LET’S SAVE THE YELLOW RAT SNAKE

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I have never been fond of snakes. I know why but that’s a long story for some other time. I do believe that if you happen to sit on a rattlesnake and incur a bite – that’s when you find out who your real friends are!

 I do appreciate the role that snakes play in the whole scheme of things but still have difficulties being at peace with the notion that the eastern diamondback rattlesnake might be declared an endangered species after the conclusion of a year-long study that recently began.  I know a bit about the food chain and environmental niches – but still, that’s a critter I would just as soon not engage in guarded cohabitation.

 But I have been very concerned about the number of snakes that are killed needlessly simply because of the fear that so many of us possess. That concern was accentuated about 4 years ago when a man who lives in my neighborhood called me to come over to his place to identify a snake he had run over with his lawnmower. The dead snake was a yellow rat snake, one of the most beneficial snakes we have here in the Southeast. But they are very unpopular with people who fear snakes because they grow to be very long (the record is 90”) and they are excellent climbers often seen high in trees. To encounter one in a tree at eye level can generate goose-bumps upon goose-bumps and prompt records for the backwards long jump.

 In spite of the fact that the mower-victim snake was dead I was encouraged to see it because it was the first I’d seen in the 3 years I’d lived in my West-Central Florida home. So, I’ve had my eye out for them ever since and have encouraged close neighbors to leave them alone and appreciate them. They are terrific for managing rodent populations; they are natural exterminators. If so many of the snakes were not killed by frightened or misguided humans the pocket gophers that leave holes all over this area would be culled out to a manageable number.

 Well – I’ve been discouraged since then because though I’ve seen little ring-necks, and a few southern racers I haven’t seen a single rat snake, not even the red rat (or corn snake) – in spite of my efforts to create a favorable habitat for them.

 But yesterday was a day of joy because I learned that they are still around here in my neighborhood – that they have not been completely killed off. My wife noticed that our cats were very focused as they looked through the glass of our porch window. A 5′ 6” yellow rat snake had their attention. I went outside and enjoyed the snake from a distance snapping a few pictures as the beauty took a tour around the perimeter of the house. They are egg layers and next week when I do my regularly scheduled gutter cleaning I won’t be surprised if I have to bypass some eggs. By the way, the hatchlings are generally mistaken for different species of snakes, as they look different from adults. They have a dark appearance and are strongly marked with irregularly shaped spots or blotches, against a gray background.  The one pictured here is an adult with its characteristic long-axis stripes.

 Please don’t kill them. They are not mean to humans.

The only time I’ve ever heard of one being aggressive to humans was when cornered or prodded. If you encounter one don’t expect it to scurry away in fear. They are generally docile and don’t scamper if you remain calm. This one let me talk to it for over half an hour and when I used a garden hose to place water up in the gutter it enjoyed the cascade from the downspout as the last photo illustrates.

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