Native Plants, Habitat Restoration, and Other Science Snippets from Athens, Georgia

Friday: 11 April 2008

Rat Snake Day  -  @ 06:17:02
Yesterday was such a fine day that I thought I would see a snake. And I did!

In the manner typical of the species, this Black Rat Snake, Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta, about four feet long, froze in its amble when I came upon it. So I was able to spend a happy half-hour photographing and admiring it. I don't have a full length photo but the image below links to something approaching that:

I pored over images and line drawings of scale patterns of the head, considering Common Kingsnake (which I incorrectly settled on) and Southern Black Racer, a hatchling of which, as you might recall, we had released into this area July 26 2005 (ha! The documentary power of blogging!):

This one was a pretty mellow fellow, but I was able to induce it to assume a more alert, semi-strike position:

I took some photographs to WVFD training last night and our former chief Phyllis took them home to her wildlife biologist husband, Jeff Jackson. Jeff called me last night after I got home and informed me of the correct identity. He was particularly intrigued by the juvenile patterning, which this individual has retained as an adult. He had a little story and theory about that.

Patterned black rat snakes are found south of here, in the coastal plain (this U. Florida IFAS extension site has a useful range map of the black rat snake range, superimposed on the more southerly subspecies). However they're not seen here in the Georgia Piedmont, where adults lose their blotching and take on a more uniform black appearance.

Jeff related the story of a friend who lived for awhile between him and Phyllis, and Glenn and me. (Jeff and Phyllis live on, appropriately enough, Black Snake Road, which runs about 1000 feet above and parallel to our portion of Goulding Creek.) This fellow, a biologist who eventually became a zoo veterinarian, kept a variety of animals caged for observation, and among them was the Floridian Everglades Rat Snake, Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni, same species but a brightly colored form. (For extra fun, note the specific epithet. Ross Allen was quite a hero to me when I was a younger kid.)

Jeff hypothesizes that some of these escaped, and that yesterday's discovery is a hybrid form retaining the juvenile blotching because of the more strongly colored donation from the Everglades subspecies.

DiscoverLife has collected a nice photographic series, unfortunately only partially labelled as to subspecies, of the various rat snake color morphs.

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