Bright, vibrant colors in winter can be hard to find, but sometimes all you have to do is look up.
Rat snakes are some of the most frequently seen snakes in the US, but they still cause a lot of confusion and panic. They’re often mistaken for whatever venomous snake lives in the same area. They’re relatively large snakes, and they have an intimidating defensive posture, raising the fronts of their bodies above the ground. And they can have a slightly triangular head if you’re looking at it and thinking, is that triangular? I don’t know… maybe? Kinda. Better assume it’s venomous.
It’s not venomous. Rat snakes are harmless, unless you’re small enough for them to swallow. They can even be beneficial to humans, keeping the rodent population under control. On the other hand, they’re notorious for stealing chicken eggs, which they can swallow whole. And they can clear out an entire nest of baby birds. (If you put up birdhouses, it’s a good idea to add predator guards.)
They’re also skilled tree-climbers*. If you live in the United States, and you see a snake hanging out in a tree in your yard, or from the rafters in a barn, or perched calmly on top of your doorframe as you go to open the door, chances are pretty good that you have a rat snake.
Identifying them can get a little complicated. They come in different patterns and colors, depending on the region. In peninsular Florida, they’re yellow with dark stripes:
Elsewhere on the Gulf Coast, they’re gray or tan with darker patches, like the one pictured at the top of this post. And farther north, they’re black:
And to the west, you get this splotchy, stripey kind:
These are all the same species! At the edges of their regions, intergrade patterns are often found. The Atlantic coast has some olive-green ones, a mix of yellow and black. In the Piedmont, where I live, they’re mostly black but often have some faint markings.
Rat snakes are constrictors, like boas and pythons, but much smaller. A truly giant rat snake is about 7 feet long, and most adults are under 5 feet. Still, you could say they’re the closest thing the US has to pythons (except in the Everglades, where the Burmese python has become a pest).
They like abandoned buildings and other structures near humans, where the rats are plentiful. So if you see a big yellow, black, or brown snake hanging out in a tree or a hayloft, no need to panic. It’s probably just a rat snake going about its exterminator duties. Leave it alone, and enjoy fewer rats around your house.
- How does a limbless animal climb a tree? By using its belly scales to push against the rough bark.
Here’s a rat snake in action:
** Source for images (except the first one): Encyclopedia of Life
Totally not a nature photo, but I thought I would share my favorite Xmas song, which is to say, one of only two I will listen to by choice. The other is Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun” which is the only one I’ve ever heard that reflects my experience of the holiday.
But this is the only one I listen to in months other than December, just because I like it.
A belated response to the Daily Press weekly photo challenge: Oops!
I am an utterly hopeless bird photographer. My camera is bad for it, but on top of that, I’m bad at it. The only birds I have ever successfully photographed have been at the beach, where there is tons of bright light and the birds are more or less standing still.
Any other bird? It looks semi-okay on my camera’s little screen, but then I get it onto my computer and, wow. What is that, even? Is that a bird? It just looks like a blurry, grainy, underexposed mess.
This is one of my better attempts.
Some animals live their lives on a strict annual timetable. Migratory birds set off about the same time each year. Hibernating animals start stuffing themselves and building up insulation-fat at the same time. Many species have reproductive cycles that match the seasons.
Some are so predictable and noticeable that they can come to symbolize a season. When the sandhill cranes arrive at the lake near my parents’ house, it is fall. When I lived there, in northern Florida, the sight of a swallow-tailed kite drifting gracefully through the sky meant summer was arriving. I have always liked summer, even in Florida where many hate it, so a glimpse of a kite always made me smile, and not just because they are beautiful. Which they certainly are. I don’t have a good photo of one in flight, so here’s a video:
But long before I lived in Florida, I lived in a much colder place: northwestern Pennsylvania. That area gets a lot of snow, and while they’re used to it, everyone is pretty sick of it by March. The earliest signs of spring are important. Spring there is announced by two sounds: the calls of Canada geese flying north, and the deafening chorus of spring peepers from every creek and roadside ditch that isn’t frozen.
Not a nature photo. This is a response to the Daily Post’s photo challenge theme: Gathering.
This is a photo from the Moral Monday protests in Raleigh, NC last year. This protest was polite, organized, and huge. There were groups there supporting civil rights, labor unions, public education at all levels, immigration, environment, healthcare… you name the cause, the state government had damaged it.
There were poor elderly people from the middle of nowhere talking to young grad students. There were Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Unitarian Universalist leaders on stage. There were people who normally wouldn’t necessarily dislike each other, but who would just never see one another in their everyday lives, holding hands and holding signs and cheering for each other’s causes. There were signs in English, Spanish, and Arabic. There may have been other languages.
You want to get a bunch of disparate people all working together? Give them a really awful governor.
About Greenshield Lichen -Lichens are amazing. They’re a fusion of multiple life forms: a fungus plus an alga, cyanobacterium, or both, growing intertwined. The fungus eats the sugars that its partner makes from sunlight. Greenshield Lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata) is comfortable growing on city trees so long as the pollution isn’t too bad. It
Lizards eat small invertebrates. That’s what lizards do. Insects, spiders, ticks, grubs– all tasty morsels for your local lizard population.
When I lived in Florida, I had geckos in the house. I didn’t put them there, but they came in, and I happily let them stay. Because of them, I never had spiders on the ceiling. Lizards eat spiders. It’s the way of the world.
But sometimes… Sometimes, a spider defies its destiny.
Victory goes to the spider this time.
Sometimes you see a flower and think, “Oh, isn’t that pretty?”
And then there are the times you see a flower and think, “Whoa, Nature! You’re just going overboard now.”
This Passiflora incarnata flower is an example of the latter.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Treat,” here’s something I never seem to do anymore. I have a kayak; I know there are rivers and lakes around here, and yet my kayak has been used more often as a container in which to carry my belongings on top of my car than as an actual boat in the past few years. It makes a really good car-top container, but it’s a lot more fun as a boat.
So here’s a picture from several years ago, on the Econfina Creek in northwest Florida. There are actually two rivers called Econfina in northwest Florida, and they are not connected. This is the one north of Panama City. It’s a beautiful little river, overhung with greenery and fed by deep, clear springs that keep it cool. If you ever get the chance to canoe down it, do so — and stop and swim in the springs on the way.
Everybody has something they enjoy but somehow never get around to doing, right? What’s yours?