Saturday, June 20, 2009


To come upon this Black Rat Snake while crossing from the trails, on his way from the garden to the barn, soaking up the heat of an early summer morning, his scales shining like the toe of a spit-polished black boot.

I squatted before him, raised the camera,
and found him looking back at me,
lifting his head from the path,
peeking past a blade of grass.

Then, to be sure he knew what I was all about,
smelled the air with his forked tongue,
never batting an eyelash.

Oh, lovely creature,
sharp dresser, black and white,
it is I who’s charmed.

Black Rat Snake, Elaphe obsoleta

(click to enlarge)
Check out his rostral scale or shield (the one in the center of his upper jaw).
It perfectly frames the opening of his mouth!
(Did you know that all the scales on his head have names?)

From Wikipedia:
ag - Anterior genials or chin shields
f - frontal
in - internasal
l - loreal
la - supralabial
la'- infralabial
m - mental
n - nasal
p - parietal
pf - prefrontal
pg - Posterior Genials or chin shields
pro - preocular
pso - presubocular
pto - postocular
r - rostral
so - supraocular
t - Anterior and Posterior temporals
v - First ventral

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RuthieJ said...

Those are pretty neat pictures Nina. Do you think this was a juvenile snake?

Michelle Johnson said...

These are great shots. He looks like he's cooing to you. I'm surprised he allowed so many pictures to be taken. What an obedient subject. Have a great day.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Ruthie--This was quite a large snake, and Black Rat snakes are considered the longest snakes in North America, reaching 8 feet! (he was more likely 5 feet long)
And, marked as he is, in the striking black and white, he's an adult. The sweet young ones I find hatching each fall are gray and brown banded, gradually losing the camo dress.
They're fun to find, too. Constrictors like these Rat Snakes can really be appreciated if you're able to handle them,
Very cool and beneficial animals.
(Mice and birds would disagree!)

Michelle--Even warmed on a hot day like this one, these snakes are fairly docile, prefering to go around an object than take it on. He would have attempted to strike if I had put my hand toward his face--but who wouldn't?
If I'd had more time in my day, I might have picked him up and marveled at him a bit longer--they tame quickly.
But, this was a work day for me--I had to leave him to his hunt.

Deborah Godin said...

Wonderful little moment in both your lives you and this snake shared. And I'm delighted to learn about the naming of the scales! I love knowing this kind of trivia, and it also intrigues me that someone, somewhere along the line, deemed it necessary (or perhaps simply pleasurable?) to give names to these scales.

bobbie said...

He seems as curious about you as you were about him. Delightful. It seems when I meet a snake face to face, he usually hurries off as quickly as possible.

KatDoc said...

It looks like he's blowing kisses! Do snakes have lips?


Mary said...

I think they are good-looking, too. Out on the town in its finest formal wear :o)

dguzman said...

Hate to go against the grain here, but eeww eewww eeek! He's lovely and all, but I'm a chicken complete with feathers when it comes to snakes. And a five-footer? No way I'd have gotten close enough to photograph in the detail you did! I'd have snapped a blurry zoomed shot and run!

Delia the chicken

anthonynorth said...

Fascinating pictures.

Carol said...

I love your narrative, and I am charmed as well. He is beautiful...great photos...and great info...

Grace and Bradley said...

I admire how you view and handle the nature world. I will be running away already, natural instinct.

Reader Wil said...

You must be an expert on snakes to trust them and to tell which one is venomous and which one is not dangerous. I am not an expert but I think that your post is very interesting.

photowannabe said...

I am a big wimp when it comes to snakes but I think your pictures are great. I had no idea that the scales all had different names. Very interesting.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

No, I didn't know all those scales had names. Interesting. Great photos too. I love the one of him looking straight into the camera. I also like the one that looks like he is saying "oh", its you again.

Crayons said...

Oh Nina, you always have a fascinating post here. I think of you often as I sometimes go out for nature walks. I've learned a lot from you about being curious. It can take me a long way.

The snake photos really alarmed me, and I scrolled past them to the previous post. But when I read your narrative, I was charmed.

Kelly said...

...I loved this post...the photos, the poetry...and the science!! :-)

Roger Owen Green said...

i'd never mow the lawn if i could; let it all go to weed

jay said...

Those are GREAT pictures! And if I lived in your area, I'd be very happy to have a rat snake in my yard.

He looks as if he's eating a strip of liquorice in that one where he's flicking his tongue to taste the air! He is beautiful!

Interesting about the scales - I didn't know that.

Liv said...

That's correct:WONDERFUL!

In Norway we only have smaller sorts of snakes, so I don't have ANY idea of how dangerous this one is. To me it is IMPRESSIVE!

spacedlaw said...

It looks king of cute and a little puzzled by you.

Rose said...

Fantastic photos, Nina. But I'm glad it was you and not I who came upon him. I'm more like the Emily Dickinson poem--a snake is one of "nature's creatures" that sends chills down my spine.

Q said...

Dear Nina,
I was looking forward to ABC Wednesday and your post. It is "wonderful" the Rat Snake crossed your path or did you cross his? Wonderful photographs and information.
I love being outside too and enjoy all the creatures.
I saw a snake in the compost the other day. Glad to know he is in the gardens.

Kathiesbirds said...

What a great seguence of photos and your poem is like a snake love song.

Tumblewords: said...

Not fond of snakes myself but he is a beauty - terrific photos!

Anonymous said...

Only you could make a snake look cute!