Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Bad Snake?

Snake in a phoebe nest
Our neighbor at the top of the hill put in an emergency call.  She had a snake under the deck, curled up on a shelf built under the deck, seen above, intended to make a safe place for phoebes to nest.  Wrong!  Sure enough, when we arrived we could see the snake coiled on the small shelf.

The first question was "is it venomous."  She knows not to say poisonous like many people do.  Poisonous means that you will be poisoned if you eat it.  You can eat a rattlesnake safely - if it is dead first - but unless it is a threat to your family or pets it is best to let it be.  One common way people get bitten is trying to kill a venomous snake!

This creature showed no "Hershey Kisses" in the side view it presented to us.  I used a snake grabber to capture it.  The empty nest came down with it, containing no evidence of the chicks.  The snake was unhappy with its treatment and just wanted to get away.

Juvenile coloration- Click to enlarge

The markings were typical for a young Texas (black) rat snake, a year or two from the dark black we usually think of.  There were three small lumps in its "neck", barely discernible when it stretched out, and since it had been resting this suggested an after dinner nap.

Note the nestling sized lump
Note round pupil, no pit

 The next question was how it got up there.  A rat snake is a talented climber and we have watched one climb up a story of our concrete wall to enter our house through a small crack.  As our neighbor's location would have required its traveling laterally along a 2"x6" beam, that seems unlikely.  The widest gap in the deck above is 1/4" but I have seen a larger rat snake than this one sneak through a similar size opening, so I suspect it came from the deck above.

Two chicks and a herp
After admiring and photographing the captive, we put it in a long pillow case, carried for that purpose.  We took it to our garage/barn where I released it, warning it to avoid the rat traps inside.  When I spilled it out of the pillowcase, there were four animals on the ground, three victims and the perp whose tail you can see below as it escaped.

Three regurgitated phoebe chicks
When a snake is anxious shortly after eating from excessive handling (or having a stranger with a snake grabber holding it tightly) it frequently regurgitates what it has swallowed and is holding in its esophagus.  Our neighbor's invader had consumed three phoebe chicks.

So was this a "bad snake"?  If you were enjoying watching the phoebe nest - yes.  On the other hand, its relation to the bird was like mine to a cow.  "Bad Bob."

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