Look out on the patio! A snake!

Friday, May 22, 2015
Rafe Brown

is that a copperhead??
It's that time of year.  In the late Spring every year we receive calls and alarmed emails from residents with reports of "Copperheads," and "Massasauga Rattlesnakes."  Occasionally these reports contain details of snakes vibrating their tails, apparently reinforcing the "rattlesnake" identification.  Here's an image from a Lawrence resident who reported a colorful snake, length of about 18 inches, on their patio (photographed from safety behind the patio door).  Like most of these Spring reports, the snake species involved here is a non-venomous prairie rat snake, Pantherophis emoryi.  This species is brightly colored when they emerge as "young-of-the-year" juveniles in Spring—and their blotched color pattern superficially resembles the general color pattern of a few species of rattle snake, but generally doesn't look much like a copperhead.  Often, they even vibrate the tip of their tail, in apparent mimicry of a rattlesnake (smart, huh?). Although it is wise to avoid contact with snakes unless one's positive of the identification, even vaguely interested parties can benefit greatly by purchasing a basic field guide and checking out the illustrations. Most local Lawrence "rattlesnake" reports are misidentifications, usually ending badly for the unfortunate animal.