Monday, May 10, 2010

This snake

This snake came out to play as we were ripping up some invasive jasmine for a new chicken play yard.  He and his cousins were out en masse!  He is a rough earth snake (Virginia striatula), a native in this area, and he eats earthworms almost exclusively.  

At first I was sad to learn that this guy eats one of our most beloved and useful soil friends. Earthworms are what we call a keystone species, because they are almost exclusively responsible for their function in the soil- creating aeration macropores.  Macropores are an important part of healthy soil structure (more here and here).  But then I turned that frown upside down when I realized the implications. We must have a TON of earthworms if their population is sustaining a huge number of rough earth snakes.  Yay!

Rough earth snake facts (from here):
  • They are fossorial (live underground), and viviparous (give birth to live leetle baby snakey-poos).
More worms facts:
  • There are over 7,000 different species of earthworms around the world.
  • They like soil with lot of calcium for their slime production (we've got that here, my soil was formed from calcareous clays and marls), and moist, well aerated soil with ground cover (like that invasive jasmine we just killed,oops).
  • They are sensitive to salinity, sandy soils, ammonia fertilizers, carbomate insecticides (and others), and sudden heavy frosts on unprotected (unmulched or otherwise covered) soils.  Tillage is the WORST for them, and their population will suffer dramatically from this.
  • This web page is awesome for kids and adults.  The lesson talks about how worms can adapt to different soils and temperatures.  Also, it tells us that some of our U.S. worms may not be native! They probably came over from Europe, along with their fellow homo sapien immigrants.   
Biodiversity factoids:
  • Many scientists believe that there are more species below our feet than above them.  
  • Forested soils generally house a larger diversity of soil animals (fauna) and more fungal-dominated microflora than grasslands, but
  • grasslands support greater soil faunal mass per unit area with higher activity (measured as more CO2 generated through respiration) than forested areas.
  • Tilling reduces habitat for soil animals, and cultivated fields have fewer soil organisms and lower soil organism biomass.

(Worms and biodiversity facts from reference #1)


  1. So Cool!!-- I guess the snake coming your way means you've got earthworms to spare!

  2. Wow, cool snake. Mine are only rubber. I'm adding your blog to my faves on mine BTW. You've got interesting information.

  3. Thanks, dear readers! I will have to credit the herpetologist hubs for all snake identification on this site. He is part of TIPPC, linked here:

  4. Sad to say, we killed one today thinking it was a baby "bad" snake of some sort. Excavation for pool in back yard and found him/her on the gunite...Researching TX snakes so I dont make the same mistake twice.