When I was a kid, I was pretty much fearless. And in addition to fearless, I was wildly curious. If I was playing out in someone's field, or in the woods behind my house, I never thought twice about picking up frogs, salamanders, and god knows what else... without even thinking about it.
But growing up in Hampden, I never really considered the possibility of poisonous snakes. In fact, I was led to believe there were none at all. Turns out that's not 100% out of the question. There are well-documented stories of timber rattlers in the mountains of western Maine. But that was decades ago.
On the other hand, most of us would agree there *probably* cougars/mountain lions in Maine too, despite the state's insistence there are none. So it's wildly unlikely, but not impossible. But thankfully, that's not what we're talking about here. But just the same, I've heard a few stories on Facebook that made me wonder what was up.
In a few posts here and there, folks were saying they encountered a fairly large snake that appeared to make a rattling sound. Naturally, that set off a major online debate. But here's the thing... There is a snake in the Maine woods that will rattle at you if you bother it. And, it may even bite you. But, you have nothing to fear at all.
The Eastern Milk Snake is just about everywhere in Maine. There are probably small ones in your backyard right now. Maybe even big ones. But I used to see small ones all the time when I was a kid. They were pretty PO'd when you'd pick them up, and they'd bite hard enough to hang onto my finger. But we're talking 6-8 inches long...
Adult milk snakes in the right environment can grow up to four feet! And when they're threatened, they quickly shake their tail back and forth. And because of their size, and people usually finding them in the woods, their tails will rustle the leaves around them, and totally mimic the sound of a rattlesnake. NorthernWoodlands.org explains it better.
Milksnakes can sometimes be confused for rattlesnakes due to their tapered tails and quick tail movements. When a milksnake vibrates its tail very quickly in dry leaves, it sounds very similar to the noise of a rattlesnake’s rattle. However, unlike rattlesnakes, eastern milksnakes lack a physical rattle and are non-venomous.
And while they also bite, there is nothing to be afraid of. They don't have fangs, just small teeth. They might scratch you, but likely won't break the skin. So basically, they're the chihuahuas of the snake kingdom. The little yard ones are even more like that little chicken hawk from the Foghorn Leghorn cartoon. All bark, no bite.
Don't fear the milk snake. It's just there to eat small rodents. Maybe even hope that they're living near your house and eat all the mice trying to get in. But otherwise, just leave it alone if you see one. They're just snakes trying to be snakes doing snakey things. And that ain't so bad.