Latest Issue

Everybody’s Favorite Summer Sighting

It’s late summer, and of course, all kind of wildlife shows up crossing the road in front of us, standing out in the field, or maybe even in our front yard. Most people are OK with seeing the local wildlife, but some exceptions exist. This is especially true if the critter wandering around in your yard happens to be a snake.

To be honest, a variety of snakes probably come and go throughout the summer and are never even noticed, but one does tend to stand out more than others, and that is a black snake.

Actually, there are two varieties of black snakes in Pennsylvania, the black rat snake and the black racer. I see far more black rat snakes than I do black racers. Not only are they black and stand out easily they are also of pretty good size, reaching lengths of seven feet.

A black rat snake is usually a dull black with little or no pattern and keeled dorsal scales, and the belly may be a bit lighter with some white showing around the throat and chin.

A black racer is usually a shinier black with some white on the chin and throat. Both are excellent swimmers and tree climbers. More than once, I’ve watched some giant black rat snakes slither through the tree branches while sitting at our campsite on the banks of the Susquehanna.

What brings the subject to mind is last week, my daughter-in-law brought me a “gift” in a white plastic bag — a hefty black rat snake. She and her son removed the snake from their chicken coop, where he had been feeding on the chicken eggs. I released the snake in my wood pile out back in hopes it would not cross the road and head back down to the chicken coup.

This type of environment is a favorite for black snakes since they feed on rodents, chipmunks, amphibians, young birds, other snakes, and, yes, eggs. Black snakes are often found around outbuildings, wood piles, brush piles, and field edges because that’s where they find much of their food source. Black snakes are constrictors; that is, they suffocate their prey by wrapping around and squeezing until dead, then they swallow the meal. Adults may only eat once or twice a month.

Black snakes breed in the spring of the year into late June. Numbers can vary, but usually, there are six to twenty-four eggs deposited in July, and it may take five to seven weeks for the eggs to hatch. Some folks are really going to like to hear this; the young tend to stay near their hatching site for up to two years.

To be honest black snakes are really quite harmless. Yes, they will strike and maybe leave some scratches, and they even rattle their tail like a rattlesnake, but they often settle down after being captured. Probably the worst thing is they will sometimes emit a foul odor to drive predators away.

By the way, a common garter snake does the same thing, and that smell is even worse, in my opinion.

I get it, nobody wants a snake crawling around their house or front yard, but in most cases, the snake will probably soon pass on to some other hunting grounds. If you are not familiar with snakes and one is too close for comfort, have somebody who is comfortable being around them remove it for you.