Friday, June 25, 2010

Snake-on-Snake Violence

As I walked out to the workshop yesterday, I saw a strange dark object on the ground near the apple tree. A dead bird, perhaps? Suddenly, it started to rise up and thrash about. This was no bird--it was a large Eastern king snake. Its movements were so herky-jerky, I thought it might be injured. Then, suddenly, it became clear that there were two snakes writhing about. I wasn't sure if it was mortal combat or something friskier (not knowing much about how snakes do the nasty). Upon my approach, they moved off to the base of an apple tree which we affectionately refer to as Old Creaky.
I ran in to grab my camera and when I returned, I realized that what I was watching was one snake eating the other. Bite by bite, I watched the king snake devour what appeared to be a snake of nearly equal size (roughly 5 feet long). At first, I thought the other snake was one of our black rat snakes, but on closer inspection--you can get pretty close to a snake when its mouth is occupied eating another snake--the main course appeared to have faint versions of the yellow dotted lines that characterize our gourmand.
I hope you can see the mouth on the diner above just behind the tall blade of grass--he looked like a little gator in action. The tail on the left belongs to the victim and the tail on the right is that of the victor.
Here goes the last bite. As the king snake swallowed the tiny tail end of the other snake, it prepared to make a hasty exit. Up it went into Old Creaky. It didn't just climb the tree--it actually sequestered itself in the hollowed-out trunk. Not a bad place to hang out and digest. The standpipe where we fill our water buckets is just a few feet away, so there's almost always standing water there for anyone needing a digestif.
I hate to see this kind of snake-on-snake violence, but I gather that preying on other snakes is a hallmark of the king snake (it's good to be the king). I'm also starting to wonder if the chase had been on for several days. We had a bunch of empty bottles knocked off of shelves in the pump house as well as some small tools in the workshop. Both of these outbuildings are favorite hangouts for our black rat snakes, so maybe the king snake was hungry and went hunting there first. Just wish the snakes would stick to rodents. Maybe they've been doing too good a job lately as the mouse traps have been staying empty. OK, sweet dreams, everyone!


  1. Alison, I love the Kingsnake photos. I am building a website devoted to all Getula Kingsnake species, and would love to showcase your photos on the website. The site is a information only website teaching people how wonderful Kinsnakes are. All credit would be given, and they would ewwed and awwed over by many Getula enthusiasts.

    Thank you,

    1. Hi, J.P.! Yes, that would be fine for you to use the kingsnake photos with credit. I look forward to seeing the site.