Last week I was doing some yard work, getting my garden ready for the Hummingbirds and Butterflies that I had faith would visit my tiny backyard this summer. As I was planting, weeding and performing some basic garden chores I was suddenly startled by a small slithering surprise that was hiding in a small flower pot which still held some soil from the previous year. A Brown Snake! A wonderful sight to behold, especially since it had been many years since I enjoyed the pleasure of having one of these lovely creatures grace my backyard. As it glided into the underbrush of my backyard wilderness I had a feeling of reprieve that this tiny creature still managed to survive the onslaught of suburban life.
For a young boy growing up in the Meadowlands, searching for snakes was a rite of passage. Garter, Milk and Brown Snakes occupied many of our summer days as we explored the woods and marshes of our Meadowlands home. As I grew up I came to understand how important snakes were to our environment and how my backyard inhabitant, the Northern Brown Snake, was keeping my garden healthy and in balance.
Northern Brown Snakes (or DeKay’s Snake) are small, harmless, nonvenomous and avoid humans whenever they can. They are very docile and although they can produce musk and sometimes bite if handled it is very rare.They have a dark brown body and two rows of darker spots along its back. Its belly is gray to pink and can have small black spots. They can grow to be 9-to -15 inches long.
Brown snakes are very shy and mostly solitary. They spend most of their lives underground or under cover. They are most active at night, particularly during the summer. Brown snakes feed largely on earthworms, snails and slugs, but will also eat small grubs and beetles, some of which are considered garden pests.
Sadly, Northern Brown snakes are very susceptible to backyard pesticides, insecticides and lawn chemicals, which is why they have become a rare sight in some areas of our New Jersey suburban neighborhoods. They also very often fall victim to human misunderstanding and are killed off due to fear and ignorance.
My former neighbor would kill them and show them to me as if he was doing a good thing. My constant attempts to explain to him why they were good for his garden fell on deaf ears. His recent departure, however, could be why this great little snake has returned to my Meadowlands backyard.
You can help the Northern Brown snake by keeping a healthy, organic, chemical free backyard by eliminating the use of any harmful chemicals in the garden, which is crucial if you want to attract and keep the Brown snakes, among others, healthy in your garden. Going organic is not only better for you and the environment but also for all life in the garden. Harsh fertilizers and herbicides can also harm snakes and will eliminate their food source.
Keeping a healthy place for all our creatures, including snakes, will help keep our suburban backyards in in balance with nature and make a better environment for all of us to live .
More info on creating snake habitat in your backyard can be found here