Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fear Factor

Anything I've ever done that ultimately was worthwhile...initially scared me to death.
--Betty Bender, American professor

This is a your common, run-of-the-mill black snake. This non-venomous snake is common in east Tennessee -- sometimes referred to as a black rat snake or pilot black snake. Known to reach up to eight feet in length, it's the longest snake in North America. This particular one was about five feet long. The other interesting attribute of black snakes is their climbing ability. Just after taking these photos, this snake headed for a large tree, climbed it without the aid of any branches, and balled itself up into a small hollow in the side of the tree eight feet off the ground. Makes me wonder how many of these guys I pass on any given day hiking through the woods. The good news is that they're shy and will avoid confrontation. When threatened, they will usually flee or do as this one did, and wrinkle themselves into a series of kinks. They may also shake their tails against dried leaves in an attempt to mimic a rattlesnake. If they continue to be provoked or feel threatened they will strike. Black snakes eat mice and rats and other small animals by way of constricting them -- for this reason, the advice you'll usually hear is to never kill a black snake - they're helpful neighbors to have around.

Young black snakes are often confused for copperheads because of their colorful patterns and markings -- it's only as they mature they become black (see photos here). There are only two venomous snakes in our immediate region, the Timber Rattlesnake and the Copperhead. The quick and easy way to know if you've encountered one of these venomous snakes is to look at the eyes. If the pupils are round, it is non-venomous. If vertical or cat-like, then it's venomous. Also, the two venomous snakes in this area are both pit vipers, which means they have a heat-seeking pit located between their eyes and their nostrils. Click here for photos which depict these important distinctions.

For more information on blacksnakes, click here, here and here.
And click here, here and here for helpful snake identification websites.


  1. I like your photos :)

    Greetings from

  2. Great pics, they give me the chills. This snake reminds me of a time when I was swimming in Algonquin Park and my husband said, "Get out the water now!". Something about his tone made me get out immediately and in the water was a snake - large and black about the size of the one you came across. Yikes.

  3. Don NOT kill black snakes because it may be mistaken for a kingsnake which eat rattlers. They dont hurt people are are good to have around.

  4. Not to be that guy, but [i]Drymarchon corais[/i] is the longest recorded, native US (and another from that genus is the largest from N. America) snake. It only occurs in the SE US sandhills, unfortunately.

    On another note, thank you for mentioning the fail safe methods of identifying a venomous snake. I hear the "triangle head/diamond patern" too much....


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