Friday, May 2, 2014

A Black Racer in the Wild

Sam Bevins on Cape Ann snakes
Very rarely do I see a snake without hearing it first. I'll take a few steps into the grass and rattle things around a little bit to see if I can get one of them to make a move. I listen for a constant movement of their body sliding against the leaves, compared to something that's hopping or scampering.
Garter snake
Here we go. You see him? A garter, sitting right up. That's a perfect one. Posing for you. I wish I got lucky like that all the time.
Ribbon snakes
Garters and ribbons can be tricky to tell apart. I go by the head a lot. Ribbon snakes have a whiter chin. Garters will be more yellow. Ribbons are long and slender. On ribbons the top of the head is brown, garters are more black. I find ribbons tend to be a little more flighty than the garters.
Milk snakes are common on Cape Ann too, when the weather gets warm. Last year I thought I saw a black racer dart across the trail. They're a beautiful smooth color like steel. This is prime black racer territory. They're great climbers and they're really, really fast. They can shoot through the trees to catch a bird.
I saw one when I was six years old at Plum Cove baseball field. It was a really magnificent snake, about 6 feet long. I followed after her, not knowing what she was, following her tail. It must have been close to her nest. She stopped and reared up to something like three feet off the ground. I got the message. Mom and Dad saw it too. We looked it up when we got home. I'm hoping to see it again. I'd really like to catch one.
Sam stalking a snake
Here's a good sized garter female. The males are pretty wiry at this time of year. She's thicker, and probably has babies inside her. They're live bearers. Look at the beautiful red and black tongue.
Capturing a snake
You'd be surprised how much they can expand their mouth. They're opportunistic feeders. If it's too big, they'll try to eat it anyway. I saw a garter snake trying to swallow a large toad. The snake had it by the leg. The toad would hop away, the snake would pull it back. Eventually the toad got free.
The garter snake swims away
There she goes. All snakes can swim from the minute they are born. They look really nice when they swim, very sea-serpent-like.
When they bite it's like a little pinch. It might break the skin and draw a drop of blood. I've been bitten by snakes for a long time now. But I would take a thousand snake bites before one bee sting.
A local milk snake
Our Vernal Pond Team keeps a lot of snakes. Rick doesn't always have time to hold them to make sure they grow up to be good show snakes. If you don't give them attention they'll be like a wild snake and bite you every time you pick them up. I try to give them all special attention to prepare them for our shows.
A lot of the kids know me from seeing me with snakes at events like the Sidewalk Bazaar. Practically everyone from Gloucester High School walks by. "Hey Sam!" I've got the boa constrictor wrapped around my neck and they come over to hold it. Our involvement with the youth has really grown.
Earth Day at the Essex County Greenbelt Association
I'd like to catch a 6-foot black racer in the wild. It's the only snake we have in Massachusetts that's that powerful. I would do anything, at all costs, to be able to catch one. I'd hopefully have a pillowcase on me, because we could always use a big racer for a show.
Usually I try to disturb snakes so they can make their move. But with the racer you can't do that, because you're never going to see it again. I have to see the racer first and figure out how to get away from his face. I'd probably just dive for him. I'd grab any part of him. If I can get the head that would be great so I can try to get control. But if I get the tail and drag him out I'll be able to grab a stick and push on the back of his head so I can get him behind the head. If he bites me I'd deal with it.
Black racer
Google image
That six-foot racer that I saw when I was six years old is the only wild snake that ever truly terrified me. I'm glad I didn't catch it. The thing probably would've tried to eat me. But if I could find another one I'd like my revenge. I would love to hold it and enjoy it, to say finally I got one back. We'd be "tied up at one." I let one get away, and now we'd be even.

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