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Friday, October 7, 2011

Species Spotlight #6: Black Racer

Here in North Carolina, we’ve got two common species of black snake. One is the Black Rat Snake, like the one I found at the Ellerbe Creek mudflats earlier this year. The other, however, is the smaller, thinner, and lither Black Racer.

When I first started out, I really thought it was impossible to separate these species in the field, but like parsing out peeps and sparrows, all it takes is experience. Now, after having found several individuals of each species, it’s really easy for me to tell which species I’ve got. Among other things, they’ve got totally different head shapes – the Black Racer has a more compact and shovel-like head than the traditionally snake-looking rat snake. Additionally, on a rat snake, even a dark one, you can see darker black stripes that run along its body, where a racer will look totally onyx. And finally, if you manage to flush them, there’s no mistaking. A Black Rat Snake will slither slowly into the undergrowth, but a Black Racer, like its name suggests, will suddenly bolt in a straight line until it’s out of sight.

Black Racer - Durham, NC; 03/22/2011

I found this Black Racer along the old railroad grade that crosses Stagecoach Road in Durham. I wouldn’t have noticed him if he hadn't flushed, making a bee-line through the forest and prompting me to give a rather ill-advised chase through the thorns and briers that riddled the forest floor. Eventually though, he stopped and stared at me as if the prickly bush between us meant he was totally invisible to me. I didn’t want to bother him, and as soon as I got my shot, I let him lie peacefully in the forest. A very cool snake, and one I can’t see often enough!

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