Welcome to my Western Pennsylvania garden. Join me on a "Walk Down the Garden Path".

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Friend or Foe: Black Rat Snake

It was just about a month ago that I first wrote of our sighting of the Black Rat Snake in our garage. At that time, I said I would post more later. Well, it's now later. I was hoping that I could post that we had successfully captured the snake to relocate him to the bottom of the yard where he wouldn't bother us, but we have not seen him since that first day.

You see, my husband and father in law had built a special snake catching device and we wanted a chance to try it out and see if it worked better than our method of herding the snake into a large garbage can to transport him to his new home. We have used the herding method several times with great success, but if the snake is not in a good position this is a bit difficult to do. As you can see in the pictures below, this snake catching device is quite simple. It's a pole with a string looped through it. Just get the snake's head inside the loop and pull tight. Now don't strangle him, just transport him to your trash can for relocation. I was hoping to have a picture of the snake caught in the device. Oh well, I guess he was camera shy and decided our garage wasn't the place to be.

I do want to share some information about my friend though, and that is exactly what he is, a friend, not a foe. Many people misunderstand snakes and their fear and lack of knowledge cause snakes to continue to be the victim of human persecution.

The Black Rat Snake may look menacing, but he is generally shy and does not like confrontation. His diet includes primarily rodents, although he may dine on small lizards or the occasional frog. Rodents, meaning rats, mice, voles, chipmunks. It is because of this rodent diet that they are very useful on farms and in your garden. They use constriction to kill their prey (just in case you were wondering).

The Black Rat Snake can be found from New England south through Georgia and west across the northern parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and north through Oklahoma to southern Wisconsin. There is also an isolated population in southern Canada and northern New York.

Rat Snakes are egg layers. The female lays 12 to 20 eggs. The eggs are laid in a hidden area, under hollow logs or leaves, or in abandoned burrows. The eggs hatch 65 to 70 days later.

Take precautions so that snakes don't enter your home. You can do this by sealing cracks and openings around your house. Keep your yard free of debris and if you have a wood pile, keep it away from the house.

I hope that if you encounter a snake, you will not kill it out of fear. If it is not near your home either let it exist naturally or relocate it. The Black Rat Snake is definitely a friend.


I likE plants! said...

I could use him want to send him to me!


Lucy Corrander said...

I appreciate this post.

I had rats coming up through my compost heap a couple of years ago, stealing new things I put there. (I wondered why the compost seemed to be getting less rather than more!) I thought I'd have to put down poison but was advised that rats don't like disruption or noise so all I needed to do was to bang the compost about a bit and bang the underneath of a nearby shed for a few days and they'd go away . . . it worked.

Do you know the poem 'The Snake' by D.H. Lawrence . . . the writer goes to his water-trough and finds a snake is coming from the wall to drink there too. The writer then struggles between his awa and respect for the snake on one side and his cultural abhorrence of it on the other - before succumbing to a sort of primeval fear . . . and he throws his water pot at it.

He is then filled with remorse and shame.

It's a powerful poem, full of sizzling heat and resonating with our own struggles between instinct and wonder, cultural expectations and respect for the rest of the natural world.

Lucy Corrander

tina said...

I never kill snakes. So glad you put in a good plug for our soft, silky smooth friends. I'd much rather them than the pesky rodents!

Daphne said...

I could use one of those snakes. It could keep my chipmunk population to a reasonable level. The only snakes I've seen in the area though are small garter snakes. I doubt they could eat a chipmunk as their heads are only about 1/2" wide.

hap said...

Your husband and his dad sound like my kind of guys, building their own snake catching device. Maybe the sight of that thing scared the snake off. I once built (maybe rigged is a better word) a mouse catching trap. It consisted of a rubbermaid storage bin, a surf leash, a sleeve of tennis balls, and of course some cheese. It actually worked on the third try.

That's good info on the Black Rat Snake. I haven't run across any down here, but now I'll know one if I see it. Hopefully I won't have to make my own snake catching device.

Lady Bug said...

We had a huge (like 5 foot) rat snake when we lived in Maryland. I freaked out the first time I saw it, slithering through the garden. Still sends chills down my spine. But it did take care of the field mice!

Anonymous said...

I would freak if I found a snake in my garage. When I lived in Texas as a kid we had a Rattlesnake come in our garage and that was enough for me.

DP Nguyen said...

As much as I want to like the rat snake, I just don't like snakes. lol. I think it is great that he eats rodents and rats and other creatures that I don't want to see, he is still a snake that lays eggs. lol. My sister did see a rat snake on our porch one day and she ran inside. the snake slithered away somewhere and we have not seen him since. i wonder why he choose to rest on our porch. lol. But I am glad we haven't seen him again.

Gail said...

We have snakes, poisonous and non in our woods. We used to see them all the time. I figure they are very happy back there and we don't need to interact daily!
They are earning their keep.

Cindy said...

ILP ~ If I catch him, I'll send him to you! LOL.

Lucy ~ Yuck, rats! I'm glad you got them to go away. I didn't know that poem, thanks for the introduction.

Tina ~ You must have owned snakes at some point. How do you know they are soft and silky smooth?!? I have certainly never touched one.

Daphne ~ Those pesky munks! They keep eating my tomatoes.

Hap ~ I'd love to see a picture of that device. Were the tennis balls to bonk him on the head?

Lady Bug ~ They sure can take you by surprise. I remember last year seeing a black snake sitting on the potting table, I did a double take because I first thought it was a rubber snake. Good thing I didn't just grab it.

DP ~ Well I hope he stays out of view and keeps the rodents away. Of course, if Luka gets to be a good mouser there wouldn't be anything around for snakey to eat and he won't hang around. LOL.

Gail ~ Yes, no need to interact with the snakes, just co-exist peaceably. PA only has 3 poisonous varieties of snakes, and I can't say that I've ever seen one of those. Does TN have a lot of poisonous ones to avoid ?

tina said...

Yup, had a few green snakes as a kid. But I was subbing when a student brought in his pet python. It was so silky it was unbelievable. You must touch a snake when you get the chance! Sometimes at parks they bring them out for people to touch too. Snakes are good as you know. Not at all like touching frogs or toads; which I am not fond of touching:)

Rose said...

I confess I am not fond of snakes; petrified is a better word to describe my feelings. But I know they can be a good friend in the garden. Thanks for all the interesting info about the black rat snake--I'll be sure to leave one alone if I find one:)

TC said...

Interesting post. I've yet to see the first snake here, in yard or garden. I wonder why they seem scarce here this year?

Cindy said...

Tina ~ If I have a chance, I will touch a snake! I'll be brave - lol.

Rose ~ Even though they are good for your garden, I hope you don't encounter any :)

TC ~ Your yard and garden must not have suitable food and shelter for our snake friends. Or they are hiding from you - lol.

Fern said...

This is a great post! I stumbled it. :-)

Cindy said...

Fern ~ Thanks! I hadn't heard about stumbling before. I'm always learning something new about cyberspace!

Adriane said...

We had a black rat snake in my parents barn. He was pretty chill, but startled my mom a couple times. It was around dusk one night and my mom went to grab a lead rope off the feed box- it wasn't a lead rope- it was the snake. My mom freaked so my dad relocated him to the pumpkin patch :)