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`Hibernation hotel' good for snakes

I know this idea is going to seem weird to some of you, but those who find snakes fascinating need to read on. You can improve habitat for snakes by creating hibernating habitat.

One of my childhood pleasures on the first warm spring days in Michigan was to go looking for snakes. I had a mental list of likely places where wintering snakes would emerge from their refuge from the cold. Large, rotten logs and rock piles were good places to look. Best of all were old rock-filled post holes.

Once, farmers in southern Michigan used to set corner posts of farm fences in big holes filled with glacial boulders. This support of rocks steadied the post and it kept the post from rotting. These rock-filled post holes were premium snake hibernating habitat.

One of my favorites was about 30 inches deep and two feet across. Sticking out of the hole was an old slivered post. On just the right Spring day there would be two or three blue racers coiled in the sun at the edge of the hole. These snakes were almost un-catchable because they would zip down among the rocks before I could approach.

There are many natural hibernating places where naturalist landowners can find snakes. But if you don't have such a place on your land, and if you are one of those who find snakes interesting, why not make one?

This is a practical idea for landowners north of the Mason Dixon Line and I think it will work in parts of the South that get occasional snow. In the deep South, good hibernating sites are not a limiting factor for snake survival.

The first step is to pick a good site. A slope with a southern exposure is best. Choose sandy soils if you can, or mound the soil so that water won't drain and pool at the bottom.

Now, start digging. I think a hole two feet wide and at least three feet deep is a good size. throw in a bushel of dead leaves, small sticks, or other rotables. Then, carefully position the stones. Arrange them so as to create little "rooms" for the snakes with interconnecting passageways that communicate to the surface.

Cement blocks, bricks, or pieces thereof are fine for the lower levels. Put your prettiest stones on the surface so your creation is also a work of art.

Give the snakes various basement levels like an underground parking garage. You can make these levels with pieces of carpet or large, flat rocks. These levels will allow snakes to choose sites with the most favorable temperatures.

Should you find snakes during summer within a few hundred yards of your hibernation hotel, I think it would be okay to relocate them to this special place. This will help them to know where to go when Winter approaches. Don't bring snakes from distant locations - leave them where they are.

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