To follow the signal, Smith relies on a handheld radio plugged into a large metal antenna, which looks like it would be at home on a rooftop in the 1970s, tuned into The Brady Brunch. When Smith turns on the radio, the Cranberries crackle through, singing throatily about zombies. He switches the frequency and there's static, punctuated every few seconds by a faint blip. If Smith points the antenna in the right direction, the chirp gets louder. He will follow these blips, using the antenna like a divining rod, until he locates the snakes.
Over the course of the day, Smith finds five neonates above ground. He manages to catch four, to feel for the bulge of a recent meal (bones for vertebrates, smaller lumps for insects) and to make sure the surgical incisions are healing properly. The other neonates remain hidden in holes and burrows. Now is about the right time, Smith says, for shedding, which often takes place underground.
Wherever he locates a snake, Smith marks the spot on a map on his phone. After the hatching season in September and October, pine snakes don't stray far from the nest. At the 2013 conference of the Ecological Society of America, Smith reported that the snakes stayed in an area less than three football fields in size from where they were born until their first hibernation. "We can go back to see if they're using an area preferentially," says Smith, and that location, subsequently, can be protected.