Black Snake Eating a Copperhead

20 Jun

I am not a big fan of venomous snakes. In my twenty years in North Carolina, I have had numerous run-ins with the local copperheads, and have generally come out on top, except for the occasion when one of them bit our dog Maddie. She survived, but it was not a pleasant experience.

On the other hand, I have generally been happy to see black snakes around the place. Not only do these large but non-poisonous serpents control pests like rats and mice (personally I don’t mind mice or even rats too much), but they also devour their venomous cousins. Or so I was told. I had no definitive proof until last week, when my neighbour, Randy took this photograph in front of our house.

Black snake eats a copperhead

Déjeuner sur l’herbe

No wonder my proudly redneck neighbours have always advised me to leave black snakes alone. I took their advice to heart and, on the many occasions when I have come across a specimen of Elaphe Obsoleta, my practice has been to salute it with respect, wish it well and pass on, except when I have caught one of the rascals attempting to dine on the wren hatchlings in the nest in our garage or on our porch. Even then I don’t kill them. Instead, I attempt, with limited success, to wrestle with them using a broom handle.

My live-and-let-live relationship with black snakes has even extended to sharing my house with a couple of five-footers, whom I would hear slithering about in the attic as I lay in bed. They eventually had to go for their own good when we fixed the hole they were using to enter and leave the premises.

On another occasion I found myself sharing the front seat of my truck with a large black snake which had been minding its own business in the folds of a tarp I had taken from the garage. It suddenly decided to stick its head up and check out what was going on. We were both quite surprised to see each other, of course, and I wouldn’t say we warmed to each other during the quarter-mile drive to a suitable stopping place – snakes are cold blooded and warming is probably beyond them, while I was uncomfortably aware that, venomous or not, black snakes can bite. In the end, it was my strangely ophidiophile wife who caught the blighter and pulled it out by the tail. Had I seen the evidence of its no-nonsense approach to copperheads, I would have given it a lift home.

As it is, I’ll have to content myself with giving this particular black snake a well-earned performance bonus.

A performance bonus also to Randal Tuttle, who took the photograph.

Also a written warning to the same Randal Tuttle, who, having consulted with an expert, has inconveniently pointed out that it is in fact a black racer (coluber constrictor) in the picture rather than a black rat snake (elaphe obsoleta). Actually, the other snake doesn’t look like a copperhead (poisonous bastard), until you realize that you are looking at its belly.

Fun fact about black racers: despite their Latin name, they don’t constrict their prey. They swallow it alive.

Another fun fact about black racers: they are much more aggressive than black rat snakes, not at all the kind of chap you want to give a lift to in your truck.



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