Mindful of President Bush's somewhat premature declaration of victory in Iraq over a decade back, I'm not ready to declare victory against the pack rats, but I'm winning. My current casualty count is up to eight pack rats with the addition of a nice plump peanut-butter loving rodent this morning.
However, during my disposal of said carcass from the battlefield, I glanced down to find this quite docile little cutie trying to hide next to the rocks. There's no size scale to the picture below, so you probably can't tell that he was only about a foot long . If he was contemplating swallowing the nearby pack rat carcass whole, then I'll give him credit for courage because that would be quite a feat for a pencil-thin snake.
This is a ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus), probably a southern ringneck (D. p. punctatus). It lives almost everywhere in the United States, but is nocturnal and seldom seen because it spends most of it's time hidden under rocks, logs, or debris during the day. I've seen exactly three in my lifetime. This one, another little 4 inch long baby that was under a stepping stone that I moved last week, and the third, another small one seen about 8 years back when I lifted a stone. Are my two recent sightings a coincidence or a sign of increasing population density? Gracious, perhaps it was caused by global warming!
Henry Sheldon Fitch (1909-2009), the former Superintendent of the University of Kansas Natural History Reservation. Professor Fitch estimated that ringneck snakes commonly exist at densities greater than 700-1800 per hectare (2.47 acres) in this area, suggesting that on my 20 acres there are likely over 6000 of these little guys slithering around. Thank God that I'm no longer scared of snakes, partially desensitized after a zillion encounters with them here on the prairie. Ringneck snakes are both predator and prey in this ecosystem, and mildly venomous due the presence of a Duvernoy's gland behind their eye, but of no danger to humans. They eat earthworms, slugs, amphibians, lizards, and other small snakes during their nightly forages. If you want to know more about how many snakes are likely living in my backyard, you can read Professor Fitch's paper, Population Structure and Biomass of Some Common Snakes in Central North America online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Just don't tell me about it because I'm probably better off if I don't know the actual numbers of other snake species around me.
I wish now that I would have reached down and given this little guy a nudge (with a stick of course), because the dull brown top of his body hides a beautiful yellow underbelly that they expose when touched. On second thought, however, maybe I'll just keep from forming a habit of poking snakes. With 6000 of them around, you never know what they might dream up together as a form of revenge.
One final thought; the drought seems to be ending here today. At noon today we had a year-to-date total of 5 inches of rain, with a deficit-to-date of 2.95 inches. But it rained buckets all afternoon and the local news at 9:00 said an official total of 3.65 inches fell today in Manhattan and it is still raining tonight. Even better, there are chances of rain (good chances!) for 6 of the next 7 days. It will take about that much to refill the groundwater reservoirs here, so you won't hear me complaining until the day I need to start building an ark; or until the pack rats and snakes float into the house, whichever comes first.