A Vernon teenager thought he’d come across a creature from hell on the Stairway to Heaven.
The teen was walking the popular stairs, located off Okanagan Avenue near Fulton Secondary – where many people use the stairs to exercise – when he met up with what he thought was a large rattlesnake.
Spooked by the snake, the boy moved to the side of the stairs and snapped a couple of pictures.
“This is a great basin gopher snake,” said Pete Wise, owner/operator of Wise Wildlife Control Services, upon examination of the photos.
“It’s a non-venomous species. We have lots of them in this part of the world.”
A great basin gopher snake will curl up and hiss, which sounds exactly like a rattlesnake. They will also wiggle their tail very quickly, trying to mimic a rattler.
Gopher snakes will strike out at humans and can bite, but they are non-venomous.
“Gopher snakes are a grassland species and there are lots in the grass above the road,” said Wise. “They come onto the stairs to sunbathe. There is no den around the stairs that I am aware of.”
A gopher snake can grow to nearly six-feet long, and while it does resemble a rattlesnake, it has a narrow head and a black eye on the head.
If that eye is black, said Wise, “friend of Jack. If it’s eye of yellow, kill a fellow.”
A rattlesnake has an oval pattern on its back, white stripes near the tail and, of course, the rattles on the end of the tail.
Wise said it’s important to remember that the gopher snake – like all snakes in B.C. – is a protected species.
“It’s unlawful to kill them,” he said.
“Give them space. They will move. Here in Vernon, I will act in support and, if need be, attend myself. Identification is the key. Send me a photo and, once identified, we will go from there.”
If you should see a gopher snake on or beside the stairs, Wise said if you have a walking pole or stick you can move the snake off the trail.
“Often the vibration from your foot fall is enough or tapping your stick on the ground,” he said.