Nature in the Backyard: Cat Meets Black Rat Snake

Missy the Siamese/Himalayan cat on a leash

I was walking our alpha female cat Missy on a leash when she spotted something strange in the pinestraw bordering our back yard.

I realize that many people would wonder why I would walk a cat on a leash. Missy had never, in her three years of life, been outside until I started walking her, in late August 2008 (3 weeks ago). Our three cats have always been indoor cats, for a good reason. Our cats don’t go out due to the pack of coyotes that patrol our neighborhood; these coyotes have reduced the outside cat population greatly in the last few years.

Scooter, our Siamese cat who died in 2005 at age 23, apparently knew how to deal with coyotes because he went out daily until he was forced into retirement for fighting. But Scooter was street smart and woods wise.

We don’t want our three cats to learn about coyotes the hard way, so we’ve kept them inside. But Missy has been so restless this summer that we decided to give her some new adventures, hoping that she might quit misbehaving (peeing in sinks, knocking the other cats around, etc).

On September 6 Missy and I were strolling on the edge of the back yard when she spotted the black rat snake. Missy didn’t look at it very long because she didn’t know what it was, and it wasn’t moving. I decided to start her education on large snakes. So I picked her up, tucked her under my arm, and walked over to the snake for a close inspection.

Black Rat Snake

Before I go any further, let me offer some advice. Don’t do this!!! The six-foot snake stayed still for about 20 seconds. Then, it decided to move on. Missy’s eyes bugged out and then she freaked.

If you’ve never had a cat that you are holding freak out, you are fortunate or smarter than I was.

Our cats have claws — when they are frightened, they use their claws to accelerate away from the cause of the fright as quickly as possible. Since she was under my arm, I was the launching pad for Missy’s sprint to safety, and her claws used my arm and hand, instead of the ground, to push off.

Needless to say, my right hand was scratched badly. Missy ran to the end of the leash and climbed about three feet into the air when the leash halted her sprint. She was running back to our house. I ran after her to try to get her under control. She hit the end of the leash several times before I was able to catch up to her. I grabbed her behind her shoulders with both hands, held her out at arms length to avoid the windmilling legs with claws out, and got her back in the house.

I returned with the camera to take photos of the snake. I’m assuming its the same black rat snake that has been around our home since 2005 – how do you tell one six-foot black rat snake from another? Since snakes that large are relatively rare in neighborhoods, I think it’s the same snake.

I met this snake for the first time in 2005, soon after Scooter died. It was having lunch at the expense of a nest of cardinals in a rose bush behind our house. You can see photos at this link: large black rat snake visits.

In April of 2007, it visited again. A week later, I discovered where it lives: snake condo.

This snake started hanging around our home soon after Scooter, our beloved Siamese cat, was no longer around to claim our yard as his territory. I hope it stays around because it is safe here.

An intriguing question: Does Missy’s reaction mean that cats have an innate fear of snakes? (Do people?) Please leave your opinion as a comment.

Nature in the Back Yard: Snake Condo

We have discovered where our backyard black rat snake lives. This home is very functional.

The snake sleeps inside the hollow trunk above the entrance, protected from raccoons and other predators. The sun room is the old limb just above the entrance (here’s a link to the snake in its sunroom). The laundry room is on the south side of the tree, shown in the photo below. This is where it sheds its skin.

Look at how shiny and bright its skin is after shedding its old skin. New clothes!

This home also has a front porch.

Nature in the Backyard: Black Rat Snake (again)

I walked down a path in the woods behind our home when I felt an urge to look at the old pine tree to my right. On the rotten stump of a broken off limb, the black rat snake we saw a week ago in the backyard was quietly watching the world go by. It doesn’t seem to fear us and it is fascinating to be eye-to-eye with such a large reptile. I hope it realizes it is safe on our property and stays around.

Nature in the Backyard: Black Rat Snake

This black beauty visited our backyard recently. It was about 6 feet long and very relaxed. I don’t know if it is the same snake that visited two years ago (here’s the link: Nature in the Backyard). I can’t tell one six foot Black Rat Snake from another, but this one was very mellow and the other one wasn’t. The other one seemed thicker, but that could have been the big meal it had just swallowed. I hope it stays around, it’s always a pleasant surprise to see such a large reptile.

Nature in the Backyard: King Snake

Kingsnake_1 This king snake showed up on Sunday near Scooter’s grave. It stayed in the sunny spots under the dogwood trees and didn’t seem to be bothered by our walking nearby and my photo-taking.

I hope this handsome reptile sticks around. The black rat snake that came for lunch a week ago seems to be gone, and we like having wildlife around, even the ones that slither.

Nature in the Backyard: Black Rat Snake

On Sunday I was in our side yard when I heard birds screaming in our back yard. The bluejays were the loudest, but all the birds were shrieking. When about a dozen bluejays were started screaming Blackratsnake1ain unison, I decided to investigate.

When I stepped into the back yard, I expected to see a Coopers hawk. I didn’t see a hawk, but I did see several cardinals diving into the climbing roses on a trellis against the back of our home. As I walked towards the roses, something appeared out of place.

I saw what appeared to be a black tail hanging down at the bottom of the trellis. (Look at the red outline in the first photo – double-click for a closer view.) As I got closer, I saw a large black snake curled around a bird’s nest in the roses.

Blackratsnake2a_1 I called Ann and we looked closer. A black rat snake, about five feet long, had climbed up the trellis and feasted on the baby cardinals in the nest. Not only was it long, but it was thick – about 3 – 4 inches in diameter. A big snake! (You can see it’s head in the red circle in the second photo – double-click for a closer view.)

I wanted to get more photos when it came down, so I checked on it often. I expected it to move away from our house, across the yard, and into the woods. Wrong!

I spotted the big snake coming around the corner of the garage, towards the the front of the house. I walked over to get a closer look and a photo. It paused for a moment, and then started coming right towards me! Instead of moving onto the driveway where we were standing, however, it went into a hole under the driveway.

I was so caught up in the excitement I had forgotten to turn my digital camera on! When it was finally ready, I got a photo of it’s tail as it disappeared in the hole (highlighted in red in the third photo).

The next morning I went out and looked at the hole. The snake was about a foot out of the hole. It immediately withdrew into it’s sanctuary.

This large snake shows up four days after Scooter is gone. Can predators detect an opening in the ecosystem, an opportunity for upward mobility?