It’s a, um, black snake?

   Written by on May 29, 2015 at 11:03 am

 A couple of years ago, in May, I wrote about a black snake showing up in the bedroom of a friend. That thing not only showed up, it stretched itself out on the back of her little sofa like it owned the place.

logo - walk in gardenWell, May must be the month for black snakes to begin to stir around. This past Monday while I was working in the yard, a healthy-looking black snake slithered by in front of me, about six inches from my right foot. Now, I’m not jumpy about snakes, and, admittedly, it took me a couple of seconds to realize what it was that was moving on the ground. Once I did, though, I made the decision to let that snake have all the yard it wanted. I hopped on the mower and put it away in the garage, gathered up all my tools, and went in the house. I must note here that New Dog never stirred and actually watched the snake scoot by from his stretched out place in the shade. What a dog!

Now, in an effort to set things straight, herpetologists can be very literal and extremely miffed when we Southerners talk about black snakes. We call them black snakes because that’s what they are: black snakes. Two words: one adjective, one noun. But they insist that there is no such thing as a blacksnake in the South; it’s either a Northern black racer (not in the South!) or an Eastern rat snake (that’s more like it). Or, it could be a one of those not-quite-so-black Eastern hognose snakes. We’ll eliminate that one; that snake Monday was black as coal.

If we Southerners really want to please the herpetologists, we’ll make the determination thusly: did it slither away in a great big hurry? If so, it’s probably a black racer. Is the snake really long? Well, the one I saw was probably four feet long; hard to tell since it was moving in that wiggly snake-like slither thing they do. Racers taper out at three or four feet while the rat snake can grow to as long as eight feet! Rat snakes are also the ones that climb trees to get at bird nests and rest themselves inside on garage rafters and the like. Rat snakes are seldom seen moving around in the heat of the day, either. They prefer the cool dawn or dusk.

Racers do their snake thing in the heat of the day. It will hold its head up and scout around to see what’s going on, and then move quickly to grab its prey. They really are pretty fast and will strike if threatened. Rat snakes are the ones farmers appreciate because they dine on rats and mice and voles and trouble-making birds. They are even better than a cat around the barn since they can get into smaller spaces and take out a whole family of mice at once.

That’s enough science for now. Just know that the blacksnake (or black snake) we all know and love is not really a blacksnake. It’s a black snake. Okay, whatever.

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