Posts Tagged ‘Pantherophis alleghaniensis’

Another black snake

January 19, 2018

A few days before I spotted the black snake featured in my last blog post, I saw another black snake at the same location in Huntley Meadows Park. In fact, I was so focused on searching for Great Spreadwing damselflies that I almost stepped on the snake!

This individual is probably an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis), as indicated by the appearance of its eyes.

22 OCT 2017 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snake

My close encounter of the startling kind shows the snake slithering along a carpet of leaf litter on the ground, heading toward one of several man-made brush piles near a vernal pool at a remote location in the park.

The last two photos show the snake moving around inside the brush pile. According to Kevin Munroe, former manager at Huntley Meadows Park, brush piles are “like a natural cupboard” where snakes hunt for small rodents.

22 OCT 2017 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snake

Eastern Ratsnakes have keeled scales, shown clearly in the full-size version of the preceding photo.

Keeled scales refer to reptile scales that, rather than being smooth, have a ridge down the center that may or may not extend to the tip of the scale, making them rough to the touch. Source Credit: Keeled scales, Wikipedia.

Thanks to Timothy Deering for sharing this field marker in a comment on my last blog post.

22 OCT 2017 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snake

Related Resource: Black snake, a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Black snake

January 17, 2018

A black snake was spotted basking on a man-made brush pile at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is either an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) or Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor).

25 OCT 2017 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snake

According to Kevin Munroe, former manager at Huntley Meadows Park, Eastern Ratsnake can be differentiated from Northern Black Racer by looking at their eyes.

Northern Black Racers have a huge, all-black eye with an “eye-brow” ridge (makes racers look angry and somewhat dangerous all the time), while ratsnakes have noticeably smaller eyes with a black/white pupil/iris pattern (which makes them look more friendly/human). Also racers would never sit still long enough for you to take pictures, or at least it would be harder. Ratsnakes are pretty laid-back and easy to approach, while racers are very skittish and quick to flee. Ratsnakes mostly eat small mammals and young birds/eggs, while racers feed mainly on other herps like snakes, lizards and frogs. Ratsnakes are stealth/tracking hunters that smell out nests of young rodents and birds, while racers are active chasers/hunters/sprinters, which may be why they have such different personalities. Source Credit: Kevin Munroe.

25 OCT 2017 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snake

Based upon Kevin’s guidance, I think this individual is an Eastern Ratsnake.

25 OCT 2017 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snake

Another black snake was spotted on the ground, about 20 feet from the brush pile. The snake wasn’t moving, but the vegetation was too dense to get a clear view of the subject.

Related Resource: Another black snake, a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Black snake

April 3, 2016

A black snake was spotted in a thorny thicket of greenbrier (Smilax sp.) during a photowalk along Barnyard Run at Huntley Meadows Park on 30 March 2016.

A black snake spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is either an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) or Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor).

This individual is either an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) or Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor). I’m guessing the snake is a Northern Black Racer, as indicated by the coloration on the underside of its body. Expert opinions are invited and welcome!

A black snake spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is either an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) or Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor).

Notice the milky blue/blue-gray color of the snake’s eyes, especially noticeable in the preceding photo. This may indicate the snake is pre-molting, that is, it’s getting ready to shed its skin.

Tech Tips: Photos like these illustrate why I prefer to shoot using single-point focusing and spot metering. In this case, I looked for a “window” through the vines and placed the focus point on the snake’s eyes/head.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Eastern Ratsnake

May 16, 2014

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Interesting sights, like this one, tend to draw a crowd at Huntley Meadows Park, especially during the weekend. My good friend Phil Wherry and I had just started a photowalk at the park on Saturday, 03 May 2014 when we noticed a group of people looking into the woods along Cedar Trail, at a spot known for good bird-watching. As it turns out, there was an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) resting in a tree located several yards from the trail at a height of approximately 15 feet. In fact, there were two ratsnakes in the tree although only half of the mating pair is shown in the preceding photo.

Phil and I were field-testing his new Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera. This is the second photo I shot; we had to delete the first shot because I was having difficulty hand-holding an unfamiliar camera/lens steadily. Phil activated a camera setting that boosts image stabilization and the problem was solved.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Who’s on deck?

May 14, 2014

I spotted an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) resting on the first floor of the observation tower at Huntley Meadows Park. I was no more than four- to five feet from the snake when I took these photos on Saturday, 03 May 2014.

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Warning: This encounter with an Eastern Ratsnake was atypical: Ratsnakes seem to have a relatively small “comfort zone”; they exhibit several defensive behaviors when threatened. For more information see my last post entitled, “Too close for comfort!

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Special thanks to Phil Wherry, my good friend and technology/photography guru, for the opportunity to field test his new Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera. The X-T1 is a relatively lightweight camera that features an APS-C image sensor, a big electronic viewfinder, and a good selection of lenses including the FUJINON LENS XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS used to take these photos.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Too close for comfort!

May 12, 2014

Q. Why did the Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) cross the road? A. It didn’t.

I spotted a five-foot long ratsnake as I was photowalking along a dirt trail at Meadowood Recreation Area on 08 May 2014; the snake froze with its head near the edge of the road, as shown in the following photo.

Common rat snakes tend to be shy and, if possible, will avoid being confronted. If these snakes are seen and confronted by danger, they tend to freeze and remain motionless. Source Credit: Black Rat Snake, Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

The snake remained motionless for a while and I was able to take lots of close-up photos, like the one shown below.

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

When I tried to get a better view, I must have moved too close for the snake’s comfort because it backed up …

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

… and startled me with several of its defensive behaviors.

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

As with all our native snakes the eastern ratsnake would rather flee than fight. However, if the snake feels cornered it will bite. In an effort to appear more formidable, the eastern ratsnake distort[s] the shape and size of its head when threatened. Another defensive strategy involves the ratsnake raising the front portion of its body off the ground in a[n] ‘S’ shape coil. This makes the snake look more formidable and increases the snake’s effective striking range. Source Credit: Eastern Ratsnake, Virginia Herpetological Society.

Did you know ratsnakes vibrate the tip of their tail in leaf litter when they feel threatened? The sound is like a rattlesnake rattle — it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!

As a general rule, snakes can strike up to half the length of their body. 90% of the rat snakes I’ve encountered are incredibly grumpy, and when they feel threatened … they tend to … try and bite you. Source Credit: Ashley Tubbs, Graduate Assistant at Texas A&M University, comment in Project Noah Facebook group.

I prefer to get as close as possible to the subject when photographing wildlife. It’s clear I crossed the line between comfort and discomfort for both the snake and me. Fortunately I wasn’t bitten! Live and learn.

Editor’s Note: A recent experience at Huntley Meadows Park misled me into thinking Eastern Ratsnakes have a surprisingly small “comfort zone”; in retrospect, it appears that encounter was atypical. Please stay tuned for a follow-up post entitled, “Who’s on deck?

Related Resource: Western rat snake, a Project Noah spotting by Noah Ranger “Maria dB.” “The snake was not happy with me photographing it and it lunged at me after a few shots but stayed in the tree.”

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Eastern Ratsnakes

May 4, 2014

I spotted several Eastern Ratsnakes (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) basking in a thorny thicket during a photowalk along the Hike-Bike Trail at Huntley Meadows Park on 14 April 2014.

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Thanks to Kevin Munroe for confirming my tentative field identification. I narrowed the field of possible snake species to either Eastern Ratsnake or Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor), but couldn’t decide between the two species. So I consulted an expert naturalist.

It’s an Eastern Ratsnake; you can tell by the eye. Northern Black Racers have a huge, all-black eye with an “eye-brow” ridge (makes racers look angry and somewhat dangerous all the time), while ratsnakes have noticeably smaller eyes with a black/white pupil/iris pattern (which makes them look more friendly/human). Also racers would never sit still long enough for you to take pictures, or at least it would be harder. Ratsnakes are pretty laid-back and easy to approach, while racers are very skittish and quick to flee. Ratsnakes mostly eat small mammals and young birds/eggs, while racers feed mainly on other herps like snakes, lizards and frogs. Ratsnakes are stealth/tracking hunters that smell out nests of young rodents and birds, while racers are active chasers/hunters/sprinters, which may be why they have such different personalities. Source Credit: Kevin Munroe, Park Manager, Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County Park Authority.

That’s good snake knowledge, Kevin!

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

The following gallery shows several full-length shots of the ratsnakes. I estimate the largest snake is five- to six feet long!

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

 


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