Monday, July 27, 2009
Black Rat Snake
Black Rat Snakes (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta), are one of my favorite snakes. They are abundant and probably one of the most commonly seen snakes in Missouri. As young they look completely different from their adult counterpart. They are grayish-tan with darker patterns. As they age they take on their trademark glossy black coloring. The pattern fades to a somewhat reddish tint, then disappears almost entirely in older snakes. They are a rather large snake reaching lengths of up to 6 feet. They are relatively tolerant of people and tame down easily. Baby black snakes will bite and act aggressive, as is typical of most baby snakes. Seems they haven't learned what is dinner and what isn't, and bite at everything. They use that aggressiveness to defend themselves as well. I suppose if someone or something 50X larger than me grabbed me I would bite too.
Another defense mechanism they will implement is to shake their tail in dried grasses or dry leaves, this rattling sound mimics the dangerous rattle snake and may afford them some protection from predation or from being captured.
Last Tuesday I received a call at work from my mother, exclaiming that she couldn't get into the church where she was due at a meeting. I asked her "why not". She kind of laughed and said there was a snake sitting by the door and would not let her pass. Now you have to see the humor in this situation....a snake at church keeping members out? Hello...Adam and Eve all over again?
I told her I would be right there...I wasn't missing this for anything. I got to the church to find my mother and two other ladies standing on the sidewalk several feet away from a 4 foot long black rat snake. One of the women held a hanger ( was she planning to hang it out to dry?) The situation was humorous, but these ladies were trying their best to be brave; as well as get this snake away from the church. I moved it further down the sidewalk thinking it would leave the area once it realized it wasn't welcome. Oh no....it couldn't be that easy. This snake decided to climb the wall of the church and try to enter through a dryer vent. "You've got to be kidding me!"
So I pulled him out of the dryer vent and ask if I could borrow the woman's hanger. I used the hanger to lift his head and I grabbed his tail and carried him a block away to a field of tall grasses. Hopefully he stayed put. He sure seemed determined to go to church!
I guess the congregation had a few laughs over the situation. One even suggested an exorcism of the church. The snake came on the tail end of finding a mouse and a bat in the church. Maybe a priest needs to be called?
I personally like snakes, and have two for pets that I use on a regular basis for educational programs. I find it gratifying to change peoples attitudes about these often misaligned creatures. With so much myth and mystery surrounding snakes, they are often mistakenly labeled the "bad guy" and destroyed needlessly. They are creatures to be viewed with a certain amount of awe. One game I like to play with the children at my programs is the "snake race". I ask for volunteers who wish to pretend they are a snake. After several children all excitedly come forward, I have them lay down on the floor, and place their arms and hands straight down their sides. Their legs have to be stretched out straight. In this prone position I tell them they have to race ( a predetermined distance) without using their arms, hands, legs or feet. No elbows, no knees. If they use any of these appendages, they are out. The last one left that crosses the finish line wins. They get to see just how hard it would be to move like a snake. Then I tell them how snakes are specially designed with hundreds of very strong muscles, and moving like a snake is natural to them. There is much laughing and cheering every time we play this game. The two black snakes pictured here were photographed on our farm. I love seeing them, and knowing what a great service they are performing by eating all those mice and rats residing on our farm as well.