Snakes slithering into area

CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle The Hillcrest Zoo is home to many indigenous snakes. The bullsnake, above, is one of the most common snakes in the area. It imitates the rattlesnake to scare away predators but is not poisonous.

By Thomas Garcia: Freedom Newspapers

With warmer weather, area residents are spending more time visiting lakes and parks and barbecuing in the back yard. It’s also the time of year when snakes become more active.

Snakes such as bullsnakes and red racers are beginning to pop up in the area.

“We caught a bullsnake (Tuesday) afternoon,” Clovis Animal Control Officer Dennis Weist said. “It is possible with the weather getting warmer, we may see more snakes.”

If people encounter a snake, they should stay a safe distance away from it, call the animal control office and keep an eye on it as the snake will move to a concealed place, according to Weist. Last year, Weist caught five snakes during the summer months but that number can change year to year, he said.

Bullsnakes are found throughout most of the central United States, including New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Texas. They can reach lengths of 7 feet or more and eat small animals such as rats, mice, rabbits, gophers and sometimes other snakes. A common misconception is that bull snakes kill rattlesnakes.

Bullsnakes are popular as exotic pets and bred in captivity for their unique color scheme and patterns.

“A lot of people have snakes as pets,” said Elliot Muir with Al’s Pets store. “It is not unusual for people to have a bullsnake, python or boa for a pet.”

Being able to identify snakes by color and distinguishing marks could possibly prevent a dangerous and even fatal encounter, according to Hillcrest Zoo reptile keeper Cody Machen. Their natural camouflage and tendency to hide in cool places and tall grass makes spotting them difficult, said Machen.

Most snake bites occur when a person is bothering or provoking the snake, he said. Bites also occur when humans unknowingly come too close to snakes, according to Machen.

“People should never try to handle a snake unless they have been trained,” said Machen. “We have a lot of non-venomous snakes in this area but we also have many species of rattlesnakes as well.”

With the temperatures getting warmer, snakes are out looking for cool places to hide, said Mike Martinez, Tucumcari’s Animal Control supervisor.

Within the past month, Martinez has caught 15 to 20 snakes, he said, mostly red racers and only one rattlesnake.

“There has been an abundance of red racer snakes this year,” Martinez said. “The snake will try to find a cool place to hide, so it is important that you keep the crawl spaces under the house sealed up.”

Snakes will also stay concealed in tall weeds in the yard, he said, and will crawl under air conditioners and even into pipes that enter the house.