One evening last week about 8 pm my neighbor texted me about a snake half in and out of a hole in her backyard. Her first concern was is it venomous and second, why is it just hanging out and not moving? From the photo, I could tell that it was a non-venomous plain bellied water snake (PBWS). The identifying characteristics are the labial bars (vertical black lines around its jaw) and if you look very closely there are faint white bars that look like chalk lines. I also have some less scientific clues including the googly eyes and lack of a pixelated pattern.
As to the why is it stuck in the hole, my best guess was it went in after a frog and after dinner it was too fat to fully exit the way it entered. I advised her to leave it be and when the meal was digested, it would probably move on in search of its next frog or fish meal.
The next morning around 8 am she sent me another text saying our PBWS visitor was still stuck and not doing well along with another photo. In this second photo, I could see our PBWS was stuck in a sprinkler control cover and knew we needed to do something or it might die.
It was time for a snake rescue intervention so I put on my snake rescuer/furniture refinishing gloves and selected a garden tool to pry up the sprinkler control cover and a full bottle of Crisco to help lubricate the snake.
When I got to her house, I found the poor PBWS was worn out from struggling all night to free itself. After we pried up the sprinkler control cover, we saw that his lower body was very swollen so we liberally applied Crisco around the cover hole and on his lower body and hoped that he would just slide out. But that was a no go, he was really wedged in that cover, we put him in a bucket while we regrouped and consulted with the North Texas educational Facebook group, What Kind of Snake is This? to help us come up with a plan B.
A suggestion was made to let gravity do the work so we set him on a dwarf yaupon to support his body and we held on to the sprinkler cover.
The snake revived enough to wrap itself around a branch and with it pulling and us holding the cover, it easily broke free and was on its way to freedom. The next morning our PBWS made an appearance and was moving about with no problem. You might ask, how do we know it’s the same snake? Take a look at the shiny ring of scales about 2/3 down his body, that’s where he had the exfoliation treatment from the plastic cover and Crisco.