Sunday, May 23, 2010

Snake-eating Snake

While I was out gallivanting somewhere, Martin had a "Wild Kingdom" moment. More than a moment actually -- the drama lasted several minutes! He was sitting at the computer when a movement outside the window caught his eye, and when he looked out he saw a very large snake had just grabbed a smaller snake by the head!

He rushed outside to take this picture with his cellphone. He could tell he was alarming the big snake so he went back inside and watched through the window while the predator ate its prey. The big snake was a Buttermilk Racer (Coluber constrictor anthicus), apparently common in parts of East Texas, but it's only the second one we've seen since we moved here six years ago. According to "A Field Guide to Texas Snakes" by Alan Tennant (which we could not be without!) they range in size from 30 to 60 inches, with 70 inches being the record. This one was definitely in the 60 inch range! The background color is a dark gray, and it looks as though it has been splattered with off-white paint -- buttermilk-colored paint, presumably. These snakes vary widely in how many of the scales are off-white and how many are dark; the one we saw six years ago had a much higher percentage of light scales.

The other snake was a copperhead. Thank you, Mr. or Mrs. Buttermilk Racer, for making this poisonous snake your lunch! Apparently the racer will eat anything it can catch, but more normally subsists on mice and rats, frogs and lizards, and the occasional inattentive bird. Although its name includes the descriptor constrictor, according to Tennant, racers are not true constrictors. The usual method of capture is to pin the victim to the ground with its weight and then administer a disabling bite to the head. Too much information?

The copperhead fought the whole way through the process, but was swallowed in a matter of minutes. At the end the tip of his tail flicking back and forth in the racer's mouth looked like the racer's tongue. How's that for a shuddery detail?


Campbell Jane said...

Nasty! I bet it makes you feel better to know that a poisonous snake is off your premises though!

Cynthia said...

It does! However they don't seem to be in short supply!