Animals Childhood Family Uncategorized

Snakes alive! (And also a toad)

Like most of you, my idea of a perfect day includes finding a snake that regurgitates a toad.

I see you are all nodding in agreement, so I’ll share the details.

Our day began recently out at our family land. The start of spring is one of our favorite times out there, as that is when nature wakes up from winter, and many of the critters begin making appearances.

On this particular day, the morning started rather cool. Not good when you are wanting to find snakes. Now, I know many people do not want to find snakes, much less go looking for them. I also recognize that we are not like most people. I am the son of herpetologist, and I grew up going on adventures with my dad. Catching snakes was always one of the best parts of the adventure. I love snakes and always have, and have always felt like I need to be part of their PR team. Granted, I am fairly certain I have yet to convince any snake-haters that snakes are, well, awesome, but I’ll keep at it. (Fun fact: They’re awesome.)

My son is now 12, and he definitely inherited the critter hunting gene. There is really no better way I can imagine spending a day than tromping through the swamp with my dad and my son, taking part in nature.

As we did on most of our nature walks, we kept a tally of the reptiles and amphibians we had found. By noon, we had found four species of salamanders, three lizards and a turtle. But alas, no snakes.

The temperature began to rise, and our fortunes began to change. We traversed the land, flipping over boards we’d set out to find critters. We found a red bellied water snake. Then a small crown snake. Then a ring necked snake. Nice catches, all. But we were really still wanting that signature catch that would put the exclamation point on the day.

We decided to walk over to a ridge where a beaver dam is, hoping to find a cottonmouth, as we had found several there before. We were walking across a big field when my son yelled, “DAD! MOVE!”

I looked down just in time to realize that I was in the process of stepping right over a hognose snake. If you’re not familiar with hognose snakes, they’re awesome. They eat toads, and will sometimes spread out like a cobra to intimidate you. They’ll also sometimes play dead. See? Awesome.

Now, for those of you concerned over a 12-year-old catching snakes, let me assure you of two things: (1) My son is very well educated in identifying snakes and which ones he can handle and (2) We did have a herpetologist on hand with us.

My son grabbed the hognose and held it up, and also let out a loud “WOOO!” Because it was awesome.

As he held the snake for my dad and me to see, the snake began to writhe a bit. It then opened its mouth as wide as it could and proceeded to deposit its recently consumed lunch of a toad right on the ground.

The toad hit the ground and then, rather surprisingly to all of us, proceeded to shake it all off and hop away. I feel certain the toad’s friends will never believe his story.

Again, I concede this is not everyone’s idea of a good time. But for us, it’s the idea of a GREAT time. It was an amazing moment of nature that we got to experience, and it’s especially special when three generations get to share it.

We headed on over to the beaver dam and found a small red bellied snake on the way. And then, at the beaver dam, we capped it off with a big ol’ cottonmouth, enjoying the warmth. Six snakes in a short block of time. For me, that’s a great way to spend the day. The day, much like snakes, was awesome.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.


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