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Happy to See Black Rat Snakes

Jul 20, 2009

As I opened our garage door yesterday, a young black rat snake about 2 feet long was rudely awakened from where it lay stretched out along the floor. I moved to encourage it to get out of the way of my mule (as in motorized vehicle rather than the four-legged kind). It zipped behind a box and pile of tools before I could guide it outside or grab it. I headed out for a drive to check on our prairie planting, and when I came back there was no sign of the snake.

Black Rat SnakeI’m sure the wren nesting in a box up on shelves elsewhere in the garage was relieved to see it go since the nestlings would have made a nice little meal. I was still sorry to see it disappear. The fact is that I’m usually happy to see black rat snakes around the house. It means the mice and voles and moles don’t get out of control. And if the black rat snake does the eating, then maybe there’s less there for the copperheads—so they’ll be attracted elsewhere. Since the black rat snake can also kill venomous snakes, that’s another plus.

The only time seeing a black rat snake doesn’t make me smile is when it’s hanging out of a bluebird nesting box that we set up to attract the birds. Food is food and a snake has to eat, but it’s hard to override that urge to protect the bluebirds. That’s when the rational appreciation for balance in nature goes out the window.

Another reason I appreciate black rat snakes is from making the movie, “The Snakes’ Tale.” (You can see a short videoclip from it here.) I kept the nonvenomous snakes (including a gigantic black rat snake over 7 feet long that I had found in the woods) in special snake boxes in the front entrance room. (That’s when our delivery person started leaving boxes outside. Nonvenomous or not—he wasn’t interested in seeing them.)

The black rat snakes were more relaxed to deal with than most. I don’t know if it’s because they’re constrictors and kill by squeezing instead of fast lunging and biting or not. They also are amazing to see as they climb up trees and hang out along branches. Finally, I filmed black rat snakes as they emerged from leathery eggs. (Some snakes are born live while others come from laid eggs.) They’re just downright interesting animals.

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