Black Snake in the Side Yard

A few pics of this once common local snake, now rarely seen.

Posted: Jul 3, 2011 10:04 pm

In the hot mid-afternoon of May 23, 2011, arriving home after running errands, I climbed out my truck and spied what must have been at least a 5-foot black snake in the far edge of the side yard, sunning. Black snakes are easily spooked and quick to slither off, so as unobtrusively as possible I snuck inside to grab my camera.

Slideshow from my Flickr account:

This is the feisty but harmless “black snake” which we often saw while growing up around here, and which I so rarely see these days. This is a big one, but alas it froze and kinked a little, then slithered off into the underbrush. Wild, shy, and not such an easy photography subject. Black snakes were the biggest snakes we saw locally as kids; specimens were regularly over six feet long. Black snakes have suffered a significant population decrease since then, both by habitat-loss and by our ignorant suburban behavior of killing them mercilessly over the past 45 years (“Oh, for the children’s sake!”). As efficient rodent-eaters, they may have had an uneasy co-existence with some farmers, but warm roads with cars were never kind to snakes, and increasing urbanization has seen the nearly total loss of snake populations in many areas where in the recent past, black snakes were frequently encountered.

Short video from my Youtude account:

Lots of snakes are called “black snakes” and some kinds are hard to distinguish, especially if you don’t want to get too close. Which snake is ours? Both the Black Rat Snake and the Southern Black Racer are long black snakes, with lighter underbellies and ivory or white under their chins. Both show some speckling as adults (left over from their juvenile patterns). Both are fast, both are temperamental and will bite, both will climb trees, both rattle their tails in the leaves and release musk when frightened.

Slightly keeled scales.

Here are some references:

In these references, two notable points are raised:

  1. Black rat snakes will sometimes freeze in a wriggled or kinked shape. This specimen kinked a little, before slithering off.
  2. Black rat snakes have slightly keeled scales, while the black racers have very smooth scales. Keeled scales have a central ridge which runs across each scale, roughly parallel to the backbone.

I’m pretty sure this is our black rat snake. I’ve been seeing them since I was a kid, though so many fewer these days. I’ve also recently seen the patterned youngsters about 100 feet from here, so I know this species lives around here. The black rat snake.

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