CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS (Haines, Alaska) 06 September 05 Roadkill garter snake could be 1st in Alaska
Snakes in Alaska? Scientists for decades have debated the prospect. The latest piece of evidence may have come in from Small Tracts Road.
The eight-inch serpent isn’t an auspicious specimen. Crushed by a car and found on the shoulder of the road, it’s dry, discolored and missing most of its skull.
But stored in a freezer at Haines High, it’s soon to be headed to the collections department of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, with a genetic sample to be tested in Texas.
Haines herpetologist Tim Shields collected the roadkill reported by pedestrian Bev Schupp Aug. 18 and said it could be a significant find.
"It could be the first vouchered specimen of a snake in Alaska," he said Tuesday. Then again, it could be an escaped pet.
The pattern of lateral stripes, keeled scales and general body proportions makes it likely a garter snake, Shields said.
Haines High School students helped narrow the field of possibilities this week by examining the specimen under a magnifying scope and counting diagonal rows of scales at designated body points — a diagnostic tool that indicates the snake could be a common garter snake, Thamnopic sirtalis, Shields said.
A certain identification of the species won’t be possible until genetic evidence is analyzed, however.
The carcass was in marginal shape. "Real mashed," he said. "It had been there quite some time."
Garter snakes aren’t unheard of in Southeast Alaska, but there’s never been documentation before.
"It’s the first time somebody’s gotten a corpse," he said.
Garter snakes were reported along the Taku and Stikine rivers in a scientific paper published in 1976.
The locations aren’t too far from interior British Columbia locations known to be within the species’ range. The only specimen collected, however, was lost.
"All other attempts to locate this specimen or to document the presence of garter snakes anywhere in the region have been unsuccessful," according to the field guide, "Amphibians and Reptiles of Alaska," which lists the species as "potential."
Another reported sighting came from the Chilkat Peninsula in the 1970s, said National Park Service Trails Specialist Blaine Anderson. He e-mailed Shields the anecdote of a trail worker who reported seeing them frequently while working in Chilkat State Park.
Shields said identifying the species affirmatively still won’t answer whether the animal was wild, an escapee or the offspring of an escapee.
If the animal is naturally occurring in the Chilkat Valley, it shouldn’t cause alarm, Shields said. "Garter snakes are totally harmless and eat garden slugs. It would be a welcome addition to the biota in Haines."
He’s still gathering information, however, and urged residents to contact him at the Takshanuk Watershed Council, 766-3542.
"I’d be very curious to hear from anyone who lost a snake."
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