I was on the return leg of a run along an irrigation canal yesterday afternoon. It was a another hot afternoon, and the path had been quite busy. On the dust and loose gravel a few feet up ahead I saw what looked like the black and yellow lace of a climbing boot. Something told me it wasn’t what it seemed. When I was a couple of paces away, it sprung to life. I slowed down and watched as it slithered off into the grass. I reflected that if Shannon had been with me she’d have touched it for luck.
“I saw a garter snake,” I told her when I got back to the car.
“Wow! You and your animal magic again, huh? Did you touch it?”
“The garter snake family contains some of the deadliest poisons in the world.”
“I’m pretty sure rattlers are the only poisonous snakes in California.”
“Better safe than sorry.”
I found the correct species on the internet last night. It was a Diablo Range garter snake (Thamnophis atratus zaxanthus). The young are born in the early autumn and are of the size I saw – around ten inches. If threatened they may strike repeatedly, excrete faeces and a pungent musk. They might also hide at the bottom of the nearest pond because they’re semi-aquatic. I was surprised by that last fact, but its canal-side habitat made perfect sense. For more information go to http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/t.a.zaxanthus.html
I wonder about my apparent propensity to see a lot of wildlife – I’m becoming known for it in Shannon’s circle of friends – and whether it’s being in California. However, running on Tooting Bec Common in broad daylight two or three months ago I had to side-step a stag beetle nearly two inches long as it crossed the path. Stag beetles are an endangered species in Europe, and South London is thought to be the only major colony in the UK. I guess what helps in spotting these creatures is to be out a lot, and to keep your eyes open. But so far as the apparent fondness animals seem to have for me, I have no idea.
See also Crawling King Snake