Wednesday, April 4, 2012

An Old, Wise Serpent

After the early March heat wave, temperatures dropped to relatively normal cool over the last few weeks here in Michigan. It has been in the low 50s during the day and in the 30s at night with rain and clouds almost every day. That was until yesterday, a large storm system moved through early in the morning and sun came out in the early afternoon and caused temps to rise quickly into the low 60s. Because I only have one morning class on Tuesday, I decided to swing to one of my favorite sites not too far from campus in hopes of seeing some basking snakes. The clouds were just clearing when I arrived around 1:30 in the afternoon and  I was fairly confident that I would find my quarry. I spent most of the afternoon exploring this type of habitat.

Many of these open fields and prairies are the result of selective harvesting events many years ago on state game areas like this one. These open, barren habitats create a mosaic of forest and field with lots of edge. This type of area is one of the favorite haunts of the Blue Racer. It didn't take very long for me to hit paydirt as I spotted a pair of racers basking side by side in some fairly heavy cover.

One of the snakes made a hasty exit and can be seen exiting the left side of the photo, the second snake quickly followed and disappeared down a rodent burrow before I could get a better look at it. I did find this healthy adult ribbon snake active nearby though.

Northern Ribbon Snake - Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis

This was a healthy adult with a noticeable meal, probably one of the many Spring Peepers that were calling in a small marsh nearby. After splitting ways with the snake, I kept working the edge areas of the field in hopes of seeing another racer basking. As I moved out into the more open area of the field, I noticed this monster laid out a few feet ahead of me.

Even though it was a large snake, you can see that Blue Racers can be tricky to spot even when they're right out in the open. The snake can be seen in the lower center of the photo. After a short chase I was able to get this snake corralled for some photos. It was surprisingly relaxed for this species and did not even attempt to bite once.

Blue Racer - Coluber constrictor foxii

This is probably the largest specimen of this species I've ever seen, well over the five foot mark. It was hefty and had a bunch of scars and scratches on it which I'm sure tell a tale of a long life. A lot of years are required for an individual of this species to reach this size in the northern part of its range and the calm, content disposition of the snake was probably a reflection of an old fella that just wanted to go about its business. I was happy to find such an impressive snake and hope this snake enjoys a few more years of life in this area.


  1. Truly an impressive specimen. What's the maximum known size for the (sub)species?

  2. Hey David, I know the record for an adult Blue Racer is well over the 6' mark. But as far as a specific TL, I'm not sure.