A father for the first time at 46 and for the second go-round at 48, I have no expectation of pushing a baby carriage again anytime soon. Yet the pleasures of newly minted paternity are part of my daily life once more.
A friend recently gave us a clutch of sixteen reptile eggs he dug up by accident in his yard. It wasn't possible to return them to the site, so the kids and I brought the eggs home.
Each was about an inch long, white, and cylindrical. The ends were rounded, the shells were leathery. Snake eggs? I was pretty certain. The nest had been far from water, arguing against turtle. What kind of snake? The commonly seen ones around here are garters. Their young are born wriggling.
I had a hunch: smooth green. The only other egg-laying snake hereabouts is the northern ring-necked, but it's a reptile barely the size of a pencil. These eggs seemed too substantial for a mother ring-neck to conjure and lay.
When the eggs began to rupture, the first to deliver its contents would reveal the truth. I could hardly wait. It would be like Oscar night in Hollywood, waiting to see whose name would be tucked inside the envelope.
My son Ned, 8, and daughter Tassie, 7, were first to see the first. It was smooth and silky and as soft as the kids when they were born, three or four inches long, and about the thickness of a stout piece of spaghetti. The color: dark but very green.
Perhaps it's parental bias, but the babies look gorgeous to me. We now have ten. Cradle one in your hand, look closely, and you can see delicate features: keen dark eyes, a pert nose with impossibly tiny nostrils, and an all but microscopic forked tongue, just the thing for a baby green snake to use in stalking protein-rich insects on grassy ground.
Although my kids beg to keep the babies as pets, we'll do right by the snakes and release the young soon in appropriate habitat. The man who inadvertently dug up the eggs on his property wants half the offspring for release at his place. He encourages us to liberate the other half in good green snake habitat (a sunny meadow, in this case) at ours. By rescuing the eggs from certain death and giving the hatchlings a few days of safety and insects, we humans may well increase the number that survive.
Smooth green snakes grow to a foot or two in length. They tend to live in grassy habitat where they do little climbing compared to the rough green snakes (a different species) of the South. The matings of males and females tend to result in the females laying clutches of three to six eggs. On occasion females have been known to lay a dozen. But sixteen? Smooth greens in northern climes sometimes share communal nests. Perhaps that's what our friend discovered.
We go to bed tonight with an expanded household comprising four humans, two gerbils, and ten baby reptiles. I feel proud on all counts.
This isn't the first time Debbie and I have welcomed hatchling serpents into our lives. Once while working as a National Park ranger in Mississippi, I had a captive rough green snake used by me for educational programs lay about sixteen glossy eggs. One memorable evening in our kitchen, they hatched. It was a snake lover's dream and, no doubt, a snake hater's nightmare.
Ed Kanze is a licensed naturalist and lives with his family in the Adirondacks. His column runs weekly in Saratoga Wire
Photo credit: Flickr user atrahamrepol
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