In the garden: Garden pest control | AspenTimes.com

In the garden: Garden pest control

Anna Naeser
Special to The Aspen Times

It is the most improbable, most astonishing bright green color imaginable and the first time I saw it I could scarcely believe my eyes. It is the western smooth greensnake, a resident of my garden I have come to treasure.

I took lots of before and after snapshots for last week’s column and while trying to make a decision, inadvertently scrolled beyond images of my topic to that of a pearly shed snakeskin, like a ribbon of isinglass, neatly draped along the top of the timber retaining wall. I backed up, zooming in on a “before” portrait of coreopsis, to consider the effect of some judicious cropping, when I realized that I had also captured the owner of the discarded snakeskin! The delicate greensnake was probably among my flowers all along while I snipped deadheads and snapped pictures.

Small and slender, Liochlorophis vernalis blanchardi is a member of the reptile Colubridae family. Greensnakes may be 2 feet long, though the ones I’ve seen have been 4 to 15 inches. Year ago, a big stone, loosened during the building of the retaining wall, rolled off the hill and exposed a den of snakes of such a lurid green, they looked fake. A biologist at Colorado Mountain College said this was quite a rare sighting; a whole part of my yard has been left mostly undisturbed to protect them ever since.

All snakes grow throughout their lives, though the rate slows after maturity, and shed their skin from snout to tail several times a year. If you have almost jumped out of your skin when startled by this snake, consider yourself lucky. Consider too, that the snake was at least as startled and much more frightened by you, one of many large predators, than you were of it.

Snakes are still perceived by many people, even gardeners who should know better, as unfriendly and harmful to humans, to be killed on sight. Most are not only harmless, but play an important role in their native ecosystems and in controlling pests.

Garter snakes eat rodents and my beautiful smooth greensnakes eat insects and spiders, including grasshoppers and slugs. They are so helpful in the garden that I quit weeding when I spot an active one, so as not to disturb it. Why would we want to exclude creatures that feed primarily on insects and rodents from our gardens?

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Note: The smooth greensnake is one of the nongame wildlife species that will be protected under Colorado law beginning Sept. 1.

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