A reptile rescue yields a dynamic shot

Vine snake wrapped around tree


Copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes, oh my! Not all snakes bite, but the biters are the ones we know best. And when people can’t spot the difference between a dangerous snake in their garden and a harmless snake that keeps rodents and pests at bay, snakes of all kinds can wind up being killed out of fear.

Some years ago, I was staying near the tropical forest outside of Quito, and a local resident brought me this female brown vine snake (Oxybelis aeneus) to identify and relocate. The species is only mildly venomous and poses no threat to humans. But because the snake vaguely resembled the highly venomous Bothrops asper—responsible for the most human-snake conflicts in the area—I took her deep into the forest for her own safety.

Snakes are notoriously difficult to photograph. On a typical day, this species of vine snake stays high up in the forest canopy, far from people and cameras. The rescue provided me with a unique opportunity to photograph her in the wild.

I released the snake at the base of a palm tree with spiny roots, and she opened her black mouth, warning me not to get too close. As I backed away, she started to climb and moments later had disappeared into the vegetation—a true mistress of her domain.

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