Snake Skin in the Storage Shed: Mouse Murder Mystery Solved!

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We have three storage sheds, but naturally the one where we found the snake skin today is the shed where we store the household trash when it’s not safe to fire up the burn barrel. The sheds are made of steel, but there’s a bit too much slack between the lower edge of the rollup door and the floor. Field mice found their way through the weather stripping to scavenge the trash…and the snake had come to hunt the mice.

Well, duh.

It wasn’t that clear-cut last winter. There were plenty of mouse turds as evidence of the rodent infestation. I began trapping the wee beasties outa there, making a decent effort but no visible dent whatsoever in the Stuart Little population.

Time passed. One day it became clear that we had a tiny monster living in the shed with the mousies. Dead, trap-held mouse carcasses were turning up with their hearts eaten out and not much else gone or even damaged.

What the–?

Neither Pam nor I could figure out what sort of critter might logically eat like that. Sounded like a Little People version of something Stephen King would write. Cujo hit by a shrinking ray. Something. Whatever it was possessed strength enough to also drag a trapped mouse, trap and all, into hiding somewhere among the piles of bags full of trash. Pretty soon, only three of the original six mousetraps were anywhere to be found.

The heart-gouging invisible mini-monster, leaving the mutilated corpses as it did, eventually grossed me out to the point that I quit setting traps altogether. What the hey. Once the monsoon rains got everything wet enough to make burning safe again, the entire shed could be emptied, one bag of trash burned at a time.

Then we’d see.

The rains have been here for a while. We started burning trash two days ago. Today, lifting out one more bag to tote over to the burn barrel, I noted–what is that?

Ah! A discarded snake skin.

And one of the missing mouse traps.
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Sure, Pam and I’d discussed the possibility that a snake might find its way into the shed after the mice. Like a the big dummy I can sometimes be, though, I didn’t think about the known fact that anywhere a mouse can go, a snake can follow. Seeing the discarded skin right there in close proximity to the absentee trap, however, clicked on the light bulb in my dusty mental attic.

The damage to those mouse carcasses had not been caused by a heart-eating mini-monster after all but by a frustrated snake trying really, really hard to swallow the mouse without having the trap jammed down its flexible gullet at the same time. In some cases, it looked like the reptile must have succeeded. At least, before the day was done, another missing trap had turned up just inches away from the first one and even closer to the snake skin–and neither trap had a mouse left in it. In those cases, after hauling its dinner to deep concealment, Hungry Jake must have somehow persuaded the trap to let go.

Bet a video of that effort would have gone viral on YouTube in a heartbeat.

“Leggo my Eggo!” Or snake words to that effect.

Since the odds are pretty good that Hungry Jake might still be in residence in the shed (or not, this being midsummer, but you never know), Procedure Common Sense was promptly instituted:

    1. Head to the house, warn Pam: Do not go into the storage shed for any reason whatsoever.

    2. Calm wife down. Attempt to assure her that you didn’t get to be this old and remain unbitten by accident.

    3. Calm wife down. Show her the skin, point out the pointy tail. A rattler skin is blunt at the end, and leaves something behind to become part of the rattles. This one is a corn snake or gopher snake or some other nonvenemous species. Maybe a coachwhip, from the look of it.

    4. Calm wife down. Illustrate “new” safety procedure for snagging bags of trash without exposing oneself to attack by Twilight Zone Slytherins lurking to latch onto her man. The procedure involves a hoe, of course. Hoes are very handy in many situations.

    5. Photograph and measure snake skin. (Length: 30 inches, give or take, plus the missing head.)

Note (on the right) the long, tapered-to-a-point tail. NOT a rattler.

Note (on the right) the long, tapered-to-a-point tail. NOT a rattler.


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Then it was time to dispose of the skin. Were we a functioning museum or an educational facility, the snake skin would be a marvelous find–okay, it’s still a marvelous find, but enough. Time to get on with the day.

Now, where to dump the skin?

Never thought of burning it–seems sacrilegious somehow–but the ants seemed to like it. So, leave it out in the desert for Mother Nature to recycle. Absolutely. But not on bare ground; these things are light, and the slightest breeze sends them scooting. Wouldn’t want it blowing over by the house, have one of us step on it in the middle of the night, and drop dead from cardiac arrest, eh?

Eh.

So: Hook it up with a little mesquite tree. See how long it takes to disappear.

As I’m typing, Storage Wars is percolating along on the TV. That’s a show about people, usually (but not always) owners of second hand stores, who stock their stores by bidding on all those mini-storage units abandoned by folks who didn’t keep up the rent. Sometimes they make a ton of money, finding great saleable items hidden in each “room” they’ve purchased, and sometimes they take a bath in red ink. One pair of partners just scored a 100 year old studio camera in working condition, for example.

We can’t do that. Our storage unit is definitely full of trash we’d have to pay the county landfill to take. But treasures? You bet. Not to match the $10,000 remote controlled jet those same two dudes just found…but maybe we can find a pretty, brightly colored mouse-eating snake to match that old snake skin.

With luck, it’ll even pose for pictures before I figure out how to gently encourage it back into the wild to eat more Stuart Littles roaming the bunchgrass.
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Update: In the end, we emptied the storage shed completely, burned every bit of trash, and never did find the snake. At a guess, it had wintered in there, where the insulation was many bags deep and the food source neverending, allowing it to grow throughout the sort of weather that had every other reptile in the area hibernating. Thus the shed skin…but once the weather warmed, back out to the wild it went.

That shed has now been refurbished, rehabbed if you will, and converted to a standalone structure housing our laundry machines. The rollup front door (that allowed the snake and mice to enter under the rubber weather stripping) has been replaced with house-type wood framing, tightly fitted…and hopefully varmint proof.

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