Secretive snake is a curious creature

  • By Sharon Wootton
  • Friday, January 24, 2014 12:32pm
  • Life

“Getting older” usually comes with a ding here, frustration-generating mind cramps, a slower step, maybe a replacement part.

In the scheme of things, what I don’t want to lose is my curiosity.

Some might say that curiosity is another word for nosiness, but I would counter that curiosity is the foundation of nosiness.

It is poking and prying, following clues that lead you to unexpected places and smiling at the end of the journey.

Curiosity has taken me in a small plane doing stunts over Puget Sound, into a British Columbia cave, stargazing through the clouds, along the Texas coast in search of birds, chasing dragonflies, identifying nameless insects that have landed on our deck, kayaking with an author who played a few notes on a strand of bull kelp, looking for mink nests, listening to bugling elk, snorkeling among colorful fishes in Hawaii and watching two eagles harass a great blue heron closer and closer to the water. I was pulling for the heron to reach the trees (it did).

My latest curiosity is the sharp-tailed snake.

It’s not large nor fierce nor poisonous nor easily spotted, nor does it have huge populations or fan base of environmentalists.

This snake is found from southern British Columbia to central California, but they become rarer farther north.

The majority of documented sightings were from 1841 to 1998. But a new location was discovered in 2007 on Turtleback Mountain, Orcas Island, when a single sharp-tailed was found.

In Western Washington, sharp-tailed snakes have been found in the Puget Lowland southwest of Tacoma, and on the eastern slope of the Cascades and in the Columbia River Gorge.

The snakes are very secretive, often hiding under logs or rocks, which explains some of the lack of sightings, but may not be as rare as the few sightings suggest.

A sharp-tailed snake is about 12 inches long and about the thickness of a pencil with gray or copperish brown smooth scales on top and colored bars on the belly.

The snake’s tail ends in a single long sharp scale that sets this snake apart from others.

One theory is that the sharp tail tip may help control its most popular food — a slug — or it may be used to brace itself while capturing the slug.

Its long needlelike recurved teeth may help grip and eat its slippery meal.

Sharp-tailed snakes are a diurnal species most active during the cool, moist months of spring and fall. They probably hibernate in winter. Slugs also prefer cool moist months, which makes for a predator-prey moment.

Ah, curiosity.

Hurricane Ridge Road in Olympic National Park usually will be open Fridays through Sundays and Monday holidays, but a decision will be made each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through the winter season based on assessment of road and weather conditions.

Current information about Hurricane Ridge Road is posted on the Olympic National Park website (www.nps.gov/olym) and the park’s hotline, 360-565-3131.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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