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Nature & You: Naturalist educates teenage boys pelting nonvenomous snake

A coachwhip snake is a friend to humans, especially since its diet includes venomous snakes. [OKSNAKES.ORG PHOTO]

A coachwhip snake is a friend to humans, especially since its diet includes venomous snakes. [OKSNAKES.ORG PHOTO]

Captive audience gets reptile lesson

It's that time of the year — the return of the state fair. That annual event spurs a reawakening of a long-dormant memory.

It was quite a few years back that my wife and I visited the state fair. We made a long day of it and headed back to our vehicle at day's end. It was after sundown, and the sidewalk was illuminated, here and there, with islands of light from the overhead sidewalk lamps.

Up ahead, I noticed a commotion. A knot of teenage boys were excitedly hollering and gesturing as they circled around the perimeter of a shallow rain puddle there at a depression in the sidewalk.

Needless to say, my first thought was that some poor unfortunate was getting pummeled by the young men. I felt compelled to go investigate.

What I discovered was a frightened, nonvenomous snake that was attempting to hide itself from the rock-throwing juveniles.

I was appalled! Without thinking, I waded into the middle of this melee and lifted the snake from its den of death. The snake was no small creature; it was about 4 feet in length. As I held it aloft, the snake writhed about violently in an effort to free itself.

All commotion had ceased around me. The teenage boys were all slack-jawed and wide-eyed. I am sure they were convinced that some crazy man had entered their midst.

When it became obvious I had the young men's rapt attention, I seized the opportunity to berate the miscreants in regards to their malicious behavior. After all, I had a captive audience. I explained that this was a native snake that had no potential, whatsoever, of doing humans harm. On quite the contrary, it was a snake species that actually benefits people — owing to its diet of snakes that ARE venomous.

My wife and I then proceeded to exit fair park. I could not help but notice other pedestrians granted me a wide berth as I held the excited snake at arm's length.

I deemed it too risky to release the snake there in that urban location. Instead, I persuaded my wife to drive us out into the country so I could grant the snake a reprieve in an area that would be less prone to encounters with rock-wielding young men.

I can only imagine this snake is enjoying a long life and is recounting its version of its life story to a rapt audience of its snake grandchildren.

— Neil Garrison, NewsOK Contributor

Neil Garrison was the longtime naturalist at a central Oklahoma nature center.

Neil Garrison

Neil Garrison is an outdoor nature enthusiast. He is a graduate of Oklahoma State University/Stillwater; he earned a B.S. degree in Wildlife Ecology. Prior to his 2009 retirement, he was the Naturalist at a central Oklahoma nature center for 30... Read more ›

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