(This 806th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on September 10, 2006.)
Last week I received a call from Frank Hugar of East Aurora. We had an interesting conversation about our experiences with snakes. I found his comments so interesting that I asked Frank if he would write about them. A few days later I received a delightful message that I share with you here.
"Back in the early forties, after I caught my first small, brown snake on Grand Island, while hiking there with my brother and two friends, I became fascinated with the little critters, so all my life I've been catching and studying local snakes.
"We used to hike to a beautiful, pristine swamp between River Road and the Niagara River near the Grand Island Bridge. The swamp was fed by a sunny brook and opened up to the river's edge. In and around this area we observed and identified eight local species of Western New York snakes. This was before the area became more industrialized with toxic landfills on both sides of River Road.
"We found there Northern water snake, common garter snake, gray ringneck or Dekay's snake, red racer--grey on top with a bright orange belly--milk snake, brown snake, ribbon snake and an unidentified five to six footer that could have been a rat snake or a black racer. I only observed a green snake in the Southern Tier.
"When I was in the eighth grade going to Amherst No. 8 school on Main Street near Youngs Road, I discovered a snake den barely 25 feet from the highway. It was a warm early spring day, but the snakes all scurried down the many holes in the rocks as I approached. I sat down cross-legged and within 15 minutes most had climbed out and were sitting in my lap, on my arms and a few on my shoulders. They must have loved my body heat.
"Many years later, when I lived in the Town of Wheatfield, my eight year old son informed me that he caught about 50 snakes in the basement at a friend's house up the street. It was a very old house with three foot wide stone blocks for its foundation. Apparently, every spring, many of the hibernating snakes would end up in their basement. After viewing my 50 plus house guests in the bottom of our garbage can in our basement, I informed my disappointed son, that in the morning they would have to go. Early the next morning I went down in the basement to let the snakes go and discovered only two left in the bottom of the garbage can. The rest were hiding in all the nooks and crannies of the basement. I thought to myself, "Now I'm the one with the cellar full of snakes." For the next two or three weeks, before going to work, I would go downstairs, pick up four or five snakes from the cellar floor, toss them out the back door and go on to work.
"I have always been particularly interested in Northern water snakes. They can grow up to five feet long and can be 'meaner than a junkyard dog.' However, like all the snakes I've mentioned, they are non‑poisonous.
"Two local areas where they have been very numerous are the Williamsville Glen and 18 Mile Creek in the Derby area. The place that had the densest population of water snakes, in my estimation was the boggy, swampy area of the Beaver Lake Nature Preserve near Baldwinsville, just northwest of Syracuse N.Y."
I share Frank Hugar's interest in snakes but I am not at all sure I would have been able to sit still while they crawled all over me.
His message comes at the right time as it gives me an opportunity to call attention to the upcoming Western New York Herpetological Society's Reptile and Amphibian Show and Sale at the Hearthstone Manor on Dick Road in Depew next Sunday, September 17, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission will be $5.00 for adults, $3.00 for children 12 and under, no charge for children under 3.
The featured speakers this year will be John and Laura Paner, formerly from Buffalo, who now operate Croc Encounters Reptile Park and Wildlife Center in Tampa, Florida.-- Gerry Rising