One of the best things about having a garden, even in urban or suburban areas, is the incredible amount of wildlife you can provide habitat for. Of course, most gardeners are very happy to welcome songbirds to their yards, but many have no idea how interesting and varied other forms of garden wildlife are. I’m hoping that by sharing pictures and information here about the many other creatures who call my own yard home, others will realize what a wonderfully diverse place a garden can be. Over the course of the weeks ahead, I’ll be posting on birds & birdfeeders, butterflies & other insects, mammals, and reptiles that coexist pretty well in my yard. Especially considering the two killer dachshunds I have who patrol their territory on a daily basis.
Just to kick this “series” off with a bang, I’m not going to start with cute cardinals or brash bluejays. I’m going to leap right into discussing the critters many people fear, dislike, or simply don’t understand, the reptiles. Particularly snakes. If you count yourself among the many who actively dislike snakes or think that they are always venomous or dangerous, I hope you’ll read a bit more, and learn to accept them and their place in the garden with less fear or hatred. Perhaps you will never learn to see them as the beautiful and interesting creatures that I do, but if you can restrain yourself from bashing them with shovels, I’ll consider these posts a success.
Let’s start with the snake I see most often in my garden, the Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus). This is one of my favorite snakes, being completely harmless, and very beneficial in the garden. I also think the long, streamlined body is quite pretty, with the grey to black, smooth coloration, and the white chin that is distinctive in the southern subspecies of this snake. (Click on any image to open a larger version).
One of the things about black racers that I most enjoy is their habit of “periscoping.” When gliding through grasses or slightly taller vegetation, they often pause and lift their head up high, in order to “scope out” the lay of the land, and make sure no unseen dangers await them. Like all snakes, they use their tongue to taste air molecules for the scent of anything threatening or delicious nearby. Also like all snakes, racers can and WILL bite if threatened. If you are not experienced in handling snakes without causing harm to them or to yourself, don’t try to pick these guys up. Just admire their graceful slide through the garden, and let them go on their way unharmed. Their bite may not be venomous, but it can be painful, and can cause breakage of the snake’s teeth, which isn’t good for them. Black racers do not make good pets, either. I don’t really espouse keeping wildife as pets to begin with, and racers, in particular, never get over their nervous disposition, and really dislike being handled.
I had a wonderful moment with a black racer a couple of summers ago, when I was hand watering my flowers. We were in drought mode, as is often the case here in central Florida, and the splashing water attracted a medium sized racer, about 2 1/2 feet long. He slid forward a few slow inches at a time, stopping repeatedly to check me out and be sure I wasn’t doing anything that looked threatening. I stood very still and let the water continue to sprinkle on some leaf mulch in my flower bed. Eventually, the racer reached his goal, lowered his head to a tiny puddle of water in a cupped leaf, and began to drink. By this time, I was holding my breath, watching something I’d never seen before, and not wanting to scare him away before he had quenched his thirst. He drank a very long time, then turned slowly, raised his head to give me one more look, then turned and glided back under the fence, to whatever hiding spot he had emerged from.
Here is a picture I took a few weeks later of what might have been the same snake, though I have several living in my yard. Notice the white chin, which you can see clearly, even though this snake doesn’t have his head raised up.
If you have any questions about black racers or other snakes in your garden, please feel free to ask. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it for you. In the meantime, here’s a link to a website with lots more information on the Southern Black Racer.