Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ride Creature Feature

One of the cool things about riding here in the NW is the variety of rides and wildlife you encounter on a bike.  Not just mountain biking but also road riding.  I was reminded of this just as I was nearing the Hangman Golf Course this morning.

I saw what looked like a great big earthworm on the road and thought that I recognized the pattern of a particular snake.  After a quick U-turn I confirmed that it was indeed a snake that had the misfortune of being hit by a car.  Normally, common snakes such as garter, bull and gopher will sun themselves on the road that winds through the Hangman Valley.  You have to keep an eye out for them when riding or driving so as not to hit them.  I always stop and encourage them back into the brush with whatever is handy.  Usually, a squirt or two from the water bottle is all the encouragement they need to head to safer ground.

Today, the pattern was anything but common and the small snake was mocha brown with smooth shiny skin - classic Rubber Boa (Charina bottae).  In the 20 years I have lived in this area, I have never seen a Rubber Boa on Hangman Valley Road until today. They are only one of two species of Boas that live in the US.  They get their common name from the fact that they look like they are made from natural rubber.  (I swear I am not making this up)  

Photo by Ryan Hoyer:
I first became acquainted with this snake about 7 years ago when riding a dirt road in a remote area toward Spangle and stopped to investigate this odd looking snake sunning itself on the road.  It was very different because it looked like it had a head at each end of its body, though one without eyes.  Turns out the snake lives near damp areas in the west and feeds on baby mice.  It uses the fake head on its tail to do a mock strike during feeding to ward off defensive parents while feasting on their offspring.  I was enthralled to say the least.

I learned they also like being handled by warm blooded humans and are quite calm and docile as a result.  They will wrap around your hand and just hang-out for the warmth.  I brought one home for the kids to learn from and we even took measurements and photos to send to Ryan Hoyer who has dedicated a site to research at  

I really had not thought much about these cool little snakes until this morning and wondered how they had made it this far downstream and so near my house.  I had to wonder if the deceased was the offspring of one I had brought home for viewing years ago.  I had made a cool temporary habitat for it to live in for a couple of days and returned home to find that my tender-heart wife had let it go into the "wild" rather than letting me return it the several miles to its natural habitat.  The wild in this case was some brush at the edge of our development which turns-out to be about 100 yards from the snake on the road.   Coincidence, maybe. 

Regardless, I root for these little guys as they are slow and seem like easy prey to predators and cars alike.  I will be on the lookout for more this summer and hope other riders will too.  


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