Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Safety with Snakes and Curious Toddlers

A lesson in camouflage – “Snake is hiding, Mommy!”

I see a snake Mommy.”

This was the rather nonchalant announcement from Cragbaby the other morning while we were working in the garden.  I looked up to see a brown, slithery friend sunning himself on a rock.  He was maybe a foot long, with a diameter similar to my index finger at his thickest point.  He was motionless, and his body had obviously not warmed up enough to make a fast getaway.  Either that, or he had never encountered a curious toddler.  My guess is that the next time he sees C coming he’ll summon up enough energy to make himself out of reach…

I should probably back up at this point to give a little background about our family when it comes to snakes.  We are a reptile-loving family.  Back when we lived in Raleigh, we faithfully attended almost all of the exotic reptile shows that came to the state fairgrounds, and recorded practically every Animal Planet ever made on snakes.  In fact, one of our favorite vacations (Everglades National Park) was prompted by a documentary on Burmese Pythons that are released into the glades and causing a ruckus for native species.  Save our hermit crab purchase at the beach this past summer, the only pets Steve and I have ever owned as a married couple have been snakes – a Ball Python named Sarpa, and a Green Tree Python named Hazmat.  During my pre-Cragbaby teacher days, Sarpa would make appearances multiple times per year during each classroom’s reptile unit.  (Hazmat, on the other hand, was a little too feisty and unpredictable for the classroom…) We sold both snakes shortly after we moved to Charlotte, but suffice it to say, our household is pretty comfortable around snakes…rodents, on the other hand, have always given me the heebie jeebies.  (No doubt the result of some negative experiences with a hamster as a child.) 

So when C made his serpentine proclamation that morning in the garden, I was excited about the opportunity for a teachable moment with him about reptile safety.  It was a charming conversation, one that I wished I had been able to get on video.  As I held the snake up for him to get a closer look, he proceeded to give me a slew of scientific observations.

“Snake has a tail, Mommy.”
“Snake sticking his tongue out, Mommy.”  
“Snakes are wiggly, Mommy.”  

We then had a long conversation about different types of snakes.  I explained to C that some snakes are dangerous, and how it is very important that he never, ever touch any snake unless Mommy or Daddy says it is okay.   

I hope it’s obvious that I never in a million years would have attempted to touch any animal, snake or otherwise, if I wasn’t 110% sure it was not venomous..  (let alone allow my son to touch it!)  The snake in question was a brown snake, and I held it from a distance for a long time before determining it was laidback enough for C.  The brown snake is a very common inhabitant of flowerbeds and gardens.  Slugs and snails make up a large part of their diet, so they are actually pretty helpful to have around.  

After about 15 minutes or so I figured the poor little snake had probably had enough of our impromptu science lesson, so we watched him slither away to a hideaway under a pile of firewood.  But the lessons learned have thankfully not been a short-lived.  When Daddy came home that afternoon, C was filled to the brim with excitement to share his latest herpetology factoids…

“Some snakes dangerous, Daddy.”
“Don’t touch dangerous snakes, Daddy.” 

I know that snakes aren’t that popular with a lot of folks, but I think a lot of times they get an undeserved bad rap.  Far from evil, these guys do a heck of a lot more help than harm for the ecosystem.  As an outdoor kid, this will probably be the first of many close encounters Cragbaby will have with the serpentine kind, and I want him to learn how to appreciate as well as respect these fascinating creatures.  And I think education is probably the biggest key to ensure that everyone lives happily ever after – from the friendly little garden snake that can be enjoyed up close to the rightfully-imposing copperhead that should be given a wide berth.  

What’s your family’s stance on reptiles in the wild?  Is it sometimes okay to touch?  Always look, never touch?  Or run in the other direction?  This can sometimes be a controversial topic, so I’d love to know other’s opinions!  



11 Responses to “Safety with Snakes and Curious Toddlers”

  1. Benito

    Eek! The Bean is braver than I am, if you wanna see me stampede like an elephant startled by a mouse, hand me a snake. Kudos for starting him off on the right track with nature and animals.


  2. Holly

    This past September BOTH my kids got bitten by a copperhead on a hiking trail. Since then we’ve been discussing the difference between venomous and no -venomous snakes. We even bought the NC Snake Guide book. I want the to have respect for all snakes and understand the ecological role they play 🙂


  3. Rebecca

    I think your “Ask Mommy or Daddy before touching” instruction is good. We’ve always caught (and released) snakes; they are just fun and cool creatures. I am not really sure why people are so afraid of them. I think it’s good to be aware if you are in an area with alot of copperheads or timber rattlers, especially den areas. It would be very easy to get bitten by accident if you are climbing/bouldering in a timber rattler den area. I never realized this until I went looking for them with some herp friends this past fall in Western MD, and found alot of rattlers exactly where I’d be likely to put a hand or foot climbing. There was a baby copperhead in a rock crevasse about 10 feet off the ground as well.


  4. I’m personally scared to death of snakes. The three times I’ve ran across a rattler while climbing this summer gave me a full blown panic attack. However, I don’t want my kids to be afraid to my extent. With the amt of venomous snakes we have around here I do want them to have a healthy fear of them though. When it comes to non-venomous snakes I still freak out, but luckily my boyfriend is good with that stuff and he’s able to give the kids a science lesson and let them hold them, since I am usually unable to do so, lol. And I usually have that same rule, don’t touch (or go near) a snake unless mom or dad says its ok to.


  5. Must admit snakes always make me jump at first sight when close, but then I calm down and use reason. Living up north in NH we are not to worried about them, but I do see a rattler every trip to Joshua Tree!


    • Erica

      Benito and Haley – Glad you guys can see the big picture past your fear and still appreciate slithery friends from a distance 😉

      Holly – Wow, that’s so scary! Was it the same snake that bit both? Was the reaction severe?

      Rebecca – That sounds like quite an adventure – I would LOVE to go herp-hunting!!!

      David – The main danger for us locally is copperheads, although there are timber rattlers in the mountains. I have found a copperhead in my yard however…

  6. I was raised by a father who constantly took me outdoors. He taught me at a young age the difference between a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake and a Blow snake. He also taught me about Garters and Water snakes. It is great to be able to go out and enjoy these creatures in their natural habitat and if/when the opportunity arises I will teach Ky the same as I was taught. The main point behind it is once a snake is discovered to hold still and notify an adult, don’t move until the adult comes and identifies it. The rattlers around here are fast and dangerous.


    • Erica

      Corey – I think the way we as parents react to snakes and other “less desirables” determines the attitude our children will have as grown-ups. Your dad, you, and your son are a great example! Kudos for instilling a love of the outdoors and the creatures that thrive in it in your little one! 🙂

  7. Manuela

    you guys have such a healthy attitude towards nature and C is lucky to get to experience it in such a ‘normal’ way… where man and animals coexist and every creature has its rightful place. Just great to watch… BTW there is something so funny about C in his camouflage pants holding up the tiny snake, it just cracks me up:)


  8. “the snake is of the devil!” but i agree, snakes arent evil they are one of the slickest and interesting animals out there


  9. Hello there! This article couldn’t be written much better! Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept talking about this. I am going to forward this information to him. Fairly certain he’s going to have a good read.
    Many thanks for sharing!


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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN