A Black Rat Snake, an Eastern King Snake, and Two Fence Lizards

Early June has been a good time for seeing reptiles. One warm morning a long Black Rat Snake stretched from a grassy roadside in a shady area out onto the pavement, on its way across the road, but very slowly. Its back half looked lumpy and looped or kinked in several curves. At first I thought it had recently eaten – but later read that Black Rat Snakes may wrinkle themselves into kinks when startled. It was a very fine snake, at least four feet long, maybe more, black on top and white underneath, and I was afraid it would almost certainly be run over if it stayed in the road.

It was large enough so that I was afraid to pick it up, even with a long stick. Instead, I tried to coax it back into the grass with a large leafy branch that had fallen in a recent windstorm. Probably not a good idea. This only caused the snake to coil its upper body, raise its head, swell its jaws and flick out its tongue in a defensive posture. It swiveled its head to watch me as I moved around it, trying in vain to convince it to turn around and leave the road.

After a couple of minutes, I decided I was doing more harm than good, and walked away, feeling guilty but not knowing what else to do. I noticed at least three or four cars drive into the subdivision as I walked along the road by the field, and was really afraid I’d return to find a dead-on-the-road snake – but was pleasantly surprised when I headed home to find that it had completely disappeared. Maybe once I was gone and out of the way, it moved quickly into cover again somewhere, whether across the road or not. Good!

Only a couple of days later, a big beautiful Eastern King Snake, black with a chain-like pattern of yellow, slithered across the road several yards ahead of me as I walked. This one wasn’t wasting any time – it moved very quickly across the road, swift and as fluid as silk, through some grass and into some shrubs where it disappeared as if it had never been. It’s the first King Snake I’ve seen in many years – and perversely, I wished it had not been in such a hurry so that I could get a longer look.

Both Black Rat Snakes and Eastern King Snakes are non-poisonous and generally beneficial to have around, even though they will both eat birds and bird eggs. They eat rodents, including mice, rats and squirrels, and Eastern King Snakes are known especially for being resistant to the venom of pit vipers, so they eat copperheads, rattlesnakes and cottonmouths. Although Black Rat Snakes are still considered common and widespread, their habitat is shrinking. Eastern King Snakes are still common in some regions, but in others have almost disappeared, possibly in part because of loss of habitat.

That same afternoon, we found two Eastern Fence Lizards that appeared to be in a mating posture on a large rock at the corner of an area of shrubs on a corner of our house. One lizard was on top of the other and seemed to be gripping the back of the neck of the other in its jaws – but they did not seem actually to be mating. They were frozen in position, maybe because we were there. The one on top was a much paler color, mostly fawn brown, with darker brown markings, and bright turquoise blue showing on the sides of the belly. The one on the bottom seemed larger and darker, charcoal gray and patterned in different shades of gray and black. We watched from a couple of feet away for several minutes. But when we tried to get closer – suddenly, very suddenly – they both leapt up and scurried away, in a flash, out of sight among the bushes. I think they were very briefly airborne – that’s how I see them in my mind, suspended – then on the ground. But it happened so fast, I’m not sure. It could not have taken them more than two seconds to leap and run and be gone – maybe not that long. A blip.

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