Latvian family creates makeshift maternity ward for snakes

Snakes are often feared and are often killed because of that. But there is a family in the municipality of Augšdaugava who have achieved the opposite, helping hundreds of little snakes hatch, Latvian Television's 4. studija reported October 5.

In folk tradition, the grass snake was seen as the bearer of blessing and also the guardian of the sun, possessing different mystical powers. Whether the grass snakes of Naujene possess any powers is unknown, but they did leave the Minovi family a present in the compost pile in the summer. 

“Dad saw the first one, he says, we have some mushrooms growing there, spilling out of the compost pile,“ said Inese Minova. “After a day or so I went to dig and work myself, and then some four eggs spilled out at first, bound together. I guessed they might be snake eggs.“

The family of Inese Minova have been living in the house in Naujene civil parish for 16 years. The grass snakes  had always been good neighbors, but rarely showed more than the tip of the tail.

Now they had left so many eggs that they had to be taken into a wheelbarrow to an improvised snake maternity ward that the family set up as a nest of leaves and grass inside an old tire.

“I'm not a biologist, I don't know how to hatch snake eggs, but it came to mind to make something like a nest where they could remain and develop,” Inese said. “I put those eggs down, covered them, and left them alone.”

There had been no movement in the old tire for a week or two, and she was even frightened that she had interfered with the natural processes and that the little ones would not hatch – until she spotted a couple of young snakes sunbathing.

“I've seen three snakes hatch myself; it was lucky to see that process,” said Inese. “They hatch, they are vigorous, and every now and then I look-they're bigger, but the biggest ones go away, they're looking for food for themselves, and now, at the end of September, they're looking for a wintering place.”

Inese speculated that the snake babies would continue to live in their usual surroundings and would also become fodder for local storks and hedgehogs next year, as is nature's way. She is delighted to have also added to her and family's knowledge of these creatures by helping snakes hatch.

Inese laughs that the family dogs finally have a holiday as hundreds of snakes now guard her property.

Inese moved the eggs and then worried if she had interfered with the natural processes. But what does one do upon such a finding?

Māris Lielkalns, representative of the Riga National Zoo, explained that grass snakes use places with enough heat and moisture as an incubator in nature. Like rotting piles of leaves or piles of compost.

“There's egg-laying in the spring and then all summer they hatch there, they develop,” Lielkalns told LTV. “Two, three months, and then at the end of August, beginning of September, these eggs hatch and little tiny snakes  come out of them.”

As the specialist said, Inese “did very much and almost all correctly.”

Lielkalns said: “The only thing she did wrong was put in a pile of leaves. The compost pile evolved, there was development, there was incubation. By contrast, placing a leaf in a pile that is not already ripe for decay, but needs a process to start generating heat – at that point, there was some stopping. And so the eggs hatched not at the beginning of September, at the end of August, but only at the end of September, so that basically there was a little delay in this process. The best thing, of course, would be to pick up some amount of that same compost there, which is already working, warm, then it's still covered with a larger pile of leaves that still keeps them warm, then it would have been even better. But in any case, the process has taken place, the snakes have hatched, and there will be new grass snakes in Latvian nature.”

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