Tuesday, March 25, 2008

An Early (and cold) Black Rat Snake

While walking through the woods last Sunday looking for Spring ephemerals, I came upon a very cold and slow moving Black Rat Snake.

Black Rat Snakes are extremely beneficial in the control of rodents, although birds and eggs are also part of their diet. This one probably just emerged from hibernating in one of the rock crevices that was nearby. They are also known to hibernate in cavities of trees (they are excellent climbers) and old buildings. They are constrictors which means they wrap their body around their prey until it suffocates. Usually when encountered they will "freeze" and if disturbed will hiss, rattle it's tail and bite (although it is not venomous). They have also been known to release a bad odor from scent glands if handled. Unfortunately because of it's tendency to rattle it's tail, it is also killed quite frequently.

The one pictured here was about 3.5 feet long. They can get as long as 8 feet. As they get older and larger, they will lose the pattern that you see here and will become darker and darker.

Since they start to breed in Spring, this might make sense why this one was venturing out. Although as I continued on and looked back at it gleeming in the afternoon sun, the cry of a Red-Tailed Hawk sounded overhead. I never stayed around to see if the snake survived another day.