Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Death and the Blues
I know this garter snake looks alive, but in truth, it is deceased. I found it on the roadside last night while Toby and I were out for our walk. When I found it, it was only mostly dead, which, according to Miracle Max, means still partly alive.
Not seeing any visible injuries, I picked it up, hoping it was mostly alive, but aside from the tip of the tail twitching back and forth, the animal just lay there. I suspect the nerves were the only things still firing. Ever hopeful, I brought it home, but by then it had completely expired. Still, it was in fine shape for photographing, so I took several pics.
It seems that all of a sudden there are a lot of deceased snakes on the roads. I suspect the weather is ultimately the culprit. Although the days have been sunny and mild, no doubt in the woods it is cool, and for a reptile heat is necessary for mobility and survival (if you are too cold to move, you cannot hunt). So the snakes are probably slithering out onto the pavement, where the radiating heat of the day warms them right up; toasty warm.
Unfortunately for the snakes, though, the roads host traffic, and traffic doesn't look out for snakes.
Most of the deceased (and flattened) snakes I've found, all of which have been garter snakes, btw, have been a lovely shade of turquoise. This is odd, since garter snakes are not blue. I've often wondered why they change color in death, and I've finally found the answer.
If you look at a live garter snake, its scales are brown, yellow and green. There is a lot of variation on the theme, but these are the basic colors. Going back to kindergarten, we all know that green is made by mixing blue and yellow. Well, it turns out that the yellow pigments are not stable, so after death they readily break down and disappear. The result is that the blue pigments are now totally exposed, turning the snake blue in death.
Still, if you are out and about these days when the sun is baking the roadsides, please watch for sunning reptiles. Do your best not to run them over - they are important cogs in the wheels of our ecosystems.