One afternoon I received a telephone call.
"I'm working on a housing development project, and I ran across a snake while digging a trench. Please take a look at it."
My friend stated that he was not bitten.
Relieved, I said, "I'll be there as soon as I retrieve my snake bag and snake stick."
As I drove to the site, I thought about this friend — a joyful person of stout muscle standing about 6-foot-3, weighing close to 190 pounds, and capable of driving a golf ball 300 yards or more.
Since this guy is a fast, hard worker, I hoped in haste he had not cut the snake in half.
As soon as I arrived at the scene, sack and snake stick in hand, I rushed to the open ditch and asked, "Where's the snake?" While standing in the ditch, he tossed a shovel full of dirt to the side, turned around to me, and pointed.
"Over there," he said.
I searched in that direction, but all I saw was a small Styrofoam cup with a piece of crumbled paper, which served as the cup's lid.
"Is that it?" I asked. After his affirmative response, and noting a smirk on his face, I realized I had no need for the snake stick or bag. I reached into the cup with my bare hand and removed a 6-inch harmless Plains black-headed snake.
These small specimens are dwellers of the eastern New Mexico grasslands. They inhabit dark soils under rocks and other debris. Rarely are they observed above ground.
Of interest, however, is that several people have mistaken these small snakes for earthworms. When asked for assistance in identification, I suggest they place the specimen on a flat surface.
Snakes move forward with a wiggle from side to side while earthworms move forward without a wiggle.
Another test is to place the pointed end of a fish hook against the side of a specimen. If it wiggles from side to side, release it in an area with damp soil, small rocks, and plants. If it wiggles all over the hook — go fishing.
Desert Biologist Tony Gennaro of Portales writes a monthly column on creatures of the Southwest. Contact him at: