It’s in your nature: More local nonvenomous snakes
The black rat snake may reach over 8 feet long. This specimen was about 4½ feet and was “not happy” to be found out in the open. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
It was necessary for me to place this smooth green snake in a background so it could be seen. Imagine trying to find this snake in a green meadow.
These black rat eggs, shown here with a discarded robin egg for comparison, are more elongated and show how the leathery shells can be easily indented and not fragile like bird eggs.
Field guides indicate we can find 15 species of snakes in the Times News circulation area. In all my years outdoors, I have only seen 10 of those. Only two venomous species live here as well: the copperhead and timber rattlesnake.
The smooth green snake is fairly common, but not often seen because it is a master with its protective coloration. They reach 15-20 inches in length when mature and spend most of the time living on the ground. It is the last species to emerge from hibernation in spring, and I can conjecture it is because a bright, all-green snake crawling on a brown, leafy forest floor or dead grass field would be “easy pickings” for a broad-winged hawk. Emerging later when ferns cover the forest and dense growth of grass and weeds cover a field, it is almost impossible to find.
They lay about a dozen eggs, usually under a thin, flat stone, and allow the sun’s warmth to do the incubation. The incubation time varies due to the amount of sun they receive. The smooth green snake and ring-necked snake are generally considered the gentlest of the snakes and are easily held and handled.
The black rat snake is at the opposite end of the size spectrum when compared to the green and ringneck snakes. Black rat snakes (commonly just called the black snakes) could reach 8½ feet in length. When I was a youngster, my dad used a hastily produced forked stick to pin down a black rat and it measured about 7½ feet. It was quite impressive and I can still visualize its size.
They are all black above, with a dull white belly. (The black racer, the other black snake locally, is thinner and has only a white chin.) The black rat snake is a constrictor (not the black racer), grabbing, and then encircling their prey. After the prey dies, they, as all snakes, swallow the prey whole and head first.
Like the green snake, they lay eggs. They are dull white and leathery; not hard and brittle like a chicken egg. In fact, the shell can be indented by lightly pressing on the leathery surface. The eggs are placed in loose soil or in a rotting tree trunk and again warmed by the sun. The young black rat snake is not black, but blotched in its markings, and emerges from the egg about 10-15 inches long (almost as large as a mature green or ring-necked snake).
Black rat snakes are excellent climbers, so birds and bird eggs are fair game. I know of an individual who reached into a screech owl box to check on the two young owlets that were there only to find a resting and engorged black rat snake in their place.
This year I have only seen four species of snakes, and in fact in all my nature roaming in my retirement years I keep seeing fewer and fewer species. I’m sure to some readers that is probably good news.
Other nonvenomous snakes to look for this year, besides those mentioned above, are the brown snake, garter snake, hognose snake and northern banded water snake. I’d like to ask you not to abide by the adage the only good snake is a dead one. They do have important roles in nature, take a look, enjoy the diversity and “let them be.”
Last week’s trivia question answer: The cardinal is quite active at both dusk and dawn and is usually the first and last bird to feed at my feeders, and probably yours.
Test your outdoor knowledge: Which of these emits a foul-smelling musk odor when handled or threatened? A. garter snake, B. black rat snake, C. ring-necked snake, D. none of these, E. all of these.
Contact Barry Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org.