Saturday, June 08, 2013

Mystery HISSSSssss! Solved. Whew!

We live pretty close to nature here at OwlsHaven.   We love being surrounded by owls, birds, and revel in all the natural things we share our world with.  But when I stepped into our garden shed a few days ago to put away some tools and heard a loud HISS, I leaped out faster than I went in.    I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the sound was, poking around with long handled tools, and clattering about with a lot of noise, but never could figure out what it was.   Each time I stepped into the shed the hiss returned, loud, insistant, and it set my reptile brain into fight or flight mode.

Finally, I gave up, reached in and put the tools away and retreated in defeat.   I just about decided that it was a raccoon that had made its home underneath the shed and when I stepped in, I was squashing it and the hiss was the protest.  The next morning, it was gone, so I figured it moved on--until this morning when I reached in to get the shears to harvest the garlic scapes that were reaching out in the garlic patch.   There it was again, HISS, loud and insistant.   This time I saw it.   A big hognose snake, curled up in the basket I carry around with me in the garden to hold seeds, labels, markers and small tools.    I mean a BIG Hognose!   That guy was at least 1 1/2" in diameter and 20" long, and plump from the mice that keep invading that inviting space.

I ran for the house to get the camera and called out to Jim, who brought out the long reacher, and he carefully lifted the snake out into the woods, out of the reach of the grandkids he might freak out.   Now I'm a big fan of the clever hognose snake with the patterned skin, black tongue and turned up nose.   He's usually a good thing around the place, helping to keep the rodents under control, and non poisonous.   His teeth are too small to do any harm, and he has no venom, and his act when threatened is always entertaining.

All hognose snakes everywhere go through the same series of gestures to protect themselves, and hissing a loud warning is the first step.   After that, he swells up, making himself fatter and more formitable, and if he still feels threatened, he'll proceed to the next step.  

Next he flattens out the skin behind his head, making himself look bigger and mimicing a cobra, raising his head and swaying back and forth, before striking.   Of course, he can't bite, so all he'll do is bump you with his little nose, but still, it's impressive.   If this fails, he'll curl up and go into convulsions, acting like he's dead before finally flopping over on his back like he's dead.   At this point, if you flip him over, he'll flip himself back over again, persisting to act like he's dead, with his tongue hanging out to the side.

We certainly didn't want to hurt this wonderful critter, so Jim carefully carried him out to the woods and released him.   If he comes back, we may just leave him there, our resident mouse catcher, but I'm very glad to know what was our mystery hisser in the shed.   Even though I love all our critters, there's something about that hiss that sets off the fear reflex in my mind.  It's good to know what was causing that startling noise.