2013

Meet Mr. Brown

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 7:23 pm

For those of you who are afraid of snakes I suggest the little Brown Snake as the perfect antidote. Oops, probably shouldn’t use the word antidote here – it could conjure thoughts of getting bit and dying in the car while on the way to get said antidote from the nearest hospital 50 miles away. So, let’s just say that Browns are perfect snake ambassadors.  It would’nt be correct to say they would not hurt a fly but it would be fair to say they are quite harmless towards humans. They can be fearless and even borderline cute (if we need to get all feminine about this).

There is a very good chance that you could go through your entire life and never encounter a Brown Snake.  This is not due to rarity or nocturnal habits, but due to their smallness (about the size of hefty night crawlers), shyness, and browness. They blend into their earthy background both in color and habit. A single cream stripe down the back and two dark brown cheek spots are the only real décor on this well named snake. Because they feed on earthworms and slugs they spend most of their time crawling beneath the leaf litter. In short they are hard to see even when seen.

I nearly stepped on one while walking the brown dirt dike road at Pointe Mouillee. This individual was soaking up the rays of the morning sun and was so engrossed in sun worship that it did not even flinch as I performed an awkward avoidance step. It appeared as a blade of grass on the path. My typical tactic in such cases would be to pick the thing up and provide you a few “in-hand” shots but I opted to leave the critter in place on this occasion. I, instead, came down to his level.

I often tell my “students” (those who either want to or have to listen to me) that about the only way to judge a snake’s emotion is by counting the tongue flicks. Because snakes can’t blink or exhibit “squishy puppy eyes” it is hard to tell exactly what they are thinking at any given time. Many folks believe that all snakes are thinking about killing people all the time and therefore such a judgment is un-necessary. I will not respond to such foolishness as exhibited by some people all the time. No, snakes will typically flick their tongues out more frequently when they are curious or worried – whenever more information is needed. A slow flicking snake is a bored or extremely cold snake. A non flicking snake is either sleeping or dead.

The tongue provides an extra smell sensing device. By capturing tiny particles of dandruff in the air and rubbing the tongue surface across a detector (called a Jacobson’s Organ) in the roof of the mouth, the individual is able to determine what is before it – foe, friend, or food.

My Brown Snake started to flick its tongue with great energy when I put the camera lens down to his level. Rather than attempt escape, he became extremely curious and actually approached the camera. I keep moving it back and the Brownie followed until touching the lens and eventually crawling under it.  You’ll note in the video sequence that typically the forked tongue was whipped out and flailed in both an upward direction and downward manner so as to “lick the air.”  In case you are wondering, this pointed appendage is soft to the touch and is difficult to feel even when it makes contact with your hand.

This friendly little fellow was only doing what any curious puppy would do. When puppies crowd the video lens we all post the images on You Tube. An equivalent snake video would probably be labeled “Snake Attack” or something. I am merely posting my inquisitive Brown Snake on this blog  to show that snakes can have legitimate personalities. My ultimate motive is to allow some of you (you know who you are) to touch the screen and see how harmless this particular snake really is (the result would have been identical should you touched him for real).



  1. Our cat likes to bring these up to the yard and play with them. I rescue them, take pics and then take them back to safety. They are indeed some of the best snakes around here.

    Comment by Robin — May 10, 2013 @ 7:50 am

  2. Hee hee hee hee – that’s great! What a delightful video. Snakes get such a bad rap – glad to see a positive take on our reptilian friends. 🙂

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