Friday, June 12, 2015

Snake Weaving

Black but not Rat*
Coming off a busy week without time to sit down and create a blog, I received this gift from Gala Keller along with her description.  Not a lot of profound science but a great picture.
"I was going to the garden to pick lettuce and this black snake was hanging out on the fence. I gave him/her a tickle on the back thinking he would go on in the direction he was headed, but he just turned back toward me. I decided not to disturb its sunning any further, the lettuce could wait."
I can tell you that a search for "black rat snake" and "fence" gets nothing except a tradition that draping one over a fence will bring on rain.  Since we were flooded in for two days recently by Bull Creek, I hope that isn't true.

Initially I called this a Black Rat Snake but Kory Roberts of Herpes of Arkansas sent me a correction.  This is a subspecies of the North American Racer,  Coluber constrictor falviventris.  It has a smaller head than a rat snake as well as smooth rather than rat snake's keeled scales which have a ridge down the center that gives the rat snake a rougher texture.*  The racer behaves differently, including raising its head like a periscope at times to look around.  As the name implies, it escapes danger or predators by racing away, vividly described in Kory's Herpes webpage.

Black Rat Snakes, Pantherophis obsoletus are excellent climbers, slithering up a smooth barked tree, a fence post with a bluebird box or a flat wall with ease.  One site says they can only climb a few feet up a wall but we watched one go straight up a concrete block wall and through an imperceptible opening to enter the second story of our house on Bull Creek.  I would show you a picture but it was too fast for me.

Shed Black Rat Snake skin
We welcome them in our house as we have lots of wood rats a.k.a. pack rats that like to share the space of our A-frame.  The wood rats build nests in places such as our hide-a-bed, storing sunflower seeds, buckeyes, shiny objects and even ball point pens, a ridiculous addition since they can't write (that I know of.)  One nest had multiple pens and a high school graduation picture of a friend of the former occupant, as well as a cheap paring knife.  We probably were able to interrupt a murder plot when we trapped that rat.

I can't find the rats' entrances but they must have a bulletin board with directions to our house, as their numbers exceed our traps.  We find Black Rat Snake skins in the upstairs from time to time, and it is somewhat reassuring that these volunteers are watching out for us.

Rat Snake shed with eye skin intact
If you happen to see a shed, look carefully at the head end.  Although this is frequently gone, if you get lucky you can see the whole head shed.  You can see here that the skin includes the skin over the eye.  During the shedding process there is a time as the old skin separates when their vision is obscured, so shedding usually occurs in a protected area where they are less threatened by predators.

The price of housing a rat snake is small, although we have seen snake poop hanging between the separated boards in our living room ceiling.  The good news is their urine is extremely concentrated, forming a white powder on the floor which is easily picked up with a broom and dust pan.

Thanks to Gala for providing me a quick blog subject and to our 5' house guest for reducing our load of wood rats.  Unlike many guests, I wish they ate more often than once every 2-4 weeks.