“Snakes get NO RESPECT!!”

blog_redbelliedwatersnake3eSnakes are amazing creatures, but unfortunately, snakes are also among the least popular of all animals. Many people have a natural aversion or fear of snakes while others simply choose to hate them for reasons they may or may not know. The negative stigma surrounding snakes is quite undeserved, and it is believed by wildlife biologists and those who work with snakes that this cold-blooded vertebrate is most assuredly a misunderstood animal, especially when you consider it is known by conservation professionals that snakes are extremely beneficial to our eco-system and our environment. Recently a Red-Bellied Water Snake, attacked by a shovel attached to a human, was admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport. The 4-foot snake received her second chance after a neighbor quickly realized what was happening, intervened and transported the reptile to our shelter, but not before the snake had suffered quite a few lacerations. The water snake was not in the best shape when she arrived, but receiving her immediately following the attack helped to minimize further damage and a treatment plan of medication and generous applications of antibiotic ointment was urgently administered. A full examination assessed the cuts were not as deep as they could have been and her vital organs had been spared. The slithery one was quite lethargic at first due to the trauma and shock of her ordeal, but she is doing very well now. The pretty girl is perky, fast, loves her soaks and is putting away quite the number of small fish during a feeding. Around the world there are more than 2600 species of snakes and most are nonvenomous. Fossil records show snakes have been around for over 130 million years. blog_molesnakeeSnakes are valuable components to the communities in which they reside as they play the roles of predator and prey. Most snakes, other than water snakes who like fish and other aquatics, prey heavily on insects and rodents. When snake populations decrease, the numbers of rats and mice increase which causes serious problems for people. Stories have been told where someone thought it a good idea at the time to eradicate an area of all snakes, only to eventually become overrun when the rat population exploded! It proved to take years, hundreds of people hours and tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and harmful chemicals to remove rats without natural predators such as snakes. Rats and mice reproduce often and destroy gardens, crops, homes, start fires by chewing electrical wires and can also spread harmful diseases. Snakes are very effective at hunting small rodents because they are designed to crawl into small burrows and other areas used as rodent shelters. These places are too small for other predators to maneuver. All snakes are described similarly; long, linear shaped reptiles covered with a skin of supple, living scales. They are legless with staring eyes that never blink, and they sport a great marvel of nature; the flickering forked tongue used to perceive scents, which is their main sensory organ. Snakes present in every color you can think of depending upon the type. blog_corn-snake1eThey have fangs that will or will not deliver toxic venom, depending, also, upon the snake species. As defense mechanisms, even the shyest of snakes can hiss, coil, puff up or bite when threatened by a human. These behaviors alone may very well scare people, but the best thing to do if you encounter a snake is LEAVE IT ALONE. blog_black-racer2eSnakes usually prefer to retreat when confronted but can become defensive if provoked. Although most snakes are not poisonous, they can still bite and snake bites usually occur when people try to capture or kill them. Snakes are known to swallow food much larger than their heads. This is possible because the lower jaw of a snake is loosely attached to the skull, allowing snakes to open their mouths very wide. As an extra adaptation, the lower jaw bones of snakes are not joined together at the front. This allows each side of the lower jaw to move independently and helps the snake stretch its mouth over large prey. blog_rbwsnake3Then the snake alternately moves each side of its jaws over the prey until swallowed. Most snakes belong to the Colubridae family and are found on every continent except Antarctica. Colubrids are much smaller than Boas and Pythons, move very fast and will eat once a week to once a month. Quite often eating depends upon opportunity and the faster the snake’s metabolism the more often they will need to eat. Snakes use their highly-developed senses of sight, taste, hearing and touch to track and locate prey. They are highly mobile creatures, able to move over sand and rocks, burrow in the soil, squeeze through cracks and crevasses in rocks, climb vertical rock walls and the thinnest tree branches and even swim with great speed. You may have heard a gruesome saying that the “only good snake is a dead snake,” Well, we need to debunk that old myth! Snakes deserve respect because they help maintain a high level of biodiversity that is extremely important to all life on Earth. blog_rosyratsnakeeThey are middle-order predators that help keep our natural eco-systems working. In addition, they become prey for other wildlife such as hawks, eagles and other raptors that could simply vanish if snakes were not a viable food source. Venomous snakes, albeit a bit more touchy subject, deserve props too for the great work they do in the medical field. Snake venom is used to treat excessive bleeding, cancers, heart disease and stroke victims, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, which saves millions of peoples’ lives every year. When our Red-Bellied Water Snake is released, please watch out for her, for she is only going to do good things! She will probably bulk up a little before the end of autumn and you might see her grabbing a warm sun spot in the driveway or on the patio before dormancy, which is another term for hibernation, during the winter. When left alone, snakes present little or no danger to people, so adapting to live safely with snakes is doable, as long as you control your fear factor. LET THEM BE! When you get the chance, stop by our shelter to meet Blanca, our resident leucistic Rat Snake. blog_blancaowlsjul09xeDeprived of her natural camouflage coloring at birth, she has become a hefty, white beauty who is a fascinating Wildlife Ambassador! Total respect!


Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All


Blog&FB_2015Aug_IMG_0469_edited-1People love to fish and so do wildlife! The big difference between humans and wildlife is wild animals do not need nets, fishing line, lures, hooks or plastic bags when fishing. Therefore, they leave nothing behind that will harm or kill anyone or anything. Left behind fishing gear kills! Wildlife Rehabilitators at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport know this all too well and cringe every time a seabird, wading bird, grazing bird, mammal or turtle is admitted due to the ingestion or entanglement of fishing litter. It’s so painful for the animal and in many cases renders them unable to eat which leads to starvation. Sometimes the devastation is less obvious and can not been seen without x-rays because the animal has swallowed a hook or lure. This type of injury is so frustrating and heartbreaking to wildlife care givers because it is human-caused and therefore, preventable. Nets, lines, hooks, crab pots, shrimp traps or any other fishing equipment abandoned by a boater or someone fishing on shore is considered derelict gear, which labels a fisherman or woman neglectful and irresponsible. This type of dangerous litter is usually made of plastic and doesn’t decompose in water for possibly hundreds of years. Recently, a mature Red Eared Slider was admitted to our shelter who had tried to swallow not one but two fishing hooks. We managed to carefully remove the three pronged hook with bait still attached from his mouth without too much trouble or damage to tissue, but the long, single pronged hook was so embedded in the roof of his mouth and out the side of his cheek, it required a committee discussion on how best to go about getting that out with minimal damage or killing the turtle. Blog&FB_2015Aug_IMG_6413He may not have been noticed or made his way to us if he had become entangled in the line attached to the hooks. Turtles are air-breathing reptiles. When they are caught underwater on a line or in a net, they will drown because they are unable to reach the surface for air. When an animal is entangled in fishing line that has no give, the line wraps tighter and tighter around a leg, wing or neck constricting the blood flow and functionality of the organs, blood vessels and muscles in that area. A fish hook that an animal desperately tries to remove causes lacerations and tears leading to blood loss, serious infections and limited function in the area affected. Some animals, such as pelicans, live with the discomfort of an imbedded fish hook in their body for long periods of time. We know this because hooks have been found in the backs, underbelly or legs of pelicans during examinations for other conditions such as wing fractures or frost bite. Some seabirds have even been found struggling to free themselves from each other because they have become entangled together by a fishing line or multi-hooked lure that was carelessly discarded by a fisherman. During the birds’ struggle they create even more injury to their legs and wings as well as possible nerve damage. Birds and other wildlife that become entangled will experience strangulation, starvation, amputation and in many cases, death. Entanglement is a slow and vicious killer! Because monofilament fishing line is transparent, it poses serious risk to all life, including human swimmers and divers who encounter it.

Photo by John Althouse

Photo by John Althouse

The negative impact of fishing gear waste is huge. Research tells us that the overall populations of seabirds have declined 69.6 percent, which is a loss of about 230 million birds in 60 years. “Seabirds are particularly good indicators of the health of marine ecosystems and when we see this magnitude of seabird decline, we also see something wrong with marine ecosystems.” This information gives us an idea of the devastating and overwhelming impact humans are having on wildlife and our environment. So for those of us who care, what can we do to improve the quality of life for wildlife and our aquatic environment? Get the word out, first and foremost! Do not accept the very little thought given to snapping a line when a fisherman’s lure is stuck on something. In your travels along beaches and recreational waterways, do the birds and other animals a huge favor by looking around trees and shrubs and notice how much fishing litter is strewn or snagged in vegetation, then carefully remove it and dispose of it properly. If you are the fisherman, always take all line and fishing gear with you when you leave. Blog&FB_2015Aug__Fishing gearRemovedX_edited-1The best way for anglers to reduce hookings and entanglements is to avoid casting near large seabird concentrations. If you are in a boat, move to another area. Most piers are large enough for birds to feed in one area, and anglers to fish in another, or take a break – flocks do not usually remain in one area for long. Using barbless hooks or artificial lures whenever possible can also help. Weight fishing lines to ensure the bait sinks rapidly, before birds can dive for it. Don’t leave fishing lines unattended. Do not feed birds or leave bait exposed because it attracts birds. Take leftover bait home so that birds and other animals don’t get accustomed to free meals. Fish remains are a problem because most seabirds swallow their prey whole. Swallowing parts of fish with exposed bones can cut a pelican’s pouch. Think about starting a program to collect fishing line by constructing and placing collecting bins in the vicinity of your local fishing spots. Please fish responsibly and encourage others to do the same. These are all steps in the right direction for the preservation of our environment and wildlife, as well as public safety. If you encounter an animal that shows signs of entanglement or has been injured in other ways by fishing gear, please call your local wildlife care facility, and they will provide instructions on how to transport the wildlife victim to their center. It’s best not to remove the dangerous fishing gear litter yourself, but to trust the application of a wildlife rehabilitator’s knowledge and skills to ensure damage is not compounded during removal. Let’s do this for our wildlife – they need us!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse
author of “Save Them All

Gator Country!

CSMag_AlligatorLogMar2013Some of the calls we receive at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC require attention a little beyond our realm of expertise.  Such is the case when a call comes in to relocate an alligator that has just shown up in the parking lot of a shopping mall and happens to be a 10-12 foot 400 pounder with a bite force of 1500 pounds per square inch at that!   Although we, wildlife rehabilitators, aren’t “hands on” with a gator, and they definitely won’t fit into our largest kennel cab, we know who to call.  Wildlife Control Officers directed by the North Carolina Wildlife  Resources Commission and local police departments consider an alligator out of water and wandering around in a residential area a critical danger and respond with a great sense of urgency.CSMag_IMG_1930GatorMar13 The alligator pictured, although extremely annoyed, was successfully relocated to a gator friendly area without injury to himself or the wildlife professionals involved in his capture and transport.  The question that surfaces is “Why was he out of the water, away from his habitat and among humans in the first place?”  We have lots of alligators in our fresh water streams, canals, ponds, lakes, marshes, swamps, and tidal estuaries of eastern North Carolina, and that’s usually where they stay until people start feeding them.  It’s against the law and the fine can be as high as $200, but intentional feeding still happens; bread, chips, sandwiches, chicken bones. Some feeding is unintentional, like cleaning fish and throwing the remains in the water.  Alligators are carnivorous, and they are opportunists. They eat whatever is available – fish, other alligators, turtles, waterfowl, cats, dogs, small livestock, humans. Meat’s meat and food is food as far as the gator knows.  North Carolina gators only eat during the spring, summer and early fall when temperatures are above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They grow slower than alligators that live in warmer climates. In fact, North Carolina is the farthest north that the American Alligator can live.  Alligators are large, dangerous animals that can easily lose their fear of people, giving them the classification among biologists as “charismatic megafauna.”  North Carolina wildlife officials warn people not to feed alligators, which are common around waterways also frequented by tourists, especially in the southeastern part of our state.  Almost all human attacks come as a result of illegal feeding.  Although alligators have made a strong comeback after being hunted nearly to extinction in the 1900s, they remain listed as a threatened species.  Sometimes an alligator is confused with its closest cousin, the crocodile.  Our alligators have a short, blunt, rounded snout while crocodiles have a long, pointed snout. Cold-blooded alligators, the largest reptiles in North America, have overlapping jaws with darker coloration than the crocodile and are less tolerant of seawater, although they have been known to take a dip in the ocean.  Unlike alligators, crocodiles do not live in North Carolina.  Alligators are diurnal and nocturnal, meaning they are active both day and night. They dig large holes into the earth and make dens that provide protection and a place to rest during very hot or cold days. The “doorways” to these dens are usually accessed under water.   They are commonly seen on river banks, basking in the sun during the spring and summer.  Alligators may be spotted in the water by watching for eyes, a head or snout protruding from the water’s surface. CSMagAlligator_Mar2013  Social animals, alligators often gather with other gators during mating season. The alligator begins courtship in April and breeding goes on until May or early June. The female lays her eggs, about 30, in a nest she constructs of vegetation. The decaying organic material serves to heat the eggs. The nest is about two feet high and five feet in diameter. The white eggs, only a bit larger than chicken eggs, take about 65 days to hatch. The hatchlings are about 9 inches long and sport yellow bands around their bodies.  The young alligators leave the nest in early fall, but the mother keeps a close watch over them for up to two years. During the first six years of an alligator’s life, it will grow up to a foot each year.CSMag_BabyGatorsMar2013 Male alligators normally grow to be 11 to 12 feet long. Females grow to around 8 feet long. The longest alligator ever recorded was a male over 19 feet long! The average lifespan of the alligator is 30-50 years, with the maximum most likely occurring in captivity.  In North Carolina hunting or killing an alligator is illegal and only state wildlife officials can remove problem gators.  They can become aggressive if they feel threatened, especially when defending their nest or young and will attack humans, so do not approach them and by all means, DO NOT FEED THEM.  Alligators have been around since the dinosaur days, so they will make do in the wild without an individual yielding to the temptation to picnic with them or any other human interference!  There are no recorded human deaths in North Carolina due to alligator attack, so let’s keep it that way!

best to you always & be safe,

Linda Bergman-Althouse,   author of  “Save Them All