3-foot gopher snake euthanized in Hawaii to protect native species

A live ground 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 seeing children playing with it Monday afternoon. Maui Police Department officers arrived at the scene shortly thereafter, where they found the snake contained in a plastic dumpster.

After tentatively identifying the 3.5-foot snake as a female mole snake, officials transported it to the Office of Plant Quarantine. Once there, he was sadly put down.

After the incident, agricultural inspectors searched the area surrounding the snake’s location, but found no evidence of any other unwanted wild animals.

As unfortunate as they are, wildlife officials on the islands have no real choice but to euthanize the snakes when found in the wild. Hawaii has no native snakes and therefore no natural predators to keep populations in check.

The only somewhat welcome species is the Brahminy blind snake, also known as the pot snake and the Hawaiian blind snake. This species, however, is hardly a snake.

About the size of an earthworm, the blind snake is the second smallest snake on Earth. It is not poisonous and feeds on ants and termites, so it practically does not harm the native ecosystem.

With the exception of the tiny blind snake (which, by the way, is actually blind), it is illegal to own snakes and transport them to Hawaii. Even species that do not pose a direct threat to humans.

Gopher snakes do not pose a threat to humans.

Although they resemble rattlesnakes, ground snakes are not dangerous in the least. They are not poisonous and are known for their calm and docile nature. So much so, in fact, that they are a popular choice for beginning snake owners.

Gopher snakes have a powerful bite, but their small teeth won’t do much damage other than immediate pain. On top of that, they reserve their teeth as a last resort for defense.

Before it bites, the mole snake has many tricks up its scaly sleeves that it can employ. First, it could whistle at a would-be attacker. Since they have an exceptionally loud whistle, this often works. 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 coil up like a viper. They then flatten their heads and rapidly flick their tails, giving a convincing performance as a rattlesnake.

If his performance does not cause the threat to second guess his decision to approach, he will attack with his mouth closed, using his blunt nose to fire a warning shot. Only when all else fails do they use their teeth in defense.

Even harmless snakes are not welcome in Hawaii.

All of that said, their harmless nature does nothing to earn the gopher snake points in Hawaii. There is 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, Hawaii’s ecosystem is particularly vulnerable to external threats. Snakes have no natural predators there, meaning they put other species at risk, both through predation and by creating competition for food and habitat.

Although gopher snakes and other species are sometimes illegal escaped pets, they can also travel across the ocean via shipping containers.

Hawaii offers an amnesty program that allows owners of illegal animals to turn them in without penalty. However, it is much better to avoid bringing them to the island in the first place.

Non-venomous pet snakes are legal in all states but Hawaii. You can be the proud owner of a ground snake, without the risk of your beloved pet being euthanized, anywhere else in the country.