South Jersey Snakes Are Out and About
The cold and wet spring has made it a bit of a tough go for southern New Jersey’s serpent clan, but with the past few days of warm weather, they really seem to be out and about.
Sure, we’ve sighted a few in late March, these being garters and a lone northern pine snake, but suffice to say they are now in full season mode.
The Garden State hosts 22 species of snakes. These include a pair of venomous ones, the northern copperhead and the eastern timber rattler. The former is found primarily from Hunterdon through Sussex counties. The rattler inhabits the woodlands and rocky crags in Sussex, Warren, Passaic, Morris and Bergen counties, and the Pine Barrens region (portions of Atlantic, Burlington, Ocean and Cumberland counties) in the south.
As the name implies, the rattler will warn you when you get to close. From our first encounter along the glacial rock outcroppings along Crater Lake up in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the sound is more of an intense buzz than a distinct rattle. No matter, it’s a sound that is forever incised in memory. Be it a loud buzzing, or a rattling, you’ll know what it is. Leave. Rattlers, like all snakes, want to be left alone.
However, some can prove aggressive, choosing to hold their ground if they feel threatened. Two instances that come to mind was a pair of huge northern pines, both close to six-feet in length, that stopped crossing, mid-way, along the canoe launch access trail at Cumberland Pond on Route 49 near Millville. For a couple of minutes, I didn’t move, and neither did they. Figuring I could explore the area another time, it was a quick walk back to the vehicle, but not before taking a photo. The next day, a wildlife control agent acquaintance identified them as pine snakes. “They don’t back down. And they’ll bite like hell,” he added.
Another don’t tread on me serpent is the northern black racer. Last year, while casting for bass along a pond in Middle Township, I noticed a wake making its way directly towards yours truly. Seeing it was snake, I snapped a photo and then waved the rod, suggesting loudly that it back off. It was obvious that the critter had every intention of staying the course. Finally, at was probably a couple of yards, it coiled and sized the 300-lb. tree trunk that was in its way. A half-minute standoff before the close to five-foot racer went broadside and swam down couple of a body lengths before emerging and slithering up the bank. There it stayed. I relinquished the territory. These, too, will sink the teeth if messed with.
Depending on your bent, snakes are either fascinating or creepy, but they are part of the respective ecosystem. Sitting pond side after a morning of tossing tiny cork poppers for jumbo sunnies, I noticed a green frog’s heading poking out of the water. Cool up close shot. In the few seconds it took to get the camera, a black racer came up from below and put the clamp on the ‘phibian. It was one of those “Did I just see that?” moments. As if posing for full effect, the snake and frog remained briefly locked in a life and death scene before racer swam out across the pond and disappeared under long patch of overhanging grass.
For information on New Jersey’s snakes, visit www.njfishandwildlfe.com, click the Endangered and Nongame Species link, and scroll down to Reptiles and Amphibians.