DEAR JOAN: Can you tell me what kind of snake this is? I found it in my backyard and I assume it is nonvenomous.
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DEAR VENKAT: What you have there is a young garter snake. For many years, scientists believed the snake to be nonvenomous, but research has revealed that it does produce venom. You are in no danger as the venom is mild and the snake lacks the ability to quickly deliver a shot of poison. Because of its teeth, the venom is released not in a single, lashing out bite, but by repeated chewing. Even then, it is not greatly toxic to humans.
If left alone, they go about their business. However, if annoyed, they will bite. It will hurt, but it won’t kill you. If bitten, be sure to clean the wound completely and get a tetanus shot, as you should for any type of bite.
Mike Marchiano, expert in most things that slither, crawl or hop, says it probably is the Diablo Range garter snake (Thamnophis atratus zaxanthus). They are aquatic, so if you have a pond in your yard or nearby, that’s likely where it hangs out. They eat frogs, tadpoles, small fish and insects.
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If the snake has a speckling of red on its side, then it is a Coast garter snake (Thamnophis elegans terrestis). The Coast snakes eat almost any small thing that moves, including insects, snails, small amphibians, lizards, mice and birds.
Not that you would want to, but if you pick up a garter snake you are likely to get a strong whiff of something that smells really foul. When threatened, the snakes secrete anal fluids in an attempt to make a predator release them. Too much information?
Two theories exist as to how the snake came by its name. One school says it is because the stripes on the snake resemble the colorfully striped garters men wore to keep their socks up; another theory is that it is a slight corruption of the German word for garden.
DEAR JOAN: About two months ago, our rural neighborhood became home to a family of foxes. My husband and I were delighted to occasionally spot a fox walking along our fence and we were hopeful the foxes would help reduce the abundance of ground squirrels, gophers and moles that come with country life.
Our excitement at seeing the three young kits grow became a mild panic for me the other day when I spotted my 14-pound dog in the backyard with the now-teenage foxes. At 14 pounds, I am concerned she may have the appeal to them of a fat rabbit.
I would appreciate your expertise on the possible danger to my dog and, if she’s in danger, your suggestions on what to do to encourage these foxes to live a little farther away from my home.
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DEAR DONNA: You are right to be concerned. Small cats and kittens, and toy breeds can become prey for foxes. The best thing you can do is to make sure that if your dog is out, you are out with her.
Exclusion is the best way to keep your dog safe. Running a shock wire around the fence will stop the foxes from coming over; companies that make repellents don’t have one specifically for foxes, but ones used for dogs and cats may work; if there is one place they are coming into the yard, pile some used kitty litter there or a sweat-soaked T-shirt. They recognize those aromas as being something they don’t want any part of. Come to think of it, that would work on me, too.
If you have dog food out, take it in.
In time, the foxes will move on to more welcoming locations.
Contact Joan Morris at email@example.com.
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