The snake slips and slides slowly, smoothly. Scales slither over soft grass, snaking silently to scare its prey… scary! (Borrowed from a grammar web site on alliteration.)
After our recent incident with the opossum in the Discovery Garden, it got me thinking about other garden critters that are around us. Some of these can be pretty inconspicuous and harmless, but they get a bad rep nonetheless. One in particular is snakes, and more specifically the black racer.
Did you know that you have a much greater chance of being in a car accident, getting a dog bite, being stung by a bee or being hit by lightning (we’re in Florida, remember) than getting a snake bite?
Adult black racer
The Southern black racer is a very common snake in much of Florida, and is a great means of rodent control. It eats a variety of prey items including frogs, lizards, mice, rats, small snakes and even birds’ eggs. As its name implies, the black racer is swift and agile. It spends most of its life on the ground, yet is an excellent climber and may be found in shrubs and small trees.
The juvenile black racer, however, has markings similar to the venomous pygmy rattlesnake, and often meets an untimely death because of this mistaken identity. Additionally, when threatened, the juvenile will coil up and “rattle” its tail in dry leaf litter in an attempt to mimic a rattlesnake. This ruse often works for other prey, which leave it alone, but humans see it as a threat and many will kill first, ask questions later.
Juvenile black racer
Most snakes in Florida can’t hurt you–let alone kill you. Venomous snakes like the coral snake and rattlesnakes are rarely seen in urban areas, because they don’t want to run into you any more than you want to run into them! It doesn’t mean they’re not there, though, so always be aware of your surroundings.
You can reduce the frequency of snake visits to your yard and home by eliminating firewood stacks, debris, boards, and other objects lying close to the ground that create appealingly cool, damp, and dark shelters and prey habitat areas. Remember, they’re looking for food, and these places are perfect for mice and other rodents to hide.
If you’re like me and find excitement in observing wildlife up close and personal, there is a great University of Florida IFAS publication on recognizing Florida’s venomous snakes – http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw229. However, PLEASE DO NOT PICK UP A SNAKE, even if you think it is non-venomous. All snakes will bite, if they feel threatened and have no other way of escape. And while there may not be any venom in the bite, it still hurts like the dickens… trust me, I speak from personal experience.
So, don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge a snake by its scales… although the eyes might offer some clues. When in doubt, walk (or run) away. If you want more confirmation and can take a good photo of it, send it to your local Extension office for identification.