Slither, hiss, slide: Snakes show off at Rec Center

Jack Whalen holds a boa constrictor
Jack Whalen holds a boa constrictor

About 20 clear compartments — each containing a friendly snake — lined the table as people walked into the rec center Thursday, April 27, for the annual Ridgefield Conservation Commission meeting.

The snakes, ranging from a boa constrictor to pythons and albino variations of different families, were on display for the audience to see — and even hold.  

Ridgefield resident Jack Whalen, a member of the board of directors of the Orianne Society, brought the slithering reptiles as part of a presentation on the snakes of Connecticut. He said that all of them had been raised in captivity for generations and posed no danger to the audience.

Event organizer and emcee Daniel Levine kicked off the meeting by thanking all the rangers — volunteers who watch over town trails — for their service.

“Tonight’s meeting is specifically for you, a special token of appreciation for all the work and volunteering you do,” he said.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi also spoke words of appreciation.

“Many people talk about our trails and how much they enjoy the tranquility of being able to walk through them,” he said.

“Thank you so much for what you do — it’s greatly appreciated.”

Rattlesnake bites

Whalen gave a presentation on all of the 13 snakes commonly found in the state, the most notable being the rattlesnake, which is highly venomous and lives in rugged terrain and densely forested areas.

The rattlesnake is three to five feet long, and is classified as a venomous pit viper.

Whalen said that throughout history, America has had a fraught relationship with this animal, trapping and killing it in fear of its powerful bite.

“Connecticut paid you $5 for each snake tail you brought in,” he said.

“A lot of people did that for a living, that had been going on since the 50s — tens of thousands of snakes have died.”

He said that currently the snakes are protected and their populations are diminishing rapidly.

According to Whalen, rattlesnakes were a real threat 200 years ago, when there was no effective treatment to battle their venom, but no longer.

“Today, almost nobody dies from rattlesnake bite,” he said.

“They don’t bite unless you pick them up or step on them.”

Although conservation of rattlesnakes is somewhat controversial, Whalen believes that they just need a little understanding.

“We’re increasingly protecting these snakes through a variety of means,” he said.

“Education is key so we can understand more about them and how they live.”

It’s also easy to tell when stepping into one of their dens. Whalen said they won’t bite before giving plenty of warning.

“You hear a sound because it’s letting you know it’s there, then you hear 20 sounds — it’s pretty wild,” he said.

“It sounds like buzzing — like a really loud bee or something.”

He also said that they’re not keen on hurting humans, they might just bite without releasing any of their venom — if they feel threatened — saving their poison for more practical prey.

Edith Meffley Award

Besides the snake presentation, RCC gave the Edith Meffley Award to Douglas Martin.

“This year there was no competition,” said the presenter, Conservation Commissioner Carroll Brewster.

“He led the efforts to get the land conservancy accredited last February — an extraordinary achievement,” Brewster told the room. “He’s a gentle listener who conveys to all by example the importance of the mission of the land conservancy.”

Martin said he was honored, but gave all the credit to the  members of the Land Conservancy of Ridgefield.

“I accept this because it can only go to an individual,” he said, “but I think the board should receive the award — they did an amazing job.”