Posted on the London Freepress Website at 2:02 today
Naturalists cast doubt on African snake theory
They're convinced the snake seen near Grand Bend is a harmless local.
KELLY PEDRO, Free Press Reporter 2004-07-28 02:02:25
South Huron residents spooked by reports of a dangerous snake have no need to panic, say two reptile experts. Although police have yet to identify the large snake spotted near Grand Bend, it's unlikely to be a venomous puff adder, as some area residents believe, said Bob Johnson, curator of amphibians and reptiles at the Toronto Zoo.
The reptile is likely an eastern hognose, a harmless reptile locally nicknamed a puff adder but only because it acts like its lethal counterpart in Africa and the Mideast. It lacks the dangerous bite.
"It's one of the most fascinating creatures we have in Ontario because of its behaviour," said Johnson, adding the hognose doesn't bite.
"They're benign and nothing to be fearful of."
The hognose "bluffs" aggression as a defence tactic, he said.
When it feels threatened, the snake will puff out and exhale air, making a hissing sound. It may look like a cobra and sway back and forth.
"It's intimidating behaviour, but it's not venomous," said Melody Cairns, lead naturalist at the Pinery Provincial Park, where hognose snakes have been spotted before.
If watched closely, Cairns said, the snake will eventually vomit, roll over and play dead.
The hognose is a threatened species, she added, and it is illegal to kill one.
There have been reported sightings of the hognose in the Grand Bend area before, said Cairns.
The reptiles feed on certain toads that live in sandy areas.
Most sightings have been in people's basements, likely where the snake has gone to cool off. If cold, the reptile will openly sun itself, Cairns said.
That's what happened Sunday about 5 p.m. when Jay Nash and relatives headed to the beach just north of Oakwood Park near Grand Bend.
Nash was within metres of a large snake sunning on a pathway near the cottage.
The snake didn't move until Nash and others moved it off the pathway with a shovel.
That's when the snake became cobra-like but never opened its mouth, Nash said. It then slithered into the woods.
"When it lengthened out and made its way to the woods, it was big," said Nash, estimating the length at one metre.
"We were scared but only because of the unknown, not because it was aggressive."
He said visually the snake appeared similar to a northern water snake and had patches running down its side.
But Johnson and Cairns said there's little doubt the snake is anything but a hognose.
She said anyone who spots a hognose can call the Pinery visitor's centre at 243-8574. A team will remove the snake and take it to the park.
The Pinery also plans to hold an education program in the next few days about area snakes, especially the hognose, said Cairns.
"They're not common, but they are definitely more common here than the rest of Ontario," she said.
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