by Patrick McShea
In the wild, even the limited wild of our backyards, snakes don’t pose for identification near the numbers of convenient reference keys. Still, the small snake I encountered one cool November morning while raking leaves remained still enough for a prolonged close inspection.
The pencil-thin and ruler-length reptile was in a tight coil beneath a pile of leaves I had neglected to remove the previous afternoon. The unfamiliar creature apparently found both cover and relative warmth in the isolated pile, and I guessed it would depart on its own once the day warmed. As I gently replaced its leafy blanket I remembered where to find its identity.
Some natural museum exhibits function as three-dimensional field guides. Number 13 in the Non-Poisonous Snakes of Pennsylvania display case on the Daniel G. & Carole L. Kamin T-rex Overlook bears the simple descriptive name brown snake, and is known scientifically as Storeria dekayi.
With that information I found out more about the harmless creature I had unknowingly been sharing space with by visiting the website PAHERPS, which specializes in images and data related to Pennsylvania’s amphibians and reptiles and is a great tool for educators and curious gardeners alike.
Patrick McShea works in the Education and Visitor Experience department of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences of working at the museum.