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Sat Aug 28, 2021, 11:19 AM

How reptiles in the city went from native species to urban legend

A ratsnake perches in a tree in Pittsburgh in 2017. Pat Roukous

(Grist) People thought the snake spotted in the park was a black mamba. Who knows how a reptile that normally makes its home in sub-Saharan Africa could have slithered its way over to the East End of Pittsburgh or why it would want to make that particular trek but there it was, wrapped around a beech tree in the middle of Frick Park back in April.

Of course, everyone in the neighborhood lost their minds. A highly venomous snake right there where people go jogging and walk their blissfully unsuspecting labradors and terriers? Call the police if you see this thing, people posted on Facebook, and sure enough, somebody did. One local news station sent a chopper. (Its no garden snake look at this thing! said an incredulous anchor.) The department of public safety issued a citywide alert.

But the people more familiar with the ecosystem, those who knew their non-human neighbors, were aghast. The police? For what? That thing was a ratsnake. A big one, but sometimes they get that big six, seven, even eight feet long! Native to the eastern United States, a resident of Appalachia since long before the first Indigenous people ever set foot on the land, before the first stone of Fort Pitt was ever erected or the first rock of coal ever pulled from the ground. Not venomous, not dangerous, and certainly not out of place.

These are very docile, fragile animals, explained Chris Urban, chief of natural diversity at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Im hoping someone on the police force was aware of what it was, that it wasnt dangerous and such. I dont even know what the fate of the snake was, but I tried to quell those fears quickly, that it was just an eastern ratsnake and wasnt a harmful animal. ..............(more)


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Reply How reptiles in the city went from native species to urban legend (Original post)
marmar Aug 2021 OP
hlthe2b Aug 2021 #1
wryter2000 Aug 2021 #2
MineralMan Aug 2021 #3

Response to marmar (Original post)

Sat Aug 28, 2021, 11:23 AM

1. People are such idiots anymore.

It is a good size for a rat snake, though.

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Response to hlthe2b (Reply #1)

Sat Aug 28, 2021, 11:39 AM

2. No kidding

I had pet corn snakes, which are called red rat snakes, and the biggest one got to over 4 feet long and was slender. That snake's amazing. I hope they left it alone. It would only eat rodents they hate, anyway.

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Sat Aug 28, 2021, 12:33 PM

3. This is what happens when people lose touch with nature.

I recognized it immediately as a rat snake. But, in the east end of Pittsburgh, probably almost nobody had ever seen any snakes at all. We don't hang around outdoors, so we don't learn what the local wildlife actually looks like.

That's a shame, since it often leads to harmless creatures being killed out of misplaced fear. I remember a woman on my block when I was about 10 years old beating on a snake with a broom. She didn't hurt the snake. I saw her doing that and ran over and picked up the 6' long gopher snake and told her to stop hitting it. "That snake will catch mice in your yard and eat them. It can't hurt you."

Gopher snakes will bite you if you pick them up, and that one was no exception. Except that their bite is harmless. After about 10 seconds, the snake let go and calmed down so I could handle it without alarming it. The woman was finally convinced that her "deadly" snake was just a common reptile in the area and did nothing but good work in her yard.

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