Sunday, April 19, 2015



This is a fairly new word for me, so I thought I'd share it along with two mid-April examples of ophidians and one from November 2013.  See link below for definition and pronunciation.


Over the weekend I found this little Dekay's Brown Snake just inside the basement door mostly buried in the fluffy light blue pile of a small throw rug.  At first I thought I was seeing a couple dried willow oak leaves atop the rug.  Just the snake's head and a short portion of its mid-back were exposed.  Of course, I snatched up the little snake.

Outside on the deck railing, it held a pose long enough for me to get a picture of the dark "crescent" mark behind its eye.

From a different angle, one row of the paired spots along its back is fairly evident.

This is a sleek little snake that appears to be about 9-10 inches long, perhaps just a year or two old.  They grow to about 13 inches at maturity although some individuals may grow longer. These guys eat mostly earthworms and slugs.

When this picture is enlarged, the keeled scales are more evident.  A keel is a ridge that runs down the center of most of the scales along the back and sides of the snake giving the reptile a rather textured feel.  This angle also highlights the snake's nicely rounded nose.

The Dekay's Brown Snake is a fairly docile snake.  I have never had one to even offer to bite, and of course, they are so small it would not be of any consequence if they did bite. It's April in North Carolina.  Note the smudge of pine pollen on my finger.

The little Dekay's Snake slithered off into a pile of mulch behind the house after its photo session.


As I was making the rounds on Tuesday to the eight Bluebird nest boxes I've placed along the perimeter of the NC State Laboratory of Public Health campus, I was delighted to come upon the special pairing below.  At first I thought there was a "pile" of snakes.  On closer inspection it was apparent that the "heart-shaped" form on the ground before me was a pair of Black Racers.

Black Racers are known for being faster than most snakes when they are "exiting the scene".  But I read recently that their top speed is only about 6.5 miles per hour, the rate at which humans move when they are taking a quick walk. 

Black Racers have smooth scales, that is, their scales do not have keels like many of the snakes I've described on this blog.  These snakes are solid black except for a white chin (not seen here) and a gray belly.  Their eyes appear larger than those of many snakes and they have prominent brow ridges. To me, they are a rather handsome snake.

About 30 minutes after I found this pair my coworker, Becky, asked me to take her out to see them.  The two racers were not at the spot I had previously found them, but within a minute or two I found the larger snake just 15 feet down the hill at the wood's margin.  The two of us stood there, talking and taking pictures of this four and a half foot individual from about 4-5 feet away.  For 10-12 minutes the racer remained motionless.  Eventually, the racer slithered off into the grasses in the edge of woods behind him.

In the spring, a mature female Black Racer will release pheromones from special skin glands that attract male Black Racers.  It appears that these "odors" play a role in selecting the males with which she will bond.  Female snakes can store reproductive material from matings with several males in special "pockets" in her body and choose which she will use at the time she is fertile.  The female snake can store this material for up to five years.  Racers are egg layers and deposit from three to as many as 36 eggs in early summer. The hatchlings emerge in late summer or early fall.

There is evidence that a similar mechanism of attraction may be at work in humans as well. See link below:


The appearance of young Black Racers is quite different than the adult of the species.  In November of 2013 two coworkers brought me this young snake that they found on their lunch break stroll along District Drive.  

Its grayish-olive body was boldly patterned with brownish-black (almost chocolaty) rather ovalish blotches along three quarters of the length of its back.  Two of these blotches were conjoined and had a "Mickey Mouse-like" appearance. It had smooth scales with no keel.   Black Racers lose this pattern when they are about a year old.

And it had the most remarkable eyes.  They were quite large in proportion to its head.  The Racer's well developed vision aids in its success as a daytime hunter. Adult snakes are known to travel with their heads elevated perhaps a foot above ground level as they search for prey and look out for predators.

Sadly, this little snake had an injury to its tail, perhaps from a roadside mower's blade.  Although initially vigorous, it died the next day.

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