by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education
The staff is planning a new exhibit area in the Museum related to northern Colorado wildlife, and so I’ve paid greater attention to the critters around me lately. The other evening as my daughter and I drove home, a red tail hawk flew low over our car, dangling a snake from its talons. Skillful hawk, unfortunate snake, I thought. I mentioned my hawk and snake story to a Museum board member the other day and he told me about an experience his wife had north of town: a portion of a snake, likely carried by a raptor flying overhead, dropped on the hood of her car. Yikes! Thankfully, she had the presence of mind not to freak out (which I would have done, just from the shock of the bang if not the body!) and lose control of the car.
I see many snakes lying on the shoulder of I-25 as I drive to and from work. There’s plenty of ideal snake habitat along there, doubtless full of rodent life. I guess it’s pretty warm on that interstate concrete, too, which is good for basking (assuming the snakes are alive and not road kill). Some of those snakes are pretty big – maybe bull snakes, given their size and coloration? No obvious long stripes running the length of their bodies, the snakes are either banded or plain, but it’s hard to identify them with confidence I as whiz past at 75 mph … guess I need to slow down and really look from now on!
I’m the rare person who’s actually very fond of snakes. I love how their cold blood keeps their bodies cool to the touch. Their large, rectangular belly scales, designed to help them slide gracefully across a variety of terrain, are impossibly smooth. I know this makes me sound crazy, but I’m sure herpetologists around the world would agree with me: there is nothing quite like the calming effect of a cool, smooth snake gently, slowly and carefully wrapping itself around your arms. I imagine the snake enjoys it, too. We must feel like heated tree branches to them.
At another museum I worked at previously, we maintained a large collection of living snakes for educational purposes. As part of the snakes’ conditioning for being touched by visitors, we regularly handled them. One trick we had for calming the snakes and getting them used to the staff members who would wrangle them during programs was to put them inside our shirts while we were working at our desks. They generally stayed very calm and still while there, I imagine just soaking in the warmth. I used to chuckle to myself while walking between our animal care lab and my desk because I passed visitors who had no idea what was literally up my sleeve! (That said, we do not put snakes in our clothes here at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center.)
And don’t forget, on the second Saturday of each month, you can meet the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center’s resident snake, Slinky the ball python.