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Extension Stories: Snakes

For Fun: Two weeks ago, during the period of warm temps, every field and farm visit included me seeing a snake. I don’t like snakes! But I think the biggest reason I don’t like them is because they often take me off-guard. I can recount several times walking wheat fields and/or pastures to feel something soft under foot, look down to find a bull snake, and high tail it out of there, often with at least one scream, regardless if the farmer was present or not!

And, being in Extension, identifying snakes has been part of the job, albeit not one I enjoy, nor one that’s my expertise. My rule is that they are not brought into the office alive-they can stay captured alive outside of the building (I’d prefer pictures though). The reason for this rule is, like with most careers, stories are passed down from those who preceded us. There’s many but here’s a few. One story involved a situation where a snake brought in for ID got loose in the Extension office. Another was when ‘Corny the corn snake’, used for youth Earth Festivals, got loose in a county vehicle…or so the educator thought that was the case but couldn’t find it. Unfortunately, the office manager found it when she drove the vehicle next!

Years ago during a dry period, I was driving and a farmer was in the passenger seat directing me to the next field. Suddenly, he grabbed the steering wheel and swerved shouting, “Don’t hit it! That’s the 5th one I’ve seen today!” It was a snake. It lived. My heart was racing as I regained control of my truck and got it stopped. There’s a number of old wives’ tales I’ve heard throughout the years, and I don’t dismiss them; I’m mostly just intrigued as I do value people’s observations. The one he told me that day was if you see 7 snakes in a day it will rain. I’ve heard a number of variations of this.

Back to the story of two weeks ago, it didn’t rain that week. Then I started getting questions followed by a handful of comments about how many snakes people were seeing. Another thing we are taught in Extension is if the same question occurs twice, there’s a good chance more people have the same question. When the same question about snake numbers happened the same day, I checked with our Extension wildlife specialist, Dennis Ferraro, who is a herpetologist (snake expert). You may have seen him on “Backyard Farmer“.

His answer, “I can assure you snake numbers are average or a bit in decline across the entire state (30 years of data). I’ve been out over 8 times this year and data is on track. Since we had more than average very warm days early … emergence is occurring in groups rather than gradually. People usually forget that snakes “group up” / aggregate to mate in early spring; plus since it is spotty at any one location every year people are not in the location at the “right” time. Amphibians are what I’m worried about … lack of vernal water is showing great decline.”

So, for those of you also wondering, there you have it! It’s still hard for me to believe due to the number I’ve seen this year and the sheer number of comments and questions I’ve received. If they continue, I will ask him to take more data points from this area of the State!

Cold and Fruit Buds: I know some have used sprinklers to keep fruit tree buds from freezing when frosts have occurred. That’s not always an option. Kelly Feehan shares additional insight about cold temps and fruit tree bud injury. “Recent cold temperatures have some wondering if fruit tree buds were injured. The stage of flower bud development when cold temperatures occur determines injury level. Fully dormant flower buds tolerate very cold temperatures. When damaged, it’s usually because warm winter or spring temperatures caused flower buds to lose dormancy. For example, if apple flower buds break dormancy but show no color, 10 percent are killed by 15°F. and 90 percent by 2°. If apple flower buds show a bit of green color, 10 percent are killed by 18° and 90 percent by 10°. On flower buds showing any pink color, 10 percent are killed by 28° and 90 percent by 24°. With above average temperatures this spring, followed by some cold nights, the likelihood of damage is present. The entire fruit crop may not be lost, just a portion which could be beneficial in limiting overproduction that leads to alternate year bearing.”

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