An Oklahoma resident just wanted to pick up some gardening supplies from a store, but unknowingly brought a host of hitchhikers back to their home, wildlife officials say.
They ripped open a just-purchased bag of mulch and were surprised to see several strange objects inside, pale ovals nestled in the dirt, Elise Gundlach, director of animal care for WildCareOklahoma, told McClatchy News.
Soon, the gardener paid a visit to the animal rehab center, in Noble, asking for help, Gundlach said.
“They were a little bit lost when they first found them, (but) they said they were snake eggs,” Gundlach said. “Once we got them, we confirmed that.”
But plenty more questions remained. How old were these eggs? Were they still viable? And if they did hatch, what might slither out?
“We were a little concerned … if they were even native to the area,” Gundlach said. It seemed possible the mulch could have been shipped from outside the state.
The WildCare team didn’t have to wait too long for answers, according to Gundlach. Within a week, all nine eggs hatched.
It wasn’t black mambas or spitting cobras that poked their tiny heads out of the soft shells, but harmless black rat snakes, according to WildCare.
All were in good health and ready to take on the world, Gundlach said. Rat snakes, like all snakes, can take care of themselves from the moment they hatch.
At some point, their mother must have slithered into the bag of mulch, laid her eggs and then left, according to Gundlach.
“They keep those mulch bags outside, so chances are a rat snake found a good nesting spot in there and decided to lay her eggs,” Gundlach said.
Though it might seem like a bad place for a nest, it makes sense from a snake’s perspective — and she doesn’t doubt a rat snake would try something like this.
“They’re pretty avid climbers and they get into the tiniest of holes. If there was a small puncture in the bag, I’m sure they could have found their way in pretty easily,” Gundlach said.
Now that the eggs have hatched, there’s not much left for the WildCare team to do except give the snakes a few meals and send them on their way, she said. Five have been released and the remaining four will be let loose sometime in the next several days, weather permitting.
“They’re completely independent once they hatch,” Gundlach said. “It’s up to the babies to survive.”
WildCareOklahoma, founded in 1984, is Oklahoma’s largest wildlife rehab center and is among the largest in the country, according to the nonprofit’s website.
The town of Noble is roughly 30 miles south of Oklahoma City.