East Tennessee Outdoors… Common snakes of East Tennessee – Part 3

Published 3:52 pm Thursday, July 9, 2020

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I was working in my house when I heard an ear-piercing scream. My wife was yelling “a snake, a snake” loud enough to be heard in the next county.

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I rushed to her expecting a 24-foot anaconda, and there peeping from under a box in our yard was a 10-inch black snake about the size of a pencil. I raised the box and let him slithery away.

My wife wanted to know why I was not killing it, but I did not have the heart. It was too little, and it acted more afraid than my wife did. I guess you can just call me the snake whisperer.

Snakes bring out all kinds of emotions in us.

Fear, loathing, anger, and nervousness are just a few things we feel when we see one. I guess we think that all snakes are trying to kill us.

I guess it goes back to a sense of preservation when cavemen feared snakes because their venom brought death and their constriction also brought broken bones and death.

Most modern snakes are just as scared of you as you are of them, and if given the chance, they will try to get away from you if they are not protecting their eggs or offspring.

To put it simply, leave them alone and they will probably leave you alone.

Below is the third and last column on East Tennessee’s common snakes. I hope this series has helped you understand them a little better and taken away some of the fear most of us have for them. I know it has for me.

Grey Rat Snake

This very common species sometimes is referred to as the “chicken snake” and can be found across Tennessee.  It can grow very large, from 42 – 72 inches long, and has a variable color pattern.

Some specimens may be gray with blotches of brown or darker gray on their back. The belly is white near the head and becomes a black checkerboard pattern towards the tail

They live in a variety of habitats including pine and hardwood woodlands, edges of fields, near streams, and around farms.

Their prey includes small mammals and birds and they usually kill by constriction. They also swallow bird eggs.

Finally, rat snakes are excellent climbers and sometimes can be found basking in the sun on a horizontal limb.

Northern Black Racer

To me, these are one of the scariest species of snakes found in Tennessee because they move so fast.

The racer gets their name for their speed in escaping from predators. They use a distinctive hunting strategy known as periscoping in which they lift their upper part of their body to search for prey.

The Northern Black Racers can be found in the eastern half of Tennessee while the Southern Black Racers are found in the western half of the state.

They are a large, slender, solid black snake that measures between three feet long and five feet long.

Their throat and chin have some white, and the eye color is brown or dark amber. Their belly is dark gray to dark blue in color, and the males are slightly larger than the females.

They are found in a variety of habitats but prefer open areas such as old fields, pastures, and forest edges. They feed on insects, frogs, birds, other snakes, small rodents, and bird eggs.

Overall, there is a wide variety of snakes in our area and most are as harmless as a turtle dove.

If you see one of these slithery reptiles, don’t automatically think they are there to do you harm. Most are just living their lives, doing what nature intended them to do, and being what nature intended them to be.