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The Foul and the Loathsome

Red-bellied Snake. Tom Murray photo

I have no fear of snakes, so it isn’t uncommon for me to pick one up and let it crawl and wrap itself around my arms. And this is what I did, on a guided interpretive hike last week, when we unexpectedly came across a somewhat uncommon red-bellied snake. I picked it up. In turn, it squirted me with a foul smelling liquid from its scent gland that clung to me until well into the evening. I was always taught when on a guided hike to “seize the moment.” Obviously, I seized this moment with a bit too much enthusiasm. When snakes sense fear they use chemical warfare to repel their aggressor. It repelled not only me, but all the hikers that followed who remained a respectable distance behind me for the duration of the hike. One of my most vivid memories of this happening was some years ago when I received a call about a large milk snake that a Crofton resident had found in his flower garden. He appreciated snakes, but didn’t really want this fellow around to surprise him unexpectedly when he was weeding his petunias one morning. I volunteered to pick it up and introduce it to our own property on Big Island. I found the snake under a plastic rain barrel and it was obvious by its aggressiveness that he had developed an attitude about this hot, temporary home that he had been given. This was one of the largest milk snakes that I had even seen and he had a scent gland to match. When I placed him in a box in the back of the car, its odour filled the car within seconds. Intending to purchase a bag of milk at the store in Crofton, I asked my wife to make the purchase as I was too embarrassed to walk into a convenience store smelling like a bunch of sweaty, unwashed feet, just released from a dozen hot shoes. On the 16 km drive home, we did get a few curious looks as we motored along, our heads hanging out the open windows for anything even remotely resembling fresh air. I am thinking after these two experiences, perhaps I will insist that hikers on my tours enjoy these reptiles from a distance. Obviously I don’t have the same knack for handling snakes as the late herpetologist Tom Huff who was happiest when he had a snake around his neck. And I do have the habit of chewing my fingernails a lot between washings.

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About the Author: Terry Sprague became interested in nature at an early age. "Growing up on the family farm at Big Island, 12 miles north of Picton, on the shore of the beautiful Bay of Quinte, I was always interested in the natural world around me. During my elementary school days at the small one-room school I attended on Big Island, I received considerable encouragement from the late Marie Foster, my teacher in Grades 6 through 8. Her home was a short distance from where I lived and through the years she was responsible for developing my interest in birds. The late Phil Dodds, a former editor with the Picton Gazette, also a great nature enthusiast, suggested I undertake a nature column - a column I have submitted weekly since 1965. The column has since expanded to the Napanee Beaver and the Tweed News. Life has been good, and through the years I have enjoyed working with such nature related agencies as Glenora Fisheries Research as a resource technician, Sandbanks Provincial Park as a park interpreter and Quinte Conservation as a naturalist and outdoor events coordinator. As a nature interpreter, currently working from my home office, I now create and lead numerous interpretive events in the area and offer indoor audio/visual presentations to interested groups. Could one who is interested in nature have enjoyed a more exhilarating period in the work force?" Terry's website is

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  1. Brian says:

    Interesting! I’ve handled my share of local snakes but have never smelled one.

  2. Sedona says:

    Hi Terry:
    What a great site here. You all know how I love the County and this story on snakes, oh my, scary! and the odour!…Phfew! That is quite a snake. I’ll have to watch. I’m going to the Birdhouse City at Macaulay Mountain
    and hope they are not there.
    Tks for sharing
    Sedona 🙂

  3. Terry says:

    Well, actually it is worse than a dog – unless, of course, we are talking about a Chihuahua we owned back in the 1970s who holds the world record for anal gland odour in relation to size!

  4. Louisa says:

    That’s the one and only reason I won’t touch a snake! Your description is very clear. Can smell it from here. Can’t be any worse than when the dog decides to expel her anal glands during a grooming though, could it?! Yikes!

  5. Sue says:

    I know who to call when another one appears at my house. Scared to death of them. Can’t believe how big they are. Didn’t know they had a smell… Doesn’t surprise me though!

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