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Red Touch Yellow...

Well, as you're soon to see, that rhyme that starts with this post's title really doesn't work. The Carlton Carnivores family has acquired another couple additions, and one of them is quite the spiffy little rulebreaker that helps reaffirm the real rule: know your animals, and you'll know how to really stay safe.

Meet Cinder:

Cinder, an adult male Resplendent Shovelnose Snake. He's quite the stunner in a small package.

Cinder is a Colorado Desert Shovelnose Snake, also known as the Resplendent Shovelnose, Western Shovelnose, and depending on which paper you look at or which range map the actual species he may belong to is somewhat debated. I'll currently settle with the DNA-supported split between Chionactis occipitalis and Cinder's C. annulata, divided in the wild approximately along the line where the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts meet, with annulata in the Sonoran Desert and occipitalis in the Mojave. Some even still consider this genus to be a part of the genus Sonora, but there are some distinct morphological differences between the shovelnose and ground snakes.

In the wild, Shovelnose snakes are low-elevation desert specialists, adapted for surviving underground most of their life. Flat, down-turned snouts and shielded valvular nostrils allow them to root through loose soil and prevent dirt from getting up their nose, and they are impressively fast at burrowing as well. At night, they may come up to the surface to hunt, tracking the scent trails of small invertebrates or locating nests of small reptile eggs.

The underbelly of a Shovelnose, showing the change in pattern from blank white near the head to fully encircling bands by the tail.

The most striking thing perhaps about this species however is of course their coloration. Both species of Shovelnose are rather variable, and when once labeled as the same species possessed several subspecies that tended to be divided by color patterns (which often intergrade or don't quite follow the supposed ranges in the wild). Specimens can be almost entirely white with black or brown bands (the bands themselves may also only extend to the belly or connect all the way around, and any mix in between), possess barely visible red or orange stripes or spots within the paler background between the black bands, to almost solid black and red with white or cream ringing the other colors and black speckled through the red bands. Cinder's color form in particular, distinct orange or red bands on white between black, is an incredibly close match to that of the Sonoran Coral Snake (Micruroides euryxanthus), one of two genera and two or three species of coral snake recognized in the US. Just like with them, red touches yellow on these guys, but for multiple reasons the Shovelnose snake breaks the rules for "kill a fellow."

First and foremost, size. An adult Shovelnose snake averages between 14 and 17 inches in length (Cinder currently might be just around a foot, so he could grow a little yet), and thin as a pencil. With this comes a very small head; when defending themselves it's more common for Shovelnoses to musk on a predator or mock-strike (which Cinder does often if disturbed), but should they actually open their mouth and try for a real bite it's rare that they could even think to manage getting ahold of skin anywhere. Their mouth is just too small for a good nip. Secondly, while Chionactis is technically a rear-fanged venomous snake, those rear fangs mean they would need a pretty good grip and a bit of a chew on you to be able to envenomate, and the venom this species possesses is very weak and meant to kill their preferred prey of insects, not large mammals. If you managed to have a reaction, it would probably be due more to allergies than any damaging effect of the venom itself. So for all intents and purposes, the Shovelnose snake is a species as a whole with a red-touches-yellow style pattern that is entirely harmless to people. Thus, best to learn which species of snakes are in your area and what the real identifying traits of each is in order to ensure you know which are harmless, and which can be a potential danger.

Though a poignant reminder: a snake is only a danger if you make it into one. Some 80% of bites in the US occur because someone was messing with or trying to kill the snake, and if you just take a couple steps away and go around, no conflict will ever arise. Even rattlers and coral snakes are entirely harmless if you let them do as they are meant to do. All wild snakes can be permitted to simply go about their lives unharmed, and we will all be better for it.

Peek-a-boo! As burrowers, this is often as much as one gets to see most days (if that; often it's just an indent in the sand) of a Shovelnose snake in its cage.

To a slightly different topic: Shovelnose snakes are rare in captivity, and for fairly good reason. They're not exactly beginner animals, and there are several aspects of their care that require a fair bit of keeping experience before trying to get one. Adorable as they are, research beforehand is paramount (however I stress thoroughly researching any animal and being prepared to care for it before going and purchasing one). First, this is a burrowing desert animal, and so requires a cage that reflects that. Sandy substrate deep enough for a pencil-thin animal to comfortably burrow in is a must, and the cage should remain fairly dry (though slightly moist hides during shedding might be utilized, and a small water dish should always be present). Temperatures should not actually be extremely high though; underground it's cooler, so while the desert surface might be baking at 130 degrees Fahrenheit, below ground where these guys are hiding their preferred warm spots might only be in the low to mid-80's, and cooler sides in the 70's, and this should be reflected in the cage conditions.

Second aspect of great importance: food. Most snakes can be weaned onto small mice, but this is not one of them. In the wild they like insects, and in captivity they also like insects, and each snake can sometimes have a particular preference for what they will take. I was told when I got him that Cinder likes crickets, which has seemed to hold true, and even more luckily for me it appears he also delights in baby dubia roaches that I already breed, but others might like grasshoppers, beetle or moth larvae, or even earthworms more. Oftentimes you will never see them feed either; as they are nocturnal, typically the feeding method is dump a couple of their food critters in the cage, and then check back in a few hours or the next day to see if they've disappeared or not. Making sure the cage is also insect escape-proof is necessary too to make sure the snake is actually eating them and they're not simply running away. Cleaning up afterward is also very important, as they'll basically be burrowing through the same sand they've just relieved themselves somewhere in.

The third aspect, and perhaps the biggest reason why this is also not a beginner pet: Shovelnose snakes are not cuddle buddies. Even an individual who has been in captivity their whole life will not become particularly used to handling and will mock-strike, defecate, and try to run (and they are blindingly fast) every time they are picked up. They can stress easily if disturbed too often as well which can result in death, among the reasons they are not commonly bred and therefore sold in captivity. This is an animal for display at best, or more realistically kept for the occasional beautiful glimpse, and best left only for those with decent experience caring for snakes already.

However, those of us who do have that experience can still share the enjoyment of these guys via our photos, so to sign off this entry, one more pic of this adorable little reptile:

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