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Living Sanibel: Introduction to island snakes

By Staff | Nov 26, 2014

Corn Snake

The corn snake’s name is derived from the beautiful maize-like pattern on its belly and its preference for cornfields. The name appeared as far back as 1676 when these colorful snakes were first discovered in America. Its docile nature, attractive skin pattern and reluctance to bite, make it a popular pet.

The range of the corn snake is much smaller than that of the black racer or yellow rat snake and does not extend much above the Mason-Dixon Line. It does survive at elevations up to 6,000 feet. In colder climates it hibernates during the winter. The best time for viewing one of these gorgeous snakes is early morning or near sunset. It tends to feed nocturnally and is seldom spotted midday.

When threatened, the corn snake coils up in much the same fashion as a rattlesnake. Its bite is swift and painful, and because of its heavily patterned coloration, it may easily be confused with the deadly rattlesnake. In yet another form of rattlesnake mimicry, the corn snake often rattles its tail, even though it lacks the rattle.

In the wild this small constrictor dines predominantly on rodents-mostly rats and mice-but will also take lizards, anoles, and frogs. The corn snake is preyed upon by all the major raptors, and juvenile snakes are taken by black racers.

Eastern Rat Snake

After the black racer, the yellow rat snake is the second most commonly seen snake in southwest Florida. Various subspecies and color variations extend the range of the yellow rat snake across most of the eastern U.S., and as far west as western Texas. Growing to lengths of seven feet, with a circumference about the size of a man’s wrist, this snake can be quite startling when you happen upon one. It is nonvenomous, however, and aside from a nasty bite, will not cause any real harm to a person. Nonetheless, it should never be picked up or handled.

The yellow rat snake is an impressive predator. It is a true constrictor, seizing its prey, then coiling its muscular body around the animal and slowly constricting the life out of it through suffocation. The yellow rat snake is one of the leading predators of invasive black and brown rats and is therefore beneficial to wildlife. It also preys upon birds, frogs, lizards, eggs, insects, and small mammals.

Extremely arboreal, the yellow rat snake can often be spotted climbing into trees and up onto porches, rooftops, and rafters. It has nowhere near the speed of the black racer on the ground and often falls prey to hawks, ospreys, eagles, owls, raccoons, bobcats, and otters. Unlike the black racer, the yellow rat snake takes readily to humans, and after it becomes socialized, seldom bites.

This is an excerpt from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.