Friday, October 30, 2009

Black Snakes---just in time for Halloween

(Is it me..or is this snake smiling? Wonder what he is thinking?.....good thing I'm bigger than a frog)
Halloween.....and Snakes, they go hand in hand
Black Rat Snakes are one of the most common snakes encountered in Missouri. They can be quite large, reaching lengths up to 6 feet or more. I find more of these snakes than any other species of snake. They are plentiful around our farm, and often end up in our  basement, especially this time of year. As soon as the temperatures begin to cool down in the fall, something in the snakes genetic make-up tells them it is time to head for shelter. This can be in cellars, caves, holes in the ground, or basements. Often times these hibernaculums will have hundreds of snakes sharing the same den space. This can include venomous snakes as well as non-venomous. They seem to be tolerant of each others presence at this time, when at no other time during the year. Fortunately for us, only a few stray snakes make it into our basement each season. In March or April they come out of their hiding places (sometimes, they FALL out of their hiding places) giving me quite a start. I scoop up the uninvited guest and place them in a tank until it is warm enough to turn them loose. I have a tendency to let them go in the yard, and my husband gets completely irritated at me for it. He is convinced they will find their way back into the basement. This may be true, but there are worse things to find in your basement right?

Having no real fear of snakes I cannot understand when people are so put off by these amazing creatures. Admittedly I wouldn't want one falling in my lap unexpectedly, but I would feel that way about any creature.

That's just plain scary!

I am always excited to spot snakes in our yard, and I am completely fascinated by them. I just can't resist capturing them ( or should I say TRY to capture them). I have been bitten so many times, you would think I would learn to "look but don't touch", apparently I was dropped on my head as a child, because I still try to pick up every one I see.  Black Rat Snakes are one of my favorite snakes. They are usually mild tempered, except as babies. Seems when snakes are little, they feel the need to strike at anything that moves. Age brings self-control and they generally do not bite if handled gently and with respect. The keyword in that sentence was "generally", I would never say never!
The Black Snakes main diet consists of rats, mice, voles and other small rodents. They are capable of climbing trees as you can see in the second picture. They will feed on baby birds, bird eggs and the occasional adult bird, especially under cover of darkness when the birds are settled in for a long nights sleep. The snake will sneak up the tree and catch the bird unawares.

Snakes use their long, forked tongue to "smell" their environment. This will help them determine if food is nearby. They are capable of waiting patiently for hours without moving in the hopes of a meal passing by. A snakes tongue is forked for a reason, they can differentiate where prey is located by which side of their tongue picks up the strongest scent. If the right side of the tongue picks up more scent particles, then they strike to the right, same for the left. The tongue is drawn back into the mouth, and those scent particles are pulled across a very sensitive scent gland called the jacobson organ. This organ tells the snake if what he is smelling is food or not. Without the use of legs, arms, hands or feet, these creatures have had to evolve highly specialized ways of locating their dinner. They can silently sneak up on their prey, they use their extremely sensitive sense of smell, venomous snakes have heat sensing organs called pits located on their face that can detect the slightest amount of heat coming off even the tiniest of creatures, like mice.They have no ears, so they use their muscles to sense vibrations on the ground which alerts them of danger, or possible food nearby. Then venomous snakes take the evolution of species to a whole new level with the use of a powerful venom. Depending upon the species, the venom will act in different ways.
Black Snakes are a non-venomous snake, but they are often needlessly killed because of their resemblance to the Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin as it is often referred to as. People fearing a bite, will kill and ask questions later. Many non-venomous snakes pay dearly for looking so much like their venomous cousins.

Right now, as the weather carries the scent of autumn, you are likely to encounter snakes most anywhere as they seek shelter. Try not to be afraid, take a moment and admire one of God's truly unique creatures. Be grateful for the service they provide as rodent patrol. Please be kind, and resist the urge to get the hoe, and behead these poor misunderstood creatures. Above all.. 


  1. Glad to find your blog! Oh my goodness... you pick up.. snakes?! I do respect our resident snakes here, but wish I were brave enough to actually get closer. I did however take pictures of a baby snake this past summer while I was barefoot. My only claim to snake bravery ;-) Enjoyed my visit. Can't wait to read more. Wonderful photos too!-Tammy

  2. LOL Tammy, your response to handling snakes is very much like my husbands. Whenever a snake shows up where it isn't supposed to be, he hollers for me. What kind of a baby snake did u photograph?

  3. Cool post Shelly! That third picture is awesome. We had baby Prairie Ring Necks in the basement last year, we didn't let them stay. Outside they went! Have a Happy Sho-Me state kind of Halloween!!

  4. I have the same snake philosophy as you. Wow. We dont have as many snakes here but when we see them I make sure to show the kids and we look at them and follow them around until they disappear into the bushes or grasses.

    Funny but true...In August, Ella and I went to a horse show and I put her in her backpack to tote around the grounds. While walking between venues I saw a racer in the dry grass. I showed it to Ella and we followed it around for about a minute.

    Almost every day at either nap or bed time Ella tells me, "Mom when we went to the horse show we saw a snake and it was black and white and red and it was a racer...."

    Seriously there are few days when she does NOT tell me this and it has been MONTHS since we saw that snake. I just smile and agree with her. It obviously made quite an impression on her.

    Your black snake pictures were lovely!! Thanks for sharing. :)

  5. Julia--you crack me up. I bet Ella will love snakes her whole life. She will at least respect them. I love to hear when parents teach their children to respect snakes, instead of what all too often happens, and being taught to fear them. My mom is deathly afraid of them, and somehow her fears were not passed onto me. Thankfully. Now I find I am the one trying to ease her fears. What is really hysterical, about all I've taught my kids is how to get bit while trying to handle snakes!LOL

  6. Hey Rural Ramblers.....thanks so much for your compliments. We have so many visiting snakes that make it into our basement I am beginning to consider them part of the family...LOL

  7. I think this is the species that got into my sister's bluebird nesting boxes..but she didn't kill it..just relocated it and put up a preditor guard...Interesting post.. Michelle..

    My Hoh-snapping turtles

  8. It wouldn't surprise me if they made their way into a bluebird house. They love to eat bird eggs.We had more trouble with garter snakes. We lost a nest of wren eggs twice to the hungry garter snakes.