In 1997, “The Crocodile Hunter” and its intrepid star, Steve Irwin, entered my life. I was seven years old when I first saw Steve in his monochromatic khaki outfit, fearlessly approaching animals that others would consider “dangerous,” “ugly,” or even “horrifying.” Instead of running away or warning viewers of their peril, he would try to kiss them and appreciate their true beauty. I was instantly captivated.
 I spent hours and hours watching. I know we all “love” Steve Erwin, but or me, it was more than that. He shaped my entire worldview. I started telling everyone that I wanted to be a “wildlife photographer” because I believed that was what Steve was doing. At that time, I didn’t fully grasp that he wasn’t merely taking photos of these animals; he was also engaging in vital and impactful conservation work. He was inspiring people to love and appreciate animals. His excitement and enthusiasm was inviting others into a world where we don’t try to kill every snake we find in our garden simply because it scares us. 
Although I no longer proclaim that I want to be a “Wildlife Photographer” an animal and nature conservation remain integral to my life. I learned not just to appreciate animals, but I caught Steve’s wild joy. I get pumped up when I see animals, even if I have seen them a million times before. It never fails to take my breath away when a barn swallow flutters by my window, or when something shifts, revealing a previously hidden camouflaged creature. 
I have to admit, that this hasn’t always lead me to make the smartest decisions. As my younger brother will tell you, he carries a near-lifelong fear of snakes because of my own lack of fear. When I was ten we discovered a small snake in our backyard. I confidently proclaimed that it was a “garter snake” which I absolutely did not know how to identify, and I picked it up. It promptly bit me. Trying to maintain my Steve Irwin-like composure through my tears, I reassured Zylar, “It’s okay, he didn’t mean to hurt me.” 
I am happy to report that this incident did not ruin my relationship with snakes, or as I now like to call then “Slipper Tube Dudes.” I have be slightly more hesitant to pick them up without being completely sure what they are, but honestly the hesitation is very, very slight. Which leads me to this mornings incident with a beautiful little “Nope Rope.” 
While monitoring the encroachment of knotweed in our yard, I spotted what I believe was an Eastern American Toad hiding among the dead leaves. It could have been a Fowler’s Toad; I mean who really can tell them apart? Noneltheess, he was lovely and hoppy and very fun to see appear among the leaves. Then, a rustle, a rattle, a dry swishing warning indicating that a “Danger Noodle” was nearby. But was it truly a “Danger Noodle” or just a clever imposter? Take a look at the video we captured and see if you notice anything missing. 
Rattlesnakes, specifically the endangered Timber Rattlesnake, inhabit our region They are large, venomous pit vipers and it would have been incredibly cool to see one since they are so rare. I got very excited over the prospect of this discovery - the kind of excitement that also feels a lot like fear. Glen quickly spotted what you might also be able to see in our video- this snake has no rattle. So, what type of snake is she? Well, I am glad you asked. 
he is an Eastern Milk Snake! If you’re not as thrilled as I was about the possibility of encountering a rare rattlesnake, you can easily identify an Eastern Milk Snake by its distinctive pattern. It has three sets of black-bordered brown or reddish-brown blotches on its top and sides. This species consists of 25 subspecies and has a broad geographic distribution from Canada through the Midwest and Eastern United States, extending south to Mexico and even Ecuador. So, there is likely a milk snake near you right now. 
Milk snakes are non-venomous and primarily hunt and kill small rodents using constriction. They acquired the name “milk” snake because people once believed they sneaked into barns at night to drink cow’s milk. However, this is entirely untrue. “Nope Ropes,” like all reptiles, are lactose intolerant.
Regarding our Milk Snake encounter, we managed to capture an awesome video of her shaking her tail, a behavior they use to mimic more dangerous snakes. This mimicry is most effective when they are surrounded by dry leaves, making it a special moment for me to capture on video and share. After recording the video, I attempted to get closer to her, but she politely feigned an attack, making it clear that she did not want to be picked up.So, with a little nod to Steve, and the hard-earned knowledge fro my ten-year-old self, I left here where she, likely to continue her hunt for the nearby toad.

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