Monday, September 17, 2012

Limbless Climber, Snakes in the Trees

Tiny serpent, fierce display. Juvenile black rat snake.

Rat snakes today are often encountered around structures - barns, abandoned houses, even occupied homes in rural settings. Of North Carolina's 30-40 native snakes, the black rat snake is probably one of the least-maligned; perhaps because the adults' dark, generally patternless form is not immediately associated with its venomous kin in the mind of the casual observer. 

This juvenile has not yet transitioned to its darker garb, but at it has inherited its forebears' arboreal habit.

Long before there were hen houses and rodent-filled haylofts to climb, the black rat snake was pursuing its prey (or escaping its pursuers) in the treetops.

As this youngster demonstrates, no limbs are no impediment for this reptilian, giving the term "scale a tree" a different twist. 

What goes up, must come down; an adult black rat snake demonstrates a typical limbless descent.

Whether flitting through the foliage or gliding gracefully along the ground, the black rat snake must daily make the most of dramatic habitat changes throughout its historic range if it is to reach the age of sexual maturity and do its part to perpetuate the species.


  1. Yes, people look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them snakes can climb trees.
    We have them not only climb trees but come down our chimney to shed their skins.

  2. Nature finds a way. Bird eggs and nestlings are an important part of the diet for black rat snakes. Ecologists say that the red cockaded woodpecker excavates its nest from living long leaf pines so that the prodigious amounts of actively running sap will deter snakes.