Kinky Snake!

Kinky Snake!

Pantherophis obsoletus

-- makes the guy sound like an extinct big cat, doesn't it?  Well, he's neither. He's very common and coming to a garden near you. Wish I had one in my yard taking care of the moles this very instant!

The black rat snake was, until 2002, placed in the genus

Elaphe

. So when you check the resources at the end, many will refer to

Elaphe obsoletus

, as opposed to

Pantherophis

. I'm not schooled well enought in biology to explain why this was changed, but you can't say I didn't tell you!

Black rat snakes are non-poisonous constrictors. They delight in ridding your garden of vermin. And other things you might not have wanted to get rid of like songbirds, eggs, lizards, and frogs. Just remember, nature normally has a balance. When we eliminate the predators, we end up with too many other things. Many agricultural fields of grain are overrun with rats from time to time--when it gets really bad, the rats get into the granaries and contaminate the harvest there. One of the most effective predators of these rodents is --funny, this -- the 

rat

snake.  Who da thunk it?

Kinky Black Rat Snake

Black rat snakes are, well, black. And kind of tubular. They have white chins and lots of white on their bellies. The pupils of their eyes are round, like ours (rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins all have "slits"). They hide in leaves and brush, are excellent climbers, and when alarmed can get...kinky. [

See photo at right.

] Which I personally think is hysterical. Here's this big old fella, about four feet long, and he gets all kinked up like he's in desperate need of chiropractic assistance. Oh. They

will

bite, but it's going to scare you, not kill you.

Baby black rat snakes don't look like black snakes. Both the Hilton Pond link and the Fairfax County link have some excellent images of the juvenile snakes. With other of their predators, this non-solid-black coloring works in their favor to camouflage them and make them more likely to survive childhood. When they bump up against humans, however, mania has been known to set in and cause the human predator to think those squares on the back of the juvenile black rat snake are SADDLES-- like on COPPERHEADS! MUST KILL IT! There is no real resemblance between the species--copperheads are pit vipers, have the characteristic triangular head, are thick-bodied and both lighter in tone and more distinctively patterned than rat snakes. They do have "being snakes" in common, though.

See that round pupil? The white chin? No shovels, please!

You can find black rat snakes in roughly a third of the U.S., and if there are no black rat snakes in your area, then there is some other variety of rat snake covering that territory. They are hugely critical to the balance of the ecosystem. In many areas, the black rat snake is potentially the largest snake around--easily reaching six to eight feet in length.

Juvenile black rat snakes can look much like a closely-related snake, the corn snake. I'm very fond of corn snakes, due to the tutoring of a herpetologist who used corn snakes in his study of color/pattern mutations. We'd go to his house for Christmas, and I'd be off to the snake room to visit the 100+ snakes in their cages. Nearly all were corn snakes, though he also had a few rat snakes and other things that people wanted to get rid of--like the occasional rattlesnake. I suspect he used corn snakes because they are much more docile than black rat snakes--and the colors can be incredible!

Resources:

Hilton Pond

,

Fairfax County Public Schools

,

Wikipedia

,

University of Florida

Extra Credit:

Wikipedia, Corn Snake

,

Amazon

(I know, I know...)

Mullethead

Mullethead

Bee on Phlox

Bee on Phlox