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Reptile invaders make themselves at home

It was more than 15 years ago that I had my first home invader after moving to Florida. It happened again a week ago, although this time I was much better prepared, emotionally and weaponwise.

The first time it happened was in June 1993, when I was sitting on my patio in Bayonet Point, sipping coffee, chatting with my houseguest and reading the newspaper.

"The invader came around the corner, advancing across the patio menacingly, eyes darting from side to side as though looking for something to attack," I wrote back then.

This time the invader was much more docile, lying on the garage floor without moving. I guess the fellow knew that I had faced down a similar menace those 15 years ago and, since then, caught dozens more creeping through my yard, so I was ready for all comers.

"Don't move," I cautioned my mom as she spotted him. "Move slowly back and stand in the driveway. I'll take care of this."

I didn't want to hurt my uninvited guest. See, I knew instantly he was a Coluber constrictor priapus, also known as a Southern black racer, a harmless, friendly snake that eats insects, mice, voles, moles and other snakes.

My invader was one of a large family that lives unmolested in the Confederate jasmine beside my front walk. I've seen his brothers, sisters, parents and great big old grandparents warming themselves on my driveway, back stoop and sidewalks, slithering through my grass and popping up from my airplane plants and potato vines at all hours.

The young ones are pale gray with reddish-brown blotches saddling their backs, making me think they may be baby copperheads (poisonous) until I remember how rare copperheads are in these parts, and they aren't reddish anyway.

The big black racers have a cute white patch on their chin and are about 4 feet long.

Only moments before, my current visitor's grandpap had been coiled around a planter full of flowers by my garage door, and I suspect he told everyone that I'm a friendly sort, so go ahead and make themselves at home.

I slowly backed my car out of the garage, then used a plastic rake to guide the suddenly attentive snake out of the garage and toward his home base.

After my first "home invasion," I got a stern lecture over the telephone from my late father, an outdoors writer, who had a great reverence for all God's critters, including the ones I don't necessarily like.

"He's your friend," Dad told me back then. "He'll get rid of your rats and mice, and he may keep away the dangerous snakes. Don't bother him."

He told me about his favorite king snake that lived by his back fence, a sort of yard protector that he guarded like a beloved pet.

Even so, I still step lightly when I go into my garage or out to get the mail after sunset. I make sure that no black racer lies in the path of my car tires before I pull out of the garage.

And I give the jasmine a few swats with a rake before I start pulling weeds, to give the snakes a chance to move elsewhere before I plunge my hand down into those unknown green depths.

After all, we don't want anyone scared to death, especially if it's me.

Reptile invaders make themselves at home 07/18/08 [Last modified: Sunday, July 20, 2008 11:03pm]

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