A live gopher snake captured in Pukalani, Maui, last week was humanely euthanized by wildlife officials after authorities received reports of children playing with the reptile near the side of the road.
A passing resident reported the snake sighting after spotting the children playing with it on Monday afternoon. Maui Police Department officers arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, where they found the snake contained in a plastic garbage bin.
After tentatively identifying the 3.5-foot serpent as a female gopher snake, officials transported it to the Plant Quarantine Office. Once there, it was sadly euthanized.
Following the incident, agricultural inspectors scoured the area surrounding the snake’s location but found no evidence of any other unwanted wildlife.
However unfortunate, wildlife officials on the islands have no real option but to euthanize snakes when they’re found in the wild. Hawaii has no native snakes, and therefore no natural predators to keep populations under control.
The only somewhat welcome species is the Brahminy blind snake, also known as the flowerpot snake and the Hawaiian blind snake. This species, however, is barely a snake at all.
Roughly the size of an earthworm, the blind snake is the second smallest serpent on Earth. It’s nonvenomous and feeds on ants and termites, doing virtually no damage to the native ecosystem.
With the exception of the tiny blind snake (which, by the way, is actually blind), snakes are illegal to own in, and transport to, Hawaii. Even the species that don’t pose a direct threat to humans.
Gopher snakes don’t pose a threat to humans
Though they resemble rattlesnakes, gopher snakes aren’t dangerous in the least. They’re nonvenomous and known for their calm, docile nature. So much so, in fact, that they’re a popular choice for beginner snake owners.
Gopher snakes do have a powerful bite, but their small teeth won’t cause much damage besides immediate pain. Besides that, they reserve their teeth as a last resort means of defense.
Before biting, the gopher snake has many tricks up its scaly sleeves it can employ. First, it might hiss at a potential attacker. As they possess an exceptionally loud hiss, this often does the trick. If that doesn’t work, they launch into a convincing rattlesnake impression.
Like other species ill-equipped in the self-defense department, gopher snakes use mimicry to protect themselves. When threatened, they will coil up just like a pit viper. They then flatten their heads and rapidly shake their tails, giving a convincing performance as a rattler.
If its acting doesn’t make the threat second guess their decision to approach, they’ll attack with a closed mouth, using their blunt nose to give a warning shot. Only when all of that fails do they use their teeth in defense.
Even harmless snakes are unwelcome in Hawaii
All that said, their harmless nature does nothing to win the gopher snake points in Hawaii. It’s nothing against snakes as a species, keeping snakes off the islands protects the delicate balance of the local ecosystem.
Because it evolved in geographic isolation, the ecosystem in Hawaii is particularly vulnerable to outside threats. Snakes have no natural predators there, meaning they put other species at risk, both through predation and creating competition for food and habitat.
Though gopher snakes and other species are sometimes illegal escaped pets, they can also hitch a ride across the ocean via shipping containers.
Hawaii does offer an amnesty program allowing owners of illegal animals to surrender them without penalty. It’s far better, however, to avoid bringing them to the island in the first place.
Nonvenomous pet snakes are legal in every state but Hawaii. You can be the proud owner of a gopher snake, without the risk of your beloved pet being euthanized, anywhere else in the country.