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News > Snake species makes comeback on base after nearly 140-year hiatus
Smooth Green Snake
A Smooth Green snake was found on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base during field work in conjunction with a survey already being conducted. Smooth Green snakes have not been documented in Southwest Ohio since 1871. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jeff Davis)
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Snake species makes comeback on base after nearly 140-year hiatus

Posted 5/3/2010   Updated 5/3/2010 Email story   Print story


by Ted Theopolos
88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

5/3/2010 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio  -- The discovery of Smooth Green snakes on base might conjure images from movies like "Snakes on a Plane" or "Anaconda" for some. However, the snakes are actually harmless to humans and friendly to the environment.

"This is exciting to find," said Jeff Davis, a consultant biologist for Wright-Patterson AFB. "This is the first time Smooth Green snakes have been documented in Southwest Ohio since 1871. They have managed to go undetected for years."

In fact, the discovery on base was somewhat of an accident. Mr. Davis uses coverboards, roofing tins placed on the ground where snakes might be, to attract the reptiles.

"Snakes like the coverboards because they are warm and protect them from predators," said Mr. Davis. "The coverboards were originally placed to attract Eastern Massassauga Rattlesnakes, a native of the base. Just last week, one coverboard, when overturned, had 11 snakes under it, including Eastern Garter snakes, Brown snakes, and a Smooth Green snake."

Smooth Green snakes have been on the decline and have even been wiped out in parts of America. Because they are usually just 10-12 inches long, Smooth Green snakes fall prey to hawks, American crows, raccoons, Milk snakes and foxes. However, the decline in population is mainly the result of habitat destruction and pesticide use.

"The snakes digest bugs that have been exposed to pesticides, which in turn kills the snakes," said Mr. Davis.

That's why their discovery was so exciting. Of the 603 snakes found and identified on base last year, 11 were identified as Smooth Green snakes.

"Once we capture a snake, we use a mark capture technique to mark it," said Mr. Davis. "We shave one scale off its belly, which doesn't hurt the snake, and identifies it as having been captured before."

"We plan to use more coverboards," said Mr. Davis. "We'll place them in different locations and label their specific locality using a GPS. When marked snakes are recaptured we can determine the size of their territory and use the data to determine the approximate population size."

Mr. Davis warns those who may come across coverboards to not lift them up or disturb them.

"Smooth Green snakes, which are harmless, like coverboards, but Eastern Massassauga rattlesnakes -- which are venomous -- like them also."

5/10/2010 2:02:57 PM ET
This is very cool information my son is an avid snake enthusiast and this story identifies a species that was thought to be lost in that area. Keep up the good work Mr. Jeff Davis and associates.
Bernard, Long Beach CA
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