The Snake Lady

When Kristen Stanford began researching the Lake Erie water snake in 1999 from her base at Ohio State’s Stone Laboratory near Put-in-Bay, Ohio, there were fewer than 2,000. Now, there are between 10,000 and 12,000 and the snake has officially been delisted as an endangered species. We checked in with the woman known as “The Snake Lady” to see how she did it.
On the snake’s success: “It became the 23rd species to be removed from the endangered species list. The populations did, in fact, recover. And we met those goals in 10 years.”

The biggest threat: Humans. “A lot of people just don’t like snakes. I had to tell them, ‘Hey, you’re not legally allowed to kill these animals anymore.’ The water snake had basically the same status as the Bald Eagle. The fine for killing them was up to $100,000 per animal.”

What works: “One of the outreach strategies that we use is to help find ways for people to live alongside of these water snakes. There are ways they can discourage them.”

Like what? “If they are on your beach, pick the far edge of your shoreline, build a little brush pile and the snakes will go there. Don’t leave rafts or cushions around. If you leave a hiding spot like that,
they’re going to crawl under it.”

Goby gobblers: “Water snakes are eating a million gobies a year,” Stanford says. “ Considering that there are 9.9 billion gobies in the western basin, that might not seem like much of an impact, but water snakes forage in the same parts of the shoreline where small mouth bass nest. So the snakes are protecting the nests from the nest-eating gobies, which has a very big impact on the lake.

The bottom line: “Respect that the snakes are a part of the island environment and have been since the islands were discovered. Try to find a way to peacefully coexist with them is all I ask of people. They can continue to hate the snakes. But they need a place to live too.”

What’s next: Stanford is working to protect the timber rattlesnake, which has gone extinct in some states and is listed as endangered in Ohio. “I like snakes in general because I think snakes are
fascinating. Just really neat animals. It’s OK if you don’t like them;