On April 30, Jessica Y. found a snake by her Valley Center house, picked it up, then snapped a selfie.
Jessica, posted the photo on Facebook and captioned it: “Instead of killing gopher snakes: pick them up; say hello; admire their beauty; send them on their way; (heart emoticon).”
Gopher snake caught and released
Jessica from Valley Center video
Her “PSA” garnered over 200 reactions and responses like: “OMG”; “shivers”; “cute”; “brave girl”; and “yuck.”
An insurance agent saw a liability issue. “I don’t think you should suggest people pick up snakes on their properties and put them around their necks,” she said. “I mean just legally speaking …. this [post] should probably be removed before someone sues you for doing it and getting hurt.”
In our May 4 interview, Jessica said she’s been fascinated by animals and bugs since she was as a kid and always turned over rocks to find critters; she’s found five gopher snakes since the beginning of the year.
“I don’t recommend anyone picking up a snake unless you’re 110 percent sure of what kind it is,” she said, “and, don’t pick it up unless you’re OK with a possible bite.”
“The gopher snake ranges from cream to tan, with stripes, diamond-like patterns and ridged scales,” according to Debra King. “The Pacific gopher snake is not venomous at all. In fact, it is known to be a fairly harmless snake, and people often pick them up.”
King is an interpretive specialist for the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society. Her article ““I’m just a soul whose intentions are good…” The Misunderstood Gopher Snake” was published and posted on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service site.
“Gopher snakes are similar in appearance to rattlesnakes, and the two are often confused because gopher snakes mimic rattlesnakes by coiling up and vibrating their tails to warn off predators,” King said. “They flatten their heads to resemble those of rattlesnakes and emit a hissing sound. While this performance may protect gopher snakes from many of their foes, humans often kill harmless gopher snakes thinking they are venomous and a threat to their safety.”
Jessica dislikes when her Valley Center neighbors kill animals. “Snakes are so important,” she said, “I don’t understand how people hate rodents but kill snakes; it’s like an oxymoron. [Mike,] please stress to the public to never use poison to kill gophers, mice or rats …. the snakes eat them and die as well, as any other animal who catch rodents.”
Ramon from Chula Vista saw Jessica’s selfie. “That’s crazy,” he said, “the flash or the ringtone might startle the snake and who knows WTF might happen after that.”
King warns that “[gopher snakes] should never be picked up or handled because like any other animal they can bite if they feel threatened.”
“A snake bite, even non-venomous, can be painful,” responded CL, a former herp keeper that saw Jessica’s snake selfie. “Their mouths are full of many very sharp teeny pointy teeth and usually the surprise of being bitten gets you. It can feel like a scratch or like a razor blade.”
Another resident that liked Jessica’s photo has “so many gopher holes” on her property and is quite welcoming to a gopher snake that can grow up to 8 feet long.
Gophers are said to feed on most vegetation in yards — and can destroy grass, vegetables, flowers, trees and shrubs — in a small amount of time.
“Gopher snakes are a valuable part of California’s ecosystem,” King says. “As predators, they help control populations of other species ,and are vital to reducing the number of animals we consider pests, such as rats or gophers. Keeping rodent populations under control also help reduce the spread of germs and diseases.”
“I’ve [also] learned snakes are territorial,” JC added. “[They’re] so great to have on your property [to] keep those pesky rattlers away.”
Shortly after my interview with Jessica, she sent me a video of her holding up a baby gopher snake and commenting: “It’s so cute …. you were sniffing around over here so I’m going to put you back … bye,” then the snake slithered away.