Snakes and Wildlife of Maryland

Snake biology

by Tammy McCormack. 0 Comments

Can you believe it is already August and school is just a week away for Frederick County students? Where has the time gone?

It has been one very hot summer. Snake calls have been very slow for the past month. But my busy season is just around the corner and I am looking forward to it.

I get so many emails from you asking all types of questions pertaining to snakes. So I thought this week we would do an overview of basic snake biology.

The body of a snake seems very odd when you first look at it. But the snake has many of the same parts as the human body, including a backbone, heart, stomach, kidneys, and a gallbladder. Of course in the snake it is arranged a little differently, but these vital organs and parts perform the same for them as they do for humans.

Just like other animals, the snake has a body adapted for the life it leads. Unlike human beings, snakes keep growing until they die. The rate of growth is much faster when they are young and slows down as they grow older. An old snake may grow only a little bit, but it will still grow.

Every snake is strong for its size. Pound for pound, snakes have more muscles than many other kinds of animals. Humans have only 32 or 33 vertebrae in their backbones. Some of the larger snakes can have as many as 500 vertebrae. In general, the more bones a snake has in its backbone, the more agile it is. The symmetry of a snake skeleton is one of nature's most beautiful designs.

Because the body of a snake is usually long and thin, the organs must also be long and thin. The available space is limited, and as a result, some organs are reduced in size or missing. Most snakes, for example, have one large lung and one tiny lung, and in some cases they have only one lung.

Getting around without legs is not difficult for the snake. All snakes have at least three ways to move their bodies. Lateral, or serpentine motion is the most common way. To move forward a snake pushes sideways against rocks, sticks, and other objects found on the ground. By doing this the snake is able to literally "get a grip" on the ground.

Using the muscles attached to each of its ribs, the snake then pushes each set of ribs against a gripping point, starting with the ribs nearest to its head and working back towards its tail. As each set of ribs "pushes" in turn, the snake moves forward.

Caterpillar motion is another common method. "Concertina" motion is used when snakes must move in tight places, which means first the snake bunches itself together, than using its tail as an anchor, the snake pushes the front of its body forward. Sidewinding makes it possible for certain snakes to cross loose sand without sinking. To start this movement, the snake first arches its back and throws the front part of its body forward. This is the common movement you see in sidewinders in the desert.

We will continue talking about this in our next column, but right now I want to give you a few tips on how to avoid a snake bite when out in our beautiful parks and mountains.

Always read about the poisonous snakes that are native to Maryland, or anywhere else in the country that you decided to visit.

Dress appropriately. Wear high-top boots and loose fitting pants. Let the cuffs hang outside the boots.

Do not make any sudden moves if you see a venomous snake or hear rattling. Snakes do not see very well, if you don't make any sudden moves. Be very careful when backing away, too, so you don't run into another one nearby.

Do not sleep on the ground. You may roll over on a snake while asleep or a snake may crawl in next to you to get warm. Always sleep in a tent not just out in the open on the bare ground.

Do not reach or step into places that you can't see clearly because a snake may be hiding. Never reach over your head while climbing, unless you can see where your hand is going, and look over logs before you step over them.

As alway, remember to try and get out an enjoy nature. It has so much to offer.

I dedicate this column to my foot doctor who is one of the best, and to my mother who has been ill. May you make a full recovery.

I also wanted to give a "thank you" to my snake clients and all of you who email me with your questions. I love helping whenever I can.

Tammy McCormack is a Maryland-licensed DNR professional snake trapper. She writes an online column for You may reach her at

Snake sightings are up

by Tammy McCormack. 0 Comments

Well, here we are already into July and what a heatwave we have been having. Work has been constant and non-stop. Working in 100 degree temperatures has been a challenge.

But, working during hot days such as these comes with being a snake trapper. On some of these hot days, though, I think I must've been crazy for choosing this profession. But I love what I do and would choose dealing with the heat, sweating, and getting dirty any day over wearing high heels and a dress and being inside all day.

Not only has my phone been ringing off the hook with snake calls and questions, but I am also getting a lot of emails pertaining to more snake sightings this year.

So I thought I would discuss why snake sightings are up as well as some safety tips.

People are having more issues this season with nests of blacksnakes, some of which contain five or six large adult blacksnakes. The blacksnake typically mates from spring to June and than again in the fall. However, we have had some unusual weather this spring and summer, so I am seeing more late night or very early morning blacksnake calls. It seems some of these native friends are mating a little later this season. Usually you will have one female and possibly between two to six males competing to mate with her.

Meanwhile, copperhead issues have exploded. These snakes are mainly aquatic and I know we have had heavy storms but the heat affects their watery habitats and food sources. Streams, creeks and other areas of water don't seem to be as high as they should be which means these snakes will move in closer to get to the water instead of staying on higher ground.

My main issue has been around air condition units and pool equipment. If offers them cool shelter and with a lot frogs and toads for food. My calls have been coming in much earlier in the morning or later in the evening with this species also.

In recent edition of The Frederick News-Post, there was a picture of a timber rattler and the lady who encountered the snake. She stated she has never had an issue with this type of snake in all the years she has lived in her home. Most people think these snakes remain in very high rocky elevations in various areas of Maryland. That is true but with the heat and heavy rains it is not uncommon for this to happen from time to time due to a possible lack of food or a disruption in its habitat.

You already know I am a licensed snake trapper but most of my experience is in dealing with copperheads. They are one of my most favorite snakes out of all our of native snake species.

If you are out hiking, make sure to take careful notice of your surroundings. Wear a good pair of hiking boots as opposed to basic tennis shoes. I wear above the ankle boots but that is mainly due to my work, though I love to hike myself when I am not working. A walking stick is good to have if you want to look under rocks, old tree logs, piles of leaf debris. You can use it to lift up basic rocks, or poke under or around old tree logs and debris.

Not all snakes will warn you like a timber rattlesnake. I believe copperheads count for most of the bites in the U.S. by a venomous snake. But, if you encounter any type of snake it is best not to go near it. Observe it from a distance and if you are bitten please go to the nearest emergency room or call 911. That is something that can't be stressed enough.

Another recent FNP story involved a turtle which someone was trying to keep as a pet. This is against the law. The Frederick County Animal Control has a job to do and they are only following the law. This involves all Animal Controls through out the U.S. They are only looking out for the best interest of the animals. They do not just come to argue with you or just automatically take away your pet.

As always, get out and enjoy what nature has to offer.

And, as a quick and unrelated side note, I just wanted to say "thank you" to Outback on Route 40 in Frederick for their outstanding customer service.

Tammy McCormack is a Maryland Licensed Professional snake trapper. She writes a regular online column for You may contact her at

A snake trapper’s most embarrassing moments

by Tammy McCormack. 0 Comments

Wow! Snake season has started off all of sudden with a loud explosion. But it's a great feeling to be able to build your reputation as a trapper and when your services are highly needed. It makes you feel respected and trusted for what you do.

Snakes are in a category all their own when it comes wildlife nuisances. It takes a lot of patience when dealing with a person who is in a total panic or who is ready to sell the house due to such a problem.

I believe I have the gift of calming people down when they need that kind of assurance that their snake problem will be taken care of. It gives them peace of mind when the snake trapper comes.

I receive so many emails asking all types of questions about my work. But one particular email caught my eye last week. This person wanted to know if I ever had an embarrassing moment. I told them "yes" and that brought back a lot of memories.

So I thought I would share some of my experiences this week.

When first beginning out years ago as a snake trapper, I was well trained but I thought I knew everything about this profession but that is another story. It takes a long time to develop the skills necessary to be successful working with snake issues.

One incident I recall is that I had ordered my supplies just before my very first snake call. My supplies, however, did not arrive in time. So instead of showing up with a snake hook I had make shift golf club, a broom and a pillow case. My flashlight was dead so I had no light for the inspection.

Well, the client was not happy and thought I shouldn't even be in this business. But I did get the snake out of the attic and that seemed to make the client happy. But from that time on, I made sure I had all the supplies I needed to have so I could complete my work properly, so I wouldn't have to rely on my fish tank net which came in handy that day, too.

A second incident, not too long after the first, a client had a snake in a tree. This time, I was at least prepared with the proper supplies. But this was a very large snake, and I thought I did not need gloves to handle the snake. Well, I got the snake down but in the process it bit me several times and even went to the bathroom on me. I stunk so bad I wondered if maybe I should be in another line of work.

The worse part is I had a conference at my son's school and did not have a change of clothes with me. Luckily, I did have a bottle of Febreze though it didn't help much. The teacher had a weird look on her face when I told her that I was sorry for coming in stinking.

The 30 minute meeting only lasted 10 minutes because this teacher was in a hurry to get away from me and I did not blame her.

There was also a day not too long ago that I had a helper for the day, and I decided we would go to McDonalds before heading down the road. By the time I arrived at my client's house, my helper was not feeling too well. We did manage to get the work done, but my helper said he had to go to the restroom because his stomach was feeling a little off.

My client gave him permission to use the half-bath off the foyer, and I went back to my Jeep to finish some paperwork while I waited for my helper.

After nearly 20 minutes, I decided to check on him. My helper had clogged up the toliet. The water, along with the accompanying nastiness not only flooded the bathroom but it ran into the hall and into a vent that led to the basement. I thought this can't be happening. Needless to say, the client wasn't too happy.

I apologized to my client and went back to my jeep to get some towels to clean this mess up. Meanwhile, my helper asked the client for towels, a bucket and a toliet plunger.

This only served to make matters worse with the client. I am not sure where he was from but he was yelling in a different language. Lord only knows what he was saying. He just wanted us to leave and never come back. So we did.

That was the first complaint made about me to Animal Control. The client stated my help was full of, well, you know, and he had to hire a cleaning person to come and sanitize his house. My helper was so ashamed he quit and I lost not only a good helper but money as well. This was truly a most embarrasing moment.

I have only written about a few of my embarrassing moments. I will attempt to share more in the future.

And, remember, spring is here, so get out an enjoy nature.

Tammy McCormack is a licensed Dept. of Natural Resources Snake Trapper. She writes an online column for You may reach her at

Mole snake

by Tammy McCormack. 0 Comments

Can you believe that spring is just around the corner? I don't know about you but I am truly looking forward to the warmer weather and sunny days ahead.

This year, snake season starts for me in mid-March due to the milder weather we have been having. And, this week, I thought I would educate you this week about a very uncommon species of snake known as the mole snake.

The mole snake is related to the prairie kingsnake. The prairie kingsnake is not native to Maryland.

Mole snakes are slender and their pattern varies. They are typically tan, grayish-brown, or yellowish-brown above with brown or green blotches down its back. They have alternating rows of smaller spots on sides.

Additionally, they have a v-shaped or arrow head like pattern on top of their head. As they age, this pattern almost becomes impossible to see. The mole snake is non-venomous.

The female lays five to seventeen eggs, which she lays in a hole in the ground below a soft surface. Eggs are laid June to July, and, after about seven to eleven weeks, the young hatch between August and September. At birth the young are 7 to 11 inches long.

The mole snake is very secretive as it spends most of the day in under rocks or several inches under the soil. They are most frequently seen crossing the road after a rainstorm on warm spring or summer night.

Their habitat consists of open fields, barnyards, pastures and rocky hillside areas. They eat small rodents, birds, frogs, lizards, and, yes, even other snakes. The mole snake can be mild tempered but never attempt to handle any type of snake. If you come upon a snake in the wild while hiking or taking a nice long walk, take a picture and add it to a journal to keep track of the species you have seen. This could be the beginning of a great educational tool.

Research has shown a mole snake in captivity can live for as long as 11 years. But it's very susceptible to predators during its first year. Many fall prey to predators such as hawks and owls. This can be said for all wildlife but it is nature's way

Until next time, don't forget to get out enjoy all that nature has to offer.

Dedicated to my mother Laraine who currently is in a nursing facility recovering from an illness and to my oldest son, James, who I am proud of for taking the steps for a healhier life. I love you both.

Tammy McCormack is a licensed MD snake trapper. You may contact her at She writes a regular online column for

Snake answers part 2

by Tammy McCormack. 0 Comments

Wow! It has been cold but the snow has been beautiful. When I look out my window and see the snow, it inspires me in many ways. It makes me feel like reading a good book or exercising and writing. Of course as a snake trapper it is my off season during the winter. But I am looking forward to snake season 2012 that isn't that far way.

This is the second series of answering some of your email questions and I want to thank you for sending your questions and comments. I truly welcome them each day.

1. Have you ever taken your snakes to a Frederick County school to show them to students and educate them about snakes? If so what types of snakes have you shown?

Yes, I have done this a few times. I found this to be so enjoyable and the students seemed to really enjoy this, too. I have taken Zeus, a gorgeous 13-foot Burmese Python; Majestic, a 10-foot reticulated python; Shania, an 8-foot Red Tail Boa; along with my corn snakes, black-rat snakes and Ball Pythons.

The children especially loved Zeus, and they had so many questions. I would have had to spend a week their answering all their questions. I really enjoyed sharing the importance of not only educating the students about pet snakes, but to also discuss our native Maryland species as well. I would also encourage the students to get out and enjoy nature and to always respect our native snakes and wildlife. I also told them to never attempt to approach any kind of wild animals, but to instead take a picture or write about the animals they have observed.

2. What is actually a snake trapper?

As a licensed Maryland snake trapper, I work for myself, which is normal for most trappers, regardless of their area of specialty. I typically spend my time going to a residence or commercial property, talking to the client about his or her snake issue, conduct inspections of the client's property inside and out, and setting humane traps. I do not kill any animal nor do I use glue traps. There is more to what I do but I will discuss that in more detail later. But, I am highly trained in this field and licensed. Snake trappers need to know exactly what they're doing because there is never room for error.

3. Do you rescue snakes?

There are times I have been contacted about a snake needing a home. I have done what I can to help with the situation. My heart is especially deep when it is a very sick or dangerous snake that a person should not have. A lot of people are very caring and understand how to properly care for such animals, but some do not and that is where I come in.

4. Have you ever considered writing a book about snakes?

Well, at times I have thought about it. There are so many subjects in this area to write about, and it is something I may consider doing in the future.

5. Have you ever been bitten?

Yes, I have but luckily the bites I have received from poisonous species have been dry. There have been very close calls, though, and I have been extremely lucky, and it could still happen to anyone, regardless of how much experience he or she has. But I am as cautions as possible as there is never room for error in this field.

As always get out and enjoy nature during the winter, whether you're taking a hike, walking, running or riding a bike.

Tammy McCormack is a Maryland licensed snake trapper. She writes a regular column for You may email her at

Snake answers, part 1

by Tammy McCormack. 0 Comments

Wow! I cannot believe how many emails I receive each week pertaining to questions about snakes, whether it's a pet snake, or native wild snake.

So I thought I would answer some emails that I thought were quite interesting from you.

1. What is the best snake for the first time snake keeper?

My professional opinion would be a ball python. They are a very hearty snake and they easily adapt. They vary rarely bite and are good eaters. They do not require a lot in regards to their habitat. There are wonderful people out there that know a lot about this subject such as those at your local pet store or animal shelter. Perhaps they can help you more.

2. What do I do if my snake has mouth rot or pneumonia?

As a snake trapper with a strong background in snake care and biology, I think you should never attempt to treat these types of illnesses. You could do more harm than good. There are wonderful exotic vets throughout Maryland who specialize in snakes and reptiles. You should contact one of these vets since they are highly trained to treat these issues.

3. Last summer I was bitten by a Maryland black snake. Should I have gone to the emergency room? It was just a minor bite.

Well, I am no doctor, but a mild infection can occur. You should have contacted your doctor or went to the emergency room. I have always been told to keep your tetanus shots up to date just in case this happens, but do not hold me to that since this is best discussed with your doctor.

4. My dog was bitten by a copperhead? She seemed to be fine but the next day she passed away.

I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your beloved pet. I am always responding to these types of calls. Never let your pet go without vet attention after a copperhead bite. They will become very ill from the snake's venom. Do not assume it is a dry bite. I hope your pet did not suffer, but, please, if this ever happens, regardless of whether it's an animal or human that gets bit, get medical attention immediately.

I so much enjoy answering your questions. Next week, I'll answer a few more.

As always, get out an enjoy nature during the winter.

*Tammy McCormack is a licensed DNR MD snake trapper. She writes an online columm for the You may contact her at

Senior pets and mammals

by Tammy McCormack. 0 Comments

Can you believe another new year is here? As a snaketrapper, it is very slow for me at this time of year. Acutally, it is nice because it prepares me for another new snake season and gives me time to relax a little.

I wanted to share with you something personal. Many think the life of a snaketrapper is very fascinating. But I am also a full time caregiver to my mother. Of course this is a very challenging job for the younger human mammal.

We all age, just as our beloved pets do, such as our cats, dogs, birds or reptiles. And, with the aging process, life can become more of a challenge because certain things can happen to the body.

Arthritis, kidney failure, failing eyesight, hearing problems and even dental issues can arise, and such procedures involved with those issues can get expensive.

Also, caring for a senior pet or senior human mammal takes a lot of patience. Sometimes you cannot leave your elder pet or elder parent alone. For your pets, you can contact your local animal control or humane society for help.

But with senior parents, you can make sure their medical needs are taken care of through their doctor. But it is not like you can call in a human trapper to remove them or handle their needs. There are caregivers out there who offer special services in the home for the senior parent. My suggestion is to start with your local health department, Department of Aging or They offer a lot of resources for the senior parent.

Life can be full of stress, tension and mental challenges when trying to care for a senior pet or parent. Please try to take time for yourself. Believe me, I know this is very hard to do but a balance can be found. You just need to slow down enough to find it. It has been very cold lately but try to get out and enjoy nature. There is so much to see and do even in the winter.

And, never hesitate to call for help. It is out there.

Tammy McCormack is a licensed MD snaketrapper. She writes an online column for You may contact her at

The eastern worm snake

by Tammy McCormack. 0 Comments

Time has literally flown by this year. I cannot believe it is Thanksgiving already.

For this column, I wanted to discuss the eastern worm snake, a very delicate snake that loves moisture.

These are tiny little snakes that are very plain with no pattern at all. They have smooth scales in 13 rows and can be brown, gray or black.

The eastern worm snake is an egg layer that mates from April to May and from September to October. The young are ready to hatch in about seven weeks.

The worm snake fully matures in about three years. They can generally be found in damp hilly woodlands, grassy hillsides above streams, under rocks, decaying logs or stumps, or in loose soil.

This snake is most likely to be seen during the spring while its habitat is still very moist. During dry and cold periods, it retreats deep into the ground.

It feeds on earthworms and is preyed heavily upon by our native milk snakes and king snakes.

The worm snake, which is very common in Maryland, is not a dangerous snake isn't known to bite when handled.

At this time of year, we're often asked what we're thankful for and hear what others are thankful for as well. But, we need to be thankful all year long, and to remember our native animals that are still out and about. Please slow down during this holiday season not only for the safety of our animals but for everyone else out there as well.

As always nature surrounds us with it's beauty during all four seasons. Get out enjoy!

*This column is being dedicated to my mother, Laraine. She is very ill and has been for 2 months now. I love you Mom.

Tammy McCormack is a licensed MD snaketrapper. She writes an on-line column for You may contact her at

Northern Black Racer

by Tammy McCormack. 0 Comments

Snake talk this week is about a common snake known to us in Maryland as the Northern black racer. Scientific name is Coluber constrictor. Please do not compare this snake to our native black rat snake. These are two separate species of snakes. Also known just as "Racer," The Northern black racer is a subspecies. Its a very large and slender snake that is fast moving.

Adults tend to be black. But also can be blue, brown or greenish above and white, yellow, or dark gray below. Young are typically gray and marked with dark spots on sides and dark gray, brown, or reddish-brown blotches mid-line of back. This gorgeous species mates April to late May in most areas. Females lay between 5 to 28 eggs which have a rough granular texture. Females will lay their eggs in tree stumps, sawdust piles, under rocks, and in small mammal tunnels.

Sometimes they may even lay eggs in a communal nest where other females have also laid their eggs, almost like a large nursery. Babies hatch between 6 to 9 weeks later. This species of snake is fully mature in 2 to 3 years. Their territory consists of abandoned fields, grasslands, brushy areas, open woodland, mountain meadows, rocky wooded hillsides, and grassy areas near streams.

Racers are often observed streaking across roads at a fast rate of speed. They are agile and excellent climbers, but spend most of their time on the ground. When hunting its prey, it holds its head high and moves very swiftly through cover. They eat large insects, frogs, lizards, snakes, small rodents and birds. Despite the scientific name, it is not a constrictor.

When the northern racer is annoyed, it may make a buzzing sound like a rattler by vibrating the tail tip in dead vegetation. If grabbed, it will bite repeatedly and thrash about violently.

Remember, snakes, like other wildlife, have suffered from habitat destruction as well as from pesticide poisoning and other pollutants introduced into their environments. Commercial collectors have taken their toll on reptiles and animals to satisfy a market of novelty collection.

Remember, these living creatures have a purpose on the planet just like all of us. Drinking that special potion with an animal part in the liquid, or having a rattlesnakes rattler on your keychain is not going to give you internal youth or heal an illness.

Get out, enjoy nature! But respect nature from a distance.

Tammy McCormack is a licensed professional snaketrapper. She writes a regular online column for You may email her at


by Tammy McCormack. 0 Comments

The raccoon is considered to be an omnivorous carnivore, and may be protected as a furbearer in many states. Raccoons are found all through North America and our native Maryland.

Did you know the panda in china is related to the raccoon family? Raccoons mate from February through May, and give birth May to September. The typical litters contain two to four young. They don't truly hibernate, but den up and "sleep" during the coldest months of winter.

Diets are omnivorous, like that of the black bear. They eat aquatic invertebrates, frogs, mice and rodents, carrion of any kind (which means other animals that are already dead), berries, fruit, human foods (including garbage). Raccoons are known for their manual dexterity, which is second only to that of primates. Raccoons use their paws and digits to extract food from difficult locations as they forage and hunt. They are highly intelligent and can also manipulate locks and fasteners.

Raccoons have adapted well in our suburban areas. Studies have shown that there are more raccoons per square mile of suburban areas than wild areas. They are notorious for being a nuisance by getting into garbage cans, so be sure your garbage cans have tight lids to help prevent them from getting into the garbage and making a huge mess.

Raccoons are well known to sometimes carry rabies and other diseases. Rabies is a viral agent that may be transmitted directly by a bite or scratch. Rabies is found in the saliva of infected animals. If you are bitten or scratched by any mammal species known to harbor rabies, and rabies may be known to be in the area, seek medical help and call your local animal control agency. The animal will need to be tested. If you have a nuisance raccoon in the attic it is best to call a licensed wildlife trapper who is educated and trained to trap this species and will know how to clean up any fecal/urine matter from the animal.

Raccoons also carry a type of roundworm that can cause serious illness, blindness, or death if transferred to human. It is found in the fecal matter. (Roundworm and rabies information is provided for educational use only).

Spring is here. Get out and enjoy our native Maryland wildlife.

Tammy McCormack is a licensed professional snake trapper. She writes a regular online column for Email her at