An Eggsciting Mystery

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.

~Neil Armstrong

Now, my mystery is not nearly as compelling as that which drove someone like Neil Armstrong to conquer space, but it was a mystery nonetheless.

worm snake eggs

Mystery eggs (click photos to enlarge)

On July 3, I was doing some tidying up near the shed when I decided to remove an old decayed tarp from a remnant wood pile that had long ago started to rot. Always on the lookout for Copperheads in such places, I was paying close attention as I pulled the partially buried tarp. I suddenly uncovered a clutch of 6 eggs. Looking at them, I debated whether snake or lizard, and decided, due to the size and elongate shape, they were most likely a small snake of some sort, but I just wasn’t sure. So, I put them in a flower pot with some soil and mulch and set them in the shade, determined to keep an eye on them and see what might hatch. As the days went by, I checked on them whenever I walked by (or remembered to check on them), until one day I found a couple of the eggs either hatched or perhaps partially eaten (they were darkened and shriveled). The other eggs looked firm and fine. Last week, I noticed the flower pot on its side (maybe from a curious Gray Squirrel or rambling Raccoon), so I went over to check.

Worm Snake hatchling

Mystery solved!

When I gently shook the pot, I uncovered a small snake. Then another.

Worm Snake hatchling and egg 2

Eastern Worm Snake and egg

Looking through the soil mix, I saw two tiny snakes curled near the eggs. When I picked one up, it squirmed and stuck its pointed tail tip into my hand – classic behavior of an Eastern Worm Snake, Carphophis amoenus amoenus.

worm snake

Worm Snakes are harmless to humans

These small snakes (adults get up to about 11 inches) are so named because they resemble their primary prey, earthworms. The scientific name also tells us something about them: Carphophis is derived from the Greek words karphos which means “straw” or “chaff” and ophios which means “snake”; amoenus is Latin for “pleasing” or “charming” referring to the disposition of this small, harmless snake. Worm snakes are secretive, hiding in the litter under logs and other objects, and only occasionally coming out into the open. They are often uncovered when raking or moving mulch. The pointed tail tip is actually a sharpened scale that presumably helps them gain a “foothold” when burrowing through soil. It may also serve a defensive purpose since they certainly press it into your hand when you pick one up – harmless to a human, but it might help deter a small mammal or a large salamander that wants to make a meal of it.

I released them into the leaf litter after taking a few baby portraits. Another mystery solved. Every day is another glimpse into the mysteries of the world around us…that is somehow so satisfying. I hope you solve a mystery, or at least ponder one, every time you are outside.

5 thoughts on “An Eggsciting Mystery

  1. mystery solved! interesting stuff! Off topic – we are being overrun with the millipedes after these rains…i remember this happening about 10 years or so ago when we were in the other buteo house. what is the deal?!

  2. Mike, I am really enjoying your posts. I needed this daily boost which has been missing as a regular tonic ever since I retired! Eve

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