Garden Snakes

manature(9B Sanford, FL)May 2, 2007

We have talked before about what snakes can be harmful and which ones are a big bonus to have around, and I thought I would share one of my bonuses with you today. This is a black racer, and such a great snake to find in your garden. They have an important job to do, are completely harmless, and beautiful to watch in action.

You can see from this picture that they are long, very slim bodied, slaty grey-black, and often have a white chin that is clearly visible. If you see this fellow slipping under a log or behind the shrubs, PLEASE don't take a shovel to him. He's a good guy!! And he's performing a valuable pest-riddance service for you at no cost to your wallet or your environment.

This one is about 3 feet long, and could add another 2 feet or more, though I've seldom seen them longer than 4 feet.



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Cool! I really miss seeing those guys around my garden. NY is too cold for them!


    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 10:35AM
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We have one of those and a small greenish/bluish one too. They don't live in my yard (that I know of.....), but I see them passing thru from time to time. They freak me out really bad - I just go in the house when I see them.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 11:15AM
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My favorite black racer picture:

This guy hung around for a few years but when I took out most of the ferns in this area he left me.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 11:46AM
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Thanks for getting the word out about nice snakes. I got startled by a big black one racing out of my ferns a few weeks ago but I know he/she was just as afraid of me.
It's true people are too quick to kill and ask questions later. Poor animals just want a place to live peacefully.

Solstice, that's an amazing photo.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 11:54AM
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I love the black racers and have them living in my garden. We trap squirrels and raccoons and such but leave the racers be.
One spring I saw two playing slap and tickle all over the lawn for about 20 minutes. It was something to watch. I never thought of snakes as playfull. Being spring I think a young man's fancy..... well you know the rest.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 11:55AM
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tropicalfreak(z10b Ft Lauderdale)

The Reddish clay colored Corn snakes are beautiful!! Had one at the house in Orlando. Didn;t live in our yard because of the dogs, but he/she visited often.
Saw lots of Racers. They are more scared of us than them. lol


    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 11:58AM
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Seeing the snake climbing the fern reminds of an old Bill Cosby show where they had a snake in the house. Bill assured his wife that "snakes don't climb" so she would be safe upstairs! hehe

The greenish/blue snake is probably a garter snake.

I've only seen racers in this yard but at my last house there were many varieties. Even though it was on the water I only saw one water moccosin (sp) in over 20 years. I left the new owner with several corn snakes living in the insilation under the stilt house. hehe

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 12:10PM
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hamey(Z9 FLA Pasco County)

Great pictures!! We have snakes on our 4 acres, A few days ago we had a hognose snake in the elephant ear garden. They look really fierce but they are good snakes also. We also saw a really long gosh, 6feet or so garter snake the other day out there. We love the snakes. But not the bad ones like the coral we saw at the gate by the road.. sorry but he got "shoveled".

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 1:18PM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

I just purely LOVE my snakes. It's a toss up as to whether I prefer birds or herps! It's always good to see that gardeners are learning to welcome them into the yard.

Kate, that's a FANTASTIC photo of a nice sized black racer. Looks at least 4 feet to me!

Katkin, they were indeed playing slap & were on target. During the mating season, you will see pairs entwined and rolling around. And sometimes SEVERAL PAIRS!!! Can you say "reptile group sex?"

Perrisquirrel, Laura is exactly right that the "bluish" snake is probably a garter snake. They have stripes that run lengthwise and sometimes are nearly turquoise in color. Just beautiful critters!

And Tropicfreak, I love corn snakes, too. They are a color variant of the rat snake, and make excellent pets, but I don't recommend capturing any from the wild. They are prettier right where they belong, to me!

I wish I could find my posts on how to recognize our poisonous snakes, but they don't seem to be in the archives any more. It would be helpful to you folks new to Florida to know the few that can be harmful. So many people have wrong ideas and misinformation about snakes. (Like if it is in the water, it must be a water moccasin...WRONG.) And there are easy ways to tell all deadly snakes apart that don't involve getting close enough to see if they have round pupils or not. (I always thought that one was crazy!)

Maybe I'll have to try to rewrite those posts and finish the series. I did 3 of the 4 we have to worry about in most of Florida, but didn't get to the pygmy rattler. much I want to do, and so LITTLE time!!


    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 1:27PM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

Aw, Hamey! Coral snakes are SO non-aggressive. They aren't bad snakes at all. My daughter once stepped on one BAREFOOTED, and it never even tried to bite her. Just struggled like mad to get out from under her foot. (NOT that I recommend trying anything like that! They do NOT have to chew to invenomate, like some people think, and they are not rear-fanged. They have short fixed fangs in the front of their mouths, and even a scratch can be life-threatening.) BUT, having said all that, they so seldom bite anyone as to be very little threat at all to humans. I've seen them many, many times.

If your garter snake was 6' long, I suspect it was a rat snake, instead. Garter snakes don't usually get that big. Of course, like birds, they don't read the books, either, so maybe you had a record breaker! Stranger things have happened.

Hognose snakes are great! So funny to watch with their wild display, and then to roll over and play dead, mouth hanging open, tongue lolling out. They are so good at it! But if you turn them right side up, they will flip back over as if to say, "NO! I TOLD you I was DEAD! Now leave me alone!"


    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 1:34PM
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mikeyannie(z9 FL)

I don't often post, but I had to jump in on this on. We have several black racers around the yard. They love lurking in our hedge and ferns. They also manage to slither their way into the lanai or slip into the pond waiting to surprise the bujeebers out of me. We had a red rat snake insist on making its home on the lanai...entwined in a spider plant, curled in the resevoir of a pot, and unbeknownst to us, inside the grill. He made a hasty exit when the heat got too much for his tushie and other body parts.

The little lizzies usually sound the alarm when the snakes are prowling. They high tail it to about 8 feet up the pool cage, turn head downwards, and watch till the coast is clear. They failed miserably one day last summer. The day I decided to take a quick swim and found myself sharing the pool with something other than Therm, our alligator head thermometer. A king snake was in one corner and this very startled human was in another. I was the one doing the high tailing right up the steps!

This guy supervised as I pruned the nandinas.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 3:10PM
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mikeyannie(z9 FL)

Oh sigh...I made a typo right off the gitgo...and I am wearing my glasses. Didn't help that day in the pool either:-)

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 3:29PM
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Typos don't matter. We can all read around them. The picture is wonderful! The eye is so bright and sharp.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 4:21PM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

It really IS a terrific photo, mikeyannie! I loved your tales, too. I'm always happy to talk snakes with anyone. They are fascinating! But I will admit that they can even startle ME when I come upon one unexpectedly...I always get that little "rush" of surprise...I think the French call it a "frisson" or something to that effect. A bit of a shiver down the spine until I see what it is.

The best ones for sounding the alarm around here are the bluejays. When I hear them screeching and gathering around a particular area while they do it, I always know that either a snake or a cat is in the bushes nearby. So, of course I go invesigate, always hoping for an interesting snake.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 5:19PM
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lellie(z9 Anna Maria Island)

Great shots, guys!
Mine's a bit blurry...but I, too, love my snakes!
Here's one coming down out of my Reclinata...I believe it was visiting the MoDo's nest above it...heck!...they gotta eat, too!

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 5:49PM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

Neat, Lellie! My favorite personal story about black racers happened many years ago, when I lived in Estero, just south of Ft. Myers. I had a very large tray style bird feeder in my back yard, and it had a tube type feeder fastened to the center of it. The tray caught all the spilled seed and gave larger birds more room to feed.

One day I came out to fill the tube feeder and I saw something dark at the base of the it. It turned out to be a black racer wrapped round and round the tube, lying very still, waiting for a bird to sail in for breakfast! Needless to say, I didn't want that to happen, so I crept up behind him and yanked his tail, which was hanging over the tray ever so slightly. WELL! I have never before or after seen a snake move like this one did. It was so startled, it shot straight out into space like a thrown javelin! Traveled about ten feet through the air at a height of about 5 feet above the ground and landed in the middle of some palmettos! It was so funny, I almost fell over laughing.

I often saw that snake around the yard, but after that, I never caught him trying to ambush my birds from the feeder.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 8:11PM
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maureen155(9a Citrus FL)

Nice racer pictures. I see racers around here frequently. One of them lives in my front planter and quite often pokes his head up and looks at me when I water there.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 10:40PM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

You have lots of neat snakes where you live, don't you, Maureen? I've only seen two kinds here...the black racers, and some garter snakes. I keep hoping for more!


    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 11:28PM
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maureen155(9a Citrus FL)

Yes, we have lots of snakes where I am. Here's a picture of one of our more interesting neighbors.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 12:03AM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

I love this photo, Maureen! One of the things I love about it is that it shows the snake going AWAY from you, which is always their preference, unless cornered or harrassed. For those who don't recognize this beauty, it's an eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the largest poisonous snake in North America.

While all snakes can bite if handled or harrassed, most just want to be left alone, including rattlesnakes. However, as a note of caution, this bad boy packs a lot of venom and is not a snake you want to mess with. Give him a wide berth, and you'll be fine. Use caution in prime rattlesnake habitat, which is dry, upland areas, often full of palmettoes and pines. They can be found plenty of other places, too, but I would personally never stroll through a lot of palmettoes without being on guard. Remember to watch before stepping over logs (or reaching under them) and if you hear that buzzing rattle, back off. It's not worth the risk.

Rattlesnake venom is haemotoxic, which means it acts upon the blood, causing very nasty wounds that can result in loss of fingers and toes, if not always lives. Because they use their venom primarily to kill and begin the digestive process in their prey, it also digests tissue in a bite wound. It's painful, ugly, and can be permanently disfiguring.

As a side note for anyone interested in learning about snakes in general, and pit vipers in particular, they have total control of how much venom they inject when they bite. They can and do give what are called "dry bites" with no venom injected at all. (They really do not WANT to waste it on defense, when they need it for securing food.)

Many people think that a rattlesnake bite is instantly fatal, but this isn't so. The severity of the bite depends on several factors, including:

1. The size of the snake and amount of venom available to it at the time of the bite. A large snake with a full load of venom (one who hasn't just injected a lot of venom into a prey animal, for instance) is packing more "heat" than a small snake with most of its venom recently spent.

2. The age and size of the person bitten. A 250 pound man is at less risk usually than a 35 pound child.

3. The location of the bite. The closer the heart, the more life-threatening. A bite on the face or neck is much more serious than one on the toe.

4. The amount of venom injected by the snake. A warning bite can be completely dry. (Don't count on it.) Or a snake's venom can be depleted and only a small amount is available to inject.

In case you are bitten, seek medical help as quickly as possible. Do NOT cut the wound or try to "suck out the poison." Both are dangerous practices that can result in worsening your condition. Instead, remain as calm as possible. (In order not to speed up blood circulation). Keep the bitten area elevated higher than the heart, if possible. And wrap a compression bandage around the limb, if possible (like an Ace bandage). This will slow down blood circulation, but will not cut it off completely like a tourniquet would. Tourniquets, applied incorrectly, can result in loss of limbs.

Mostly, just try to avoid getting bitten. I've tromped around Florida woods all my life, birding, etc, and managed to avoid it, even though I have seen rattlesnakes many times. Usually, they hear you coming and they skedaddle.

Maureen, thanks for sharing this photo, and for giving me an opportunity to do a mini snake lesson. Here are a few more pics for aid in identifying the eastern diamondback.

You can see that these are heavy-bodied, thick snakes, unlike the slender black racers pictured in this thread, and the diamond pattern on the back is clearly visible from hatching on. The rattles can be broken off or damaged and not make a very loud noise at all, so you can't always count on that warning. Keep your eyes open, and you should be just fine.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 7:30AM
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KaraLynn(z9 FL, Inverness, Citrus)

Just last weekend we spotted 3 racers in one of my mom's flower beds, one of which was at least 3 feet long and was sunning itself on a large rock. All 3 disappeared into the mondo grass and split leaf philodendrons when came out the back door.

In the past we've seen garter snakes, corn snakes, ring necks, a hog nose, bright pink blind snakes, a very large yellow rat snake, and one coral snake. The coral snake was brought home alive by one of my cats who then sat at the side door with the snake on the ground next to her, waiting for someone to come out to see it. Lucky for her that it was in the middle of winter and the snake could barely move it was so cold! The same cat liked to bring home live black racers to show off all the time. One poor snake she brought home so many times that it finally stopped trying to escape and just curled up at her feet waiting for one of us to take it back into the woods. The way we knew it was the same snake was that we could see the cat's teeth marks on it's scales (she never once broke it's skin though). We ended up having to take the snake at least 5 miles away from the house so that the cat would leave it alone.

Here's a baby garter snake I found on my back porch last year. I had my dad hold it while I took the picture.

I love seeing snakes in the yard. My dad had me handling snakes by the time I could walk, much to my mom's dismay. Whe I was around 3 years old he told me to go show mom a snake we had just found and then fell over laughing as he watched me chase her all over the back yard trying to show it to her. Mom's still pretty afraid of snakes although not as much as she was back then. Dad grew up out in california near the desert and spent much of his childhood catching and playing with all sorts of reptiles and insects. He made sure that I knew how to properly identify different types of snakes from a very early age and would take me out in the woods to explore under rocks and such to see what we could find. He made sure that I knew not to mess with a snake until he gave the okay.

I'm now trying to teach my 2 year old nephew to be respectful but not afraid of the local wildlife. He already loves going out in the garden with either my parents or myself.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 8:50AM
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lellie(z9 Anna Maria Island)

They're all so beautiful!! make me laff.........ya sure it wasn't one of those flying snakes' from south asia??? HAHAHAHAHA!!!!

I have yet to get a shot of my FAVORITES here in SW FL...the little Ringnecks...I'm forever rescuing them from my pool!
They're jes so darn cute!

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 9:07AM
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I've seen racers swim across my pool, in one side out the other. It's a shortcut I guess. I love to watch them. If they want to help themselves to a few rodents, that's a bonus. My daughter is deathly afraid of snakes. She acts like 'such a girl.' I love her though.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 11:30AM
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I like the racers too. I see where they get their name too - boy are they fast! But my favorite is the garter snake. The color is just beautiful. I almost mistook this one for my hose! And look on the hose. I wonder if they were supposed to be lunch?

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 11:56AM
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Oh, and I meant to say to KaraLynn, that baby is adorable! I have not seen one that small. I didn't realize their markings were so similar to that of an adult. So often in the reptile world, it seems the juvenile looks so different from the adult.

And, Lellie, I love the ringnecks too. They seem to like my flower pots. Almost look like worms!

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 12:03PM
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presmudjo(z9 Osceola FL)

Our black snakes like to scare us. They will make a rattle noise by flicking their tails in the dry leaves. Sounds like a rattle all right. Make you stand still and really look around. Good defense! Bad for my heart!

I asked manature last year about snakes and printed off the explainations you gave. Now I know I wasn't the one that missed finding the last series! I looked forever. I've pulled those pages out many times to show grandkids and other "newbies" to the countyside. Thanks so much for them.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 2:04PM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

You are so welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed those posts enough to save them. If I had them printed myself, I would repost them all. There have been so many requests, and I can't find them any more, so I will have to do a new series, I guess.

Yellow rat snakes and a few others will also try the ol' "rattle the tail in the dry leaves to scare 'em" routine. It is quite effective. Many people don't stop to see what's doing the rattling and just skedaddle. The snake wins!

Beautiful garter snake, tannatonk, and great baby, karalynn. Love these snakey photos! Love to see you guys getting along so well with your garden critters! After all, they were here first!


    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 3:33PM
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Marcia- I would have LOVED to have seen that flying snake! You seem to be so knowledgable on snakes and birds if I didn't know that you were the Coleus Queen I'd wonder if you actually did any gardening! hehe It was so good to meet you at the swap so that I have a living person to connect to your posts.

This thread has been very informative! Did I ever tell you the story about my father getting bitten by a water moccosin head?...on a Sunday?...out in the middle of no where? I guess the snake head didn't release any venom since my father is still living.

I've seen a baby racer (which isn't black) act just like a rattlesnake all coiled up and shaking his wee little tail! A gusty little dude.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 4:15PM
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cindeea(FtMyers 10)

Oh my goodness, what WONDERFUL photos everyone! mikeyannie - That face, THAT FACE! It looks like it is smirking at you!

MARCIA-I didn't know you lived in Estero!!! I lived there for 14 years-where and when? Your flying snake story reminds so much of when Dennis first came to live with me in Estero (Fountain Lakes). We were in a 2 bedroom condo apartment. I had a hose run across the front sidewalk just outside the door soaking a small apt. size bed. Dennis (WHO HATES SNAKES) can take on lions, tigers and bears AND snipers without a twitch, but he hates snakes. Well, Den stepped out front to start the grill in stocking feet and thought he was stepping on the hose. This HUGE racer used to sun itself on our front sidewalk in the evening. You guessed it-he didn't step on the hose. Dennis leapt in one direction and me, sitting on the patio literally saw the snake FLY through the air in the other direction. I don't know who was more startled. I just sipped my wine, giggled, and asked when the steaks would be done!

I had my own racer surprise the other day, too. I do not mind snakes at all. They fascinate me, except when at bedtime Tootie is mewing about the red ring neck baby black snake that got in under the patio door and she has cornered just to show me. Anyway, the other day I went to turn on the soaker hose. We have a split valve at the hose bib and a black dual hose that can control the front or back raised beds soaking. As I turned on the water with one hand I reached for the black hose to be sure I was getting the front bed. Only thing is, the hose started wraping around my arm and I had ahold of a nice size racer. He looked at me kinda like mikeyannie's snake as if to say, hey lady, you expect me to water all that???

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 6:56PM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

Cindee, great stories. I lived in Estero MANY years ago. Jason was 2, I think, and he's 36 now, so way, way back. We were only there a year, and we lived in a mobile home park right off of Hwy 41. My parents lived on Sanibel, and we spent an awful lot of time on the island. Jason had his own binoculars and would ride on the seat on the back of my bike while he and I biked through Ding Darling Wildlife Sanctuary. Lots of adventures back then!

Laura, it was good to meet you, too. It does make a difference to be able to picture and "hear" the person who's posting, doesn't it. And I have to did just a moccasin HEAD bite your dad?? I mean...what happened to the REST of it???

I'm only AIMING to be the Coleus Queen of Sanford, btw...not sure I've earned that title yet. And it is a recent thing, you know...but I've been birding and involved with nature and stuff for most of my adult life, so I have lots of that type of trivia stashed away in my head. I probably know a lot more about snakes & birds than I do about plants. BUT...I'm aimin' to change that. I'm always looking for something new to learn.

I've really enjoyed this thread, too. Always love talking about snakes and other types of wildlife that we can share our gardens with. Just one more element that makes the yard such a wonderful escape from the stress of every day life.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 9:16PM
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Back when my my father got bit by the snake head he went by the philosophy that the only good (poisonous) snake was a dead one. He had a point. At that time he had 5 little girls running around and playing in the lake. I guess he learned to be more respectful of snake HEADS!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 5:20AM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

Ah-ha. You mean he had chopped the head OFF the snake before it bit him? Snakes can continue to move (including opening and closing their mouths) after being killed. The old expression was that when you kill a snake, it keeps wiggling until sundown. Of course, the time of day has nothing to do with it. It's a residual nerve/muscle thing. But people HAVE been poisoned by snakes after bashing them to bits, so I can see how it could have bitten him. Interesting that he suffered no ill effects. Maybe there wasn't enough residual strength left to do more than open and close the jaws. There certainly would be no "intent" left at that point.

*pondering the whole scenario now*


    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 9:53AM
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manature(9B Sanford, FL)

Bumping this post up, because it has a LOT of snake information in it, of several kinds, including the eastern diamondback rattlensnake. Good photos for ID's.

Marcia (who wishes she could insert this at the TOP, darn it!)

    Bookmark   October 12, 2007 at 1:39PM
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