Snakes: Nature’s Pest Control
Written by Abigail Swisher | Environmental Education Conservation Associate
Snakes. Slithery creatures often misunderstood, despite their importance of creating balance within our ecosystems! These cold-blooded critters are found all throughout the state, but here at the Conservancy we focus on the 28 native species that are found in Collier County. Of those 28 local species, 4 of these species are venomous; but have no fear! Each species plays an equally important and unique role to providing a stable ecosystem.
So why are snakes even that important? What could they possible contribute? Answer: they are a natural form of pest control.
Rats and mice, along with other small mammals, make up a significant portion of a snake’s diet, keeping the rodent population under control, and preventing humans from frequently interacting with some diseases that rodents may carry. There are also certain species of snakes, such as the Florida king snake and the eastern indigo snake, that possess the ability to eat other snakes (including venomous snakes!).
Some species of snakes constrict their prey before feeding (by wrapping themselves around their prey and squeezing) but the eastern indigo snake will eat its prey live! Their jaws are able to unhinge and engulf animals twice the size of their heads — if we had jaws like snakes, we would be able to eat something the size of a watermelon!
To navigate their surroundings and to track their prey, snakes use their tongues to smell. They pick up the scent particles on their tongue and rub it against the Jacobson organ located at the top of their mouth. Their forked tongues help locate which direction the scent is coming from.
Since starting at the Conservancy as an environmental education intern last March, I have had the wonderful opportunity to observe and care for these beautiful creatures as animal ambassadors at our Nature Center, and in the wild in their natural habitats! Through my experience here, I have watched guests overcome their uncertainty, and truly understand how special these animals can be. Prior to this experience you would have been hard pressed to see me handling these animals, but having been around them for so long (and with the proper training) I have gained a vast amount of respect for them, and I want provide visitors with the same appreciation. These animals are immensely important to our ecosystem and should be respected, not feared. I hope to be able to continue to inspire guests to become more comfortable with these amazing creatures.
To learn more about our ambassador species here at the Conservancy, stop by our Nature Center and visit some of our snakes such as Leroy (Florida king snake) and Bindi (eastern indigo snake)! See you soon!