Posts Tagged Black Rat Snake

Reptile Rendezvous

My front deck is the reptile rendezvous of choice.

My front deck is the reptile rendezvous of choice.

Early May has brought out the reptiles in abundance at my house. Almost every time I walk anywhere on our five acres these days, I see/almost step on a snake or lizard. Amphibians of numerous species are also ubiquitous. I encountered two very large toads in different parts of the vegetable garden yesterday as I planted my summer squash seedlings.

A week or so ago, early afternoon brought out two lizard species on our front deck. We couldn’t miss them, because they were basking/interacting just outside our front door. Those are Green Anoles on the railing, of course. I’ve written about them several times, including here. They like that railing, and we see them there often.

The new additions were the skinks loitering on the deck below. They are either Five-lined Skinks or Southeastern Five-lined Skinks. The two species are very similar; apparently the experts distinguish between them by examining scales on the undersides of their tails. I wasn’t about to traumatize them or myself by trying to catch them for closer examination.

At first, I thought the Green Anoles were engaging in courtship behavior, but the longer I watched, the more I thought that perhaps it was a slow-motion reptilian territorial dispute. The most action occurred when one of them caught a small butterfly that was visiting one of the white salvia flowers growing beside the railing. Just as one anole caught its prey, the other rushed it, jostling it, so that it released the fluttering victim, which flew away as the two anoles settled in for more slow motion space wars.

The nose-to-nose glare-off lasted for many minutes.

The nose-to-nose staring contest lasted for many minutes.

One was clearing shedding the skin off its tail. Maybe this makes it extra grouchy?

One was clearly shedding the skin off its tail. Maybe this makes it extra grouchy?

One did occasionally inflate his throat pouch. The other never did, which is why I suspected it might be female.

One occasionally inflated his throat pouch. The other never did, which is why I suspected it might be female.

The skinks were much less active than their green friends. They seemed content to stay nearly immobile, soaking up sun and ignoring me as I moved around trying to get better camera angles on them without startling them.

Those are White Texas Sage flowers.

Those are White Texas Sage flowers.

This one was larger and wider and had no blue on its tail, which I think means it is older than the other one.

This one was larger and wider and had no blue on its tail, which I think means it is older than the other one.

The one was more shy, hugging the edge of the deck for a quicker escape. Note the blue tinge to its tail.

This one was more shy, hugging the edge of the deck for a quicker escape. Note the blue tinge to its tail.

Skinks and Green Anoles are all welcome in my yard and garden, of course. Any critter that eats some of the ten gazillion bugs that occupy my garden is welcome. For every butterfly they devour, they almost certainly eat more unwelcome insect pests. I’ve read they eat spiders, too, and I’ve noticed fewer of the eight-legged creatures lingering around my front deck. Perhaps the lizards have reduced their numbers somewhat?

At least one large snake also occupies the area around our front deck, although it is not audacious enough to sun itself on the deck with the lizards (thank goodness!) I suspect it is the same Black Rat Snake I wrote about here, because of its size, but I can’t be certain. I almost stepped on it the other day as I was weeding around a daylily, and last week, it left me a present coiled around the large Spanish Lavender bush that thrives against the front of my house:

A freshly shed skin.

A freshly shed skin.

It’s a little hard to see in the above shot, but the shed skin is quite long. I got out a yard stick, gently eased the skin away from the lavender, and laid them side-by-side on a garden bench for comparison:

Four feet long, give or take a few inches.

Four feet long, give or take a few inches.

Here’s a slightly different angle:

You can tell the former owner of this skin was not only long, but relatively thick.

You can tell the former owner of this skin was not only long, but relatively thick.

I’m happy to report that it’s not just the cold-blooded clan that love the habitat-rich environments we’ve created for them. Bird song by many species begins before the sun has done more than hint at the arrival of a new day. All the summer visitors are here now: Summer Tanagers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and too many warblers to ever distinguish. The Red-breasted Nuthatches finally left for their northern breeding grounds. I’ll miss their bold visits to the suet feeders as I tried to re-fill them.

And don’t get me started on the summer weeds. My knees may never forgive me for the relentless torture I’ve subjected them to as I’ve tried to plant vegetables amid predictions of wildly varying temperatures.

Reptiles have it far easier in that regard. I suspect that knee pain is rarely, if ever, an issue for them.


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Turtle Weather

It arrives when Southern Magnolia blossoms perfume heavy, increasingly hot air.

Daylily ‘Siloam Dan Tau’

And after the succession of daylily flowers has progressed from early birds like ‘Happy Returns’ to show-offs like ‘Siloam Dan Tau.’

Zucchini ‘Raven’

We’ve usually been eating summer squash for several weeks, along with the first few celebrated tomatoes.

Tomato ‘Sweet Treats’

Turtle Weather arrived last week — unusually late for the Piedmont region of North Carolina. It’s Turtle Weather when humid air begins to generate random afternoon thunderstorms, fireflies dance nightly in treetops, and the distant “Bob White” calls of quail from nearby fields punctuate sweltering high-noon sunshine.

That’s when I see them: Eastern Box Turtles in the middle of roads — little country roads and even four-laned roads. Hormonal urges to mate make them recklessly trudge into traffic.

Turtle Weather is really reptile weather. When I see the intrepid Eastern Box Turtles lumbering in search of love, I also begin to see Black Rat Snakes everywhere. I often see them flattened on roads; too many ignorant drivers go out of their way to kill snakes.

But I saw a healthy live one yesterday. It wiggled out onto the road just as I approached in my car. I slowed, and it wisely chose to reverse course, returning to the safety of vegetation growing along the shoulder.

Most startling this week, I came face-to-face with a smaller Black Rat Snake (maybe 2 feet long) at my front door. It was hunting mice that lurk around the built-in bench by the entry just as I opened that door. After two or three seconds of eyeball-to-eyeball frozen staring, we both fled in opposite directions.

Turtle Weather usually lasts a few weeks past the Summer Solstice, which this year arrives next Wednesday. After that, summer heat usually bakes the ground so hot that reptiles only emerge at dusk and dawn, when I usually remain indoors due to the voracious hordes of mosquitoes that own the air during those times.

When Turtle Weather arrives, I know I’ll be spending daily hours in the vegetable garden harvesting the fruits of my labor. Today, I harvested the first beans — enough for a celebratory feast tonight.

Fortex Pole Beans with Spitfire Nasturtiums intermingled

These Fortex Pole Beans will be big enough for harvest in a day or two.

Nasturtium ‘Spitfire’ lures hummingbirds and adds visual interest to the pole bean trellis. They smell wonderful too!

The Jade Bush Beans will also be contributing to this evening’s first-harvest bean feast. Here’s the modest row of Jades:

Only the large plant in the foreground had produced harvestable-sized beans, but the others are full of smaller fruits.

Turtle Weather means the wild blackberry thickets will soon be filled with raucous birds feeding on ripened fruits. Cicada thrumming should start up any minute. Weekends are filled with the scents of freshly mown lawns and meat grilling in backyards.

Turtle Weather takes me back to childhood treks through Piedmont woods, neighborhood kickball games on the dead-end street in front of my house, blackberry-picking expeditions from which I returned so covered in red juice and bloody thorn scratches that one could not be distinguished from the other until after a good washing.

Turtle Weather is finite and therefore precious. Reptiles know they must brave busy roads before the time is past. Children know they must play until full dark descends, so as not to waste a single night of no-school-tomorrow freedom. Gardeners know harvests don’t last forever. Fresh fruits must be celebrated, savored, and the excess stored for dark winter feasts.

Turtle Weather is the best Summer brings us. I encourage you to grab it while you can.

Turtle Weather means the onset of Black-eyed Susan Season.

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Snakes Alive!

Dining before the chill

For the last several days, the weather in the Piedmont of North Carolina has been unseasonably warm — lows in the 40-50-degree Fahrenheit range, highs in the 70s. A cold front will be blasting through overnight, and the animals in my yard seem to know this. They have been very active, almost frantically feeding. The birds have been loitering on the feeders, and today around noon, I spotted a chubby White-Footed Mouse scrounging for tidbits in my front flowerbed, where I had cleaned up frost-killed perennials the day before.

The mouse ignored me entirely, even when I charged it, yelling unladylike language. I thought it must be very hungry to be so bold. But two hours later, when I found the scene above, I wondered if perhaps something hadn’t been quite right about that well-fed-looking rodent.

We’ve had several cold spells already, and I had assumed that the resident reptiles living in my yard and gardens had all retired for the season. Clearly, I was mistaken. The Black Rat Snake devouring the mouse was doing so in practically the same spot I had earlier seen its victim (or the victim’s relative, perhaps). This snake is about half the length of some specimens I’ve encountered in my yard, but that didn’t stop it from tackling this rodent mouthful:

Note the mouse’s long white tail on the right side of the photo

I am always astonished at how snakes can dislocate their jaws to swallow prey. See how the snake has wrapped its body around the mouse? Black Rat Snakes are constrictors; they squeeze the life out of their prey. For any wondering why I didn’t intervene, the mouse didn’t move during all the time I was shooting photos; neither did the snake, for that matter. And besides, I have a rule on my five acres: no interference between native predator and prey animals. Everybody’s gotta eat, right?

If you click on these photos to enlarge them, you’ll see rain droplets on the body of the snake. It was just beginning to mist heavily when I spotted this slow-motion death scene.

Everybody’s gotta eat

I was going to go back out and take more photos, but the rain grew heavy and steady. It won’t stop now until after the front passes tomorrow morning. I was worried that the snake might get too cold before it could swallow its prey and move to a sheltered spot, so I donned my raincoat and went looking for it.

It was no longer coiled where I had left it, but it hadn’t gone far. Fully stretched out beneath the weeping cherry beside my walk, it sported a large bulge a few inches from its head —  the current location of the careless rodent.

I congratulated the snake on its clever feasting just before the cold spell; it should fare well as lower temperatures slow its metabolism. And I thanked it for helping to control the local rodent population.

The snake’s tongue darted out, flicking to the left and right before disappearing into a satisfied-looking mouth. I’m pretty sure I heard it hiss softly, “Reptilessss rule!”


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