Sunday, April 02, 2006

It's spring, and the snakes are out

Earlier in the week I was pruning some shrubs in my yard, and discovered this little rat snake. It is maybe 18 inches long and its head is about a half inch in diameter. It's probably an immature Texas rat snake, Elaphe obsoleta lindheimerii, or possibly an immature Great Plains rat snake, Elaphe guttata emoryi. You can't tell juveniles of these two species apart without seeing the front of the face. Texas ratsnakes are more common around Austin, so my tentative ID is based on that.

close up

In the Great Plains rat snake the facial markings remain clearly visible as the snakes get older and larger, whereas in the Texas rat snake they get more indistinct and sometimes disappear. This is a big Texas rat snake about four feet long that I found on my walk yesterday in Searight Park.

A rat's eye view.

Rat snakes will happily live in close proximity with people, maybe having some genetic knowledge that the presence of humans improves the odds of finding a rat. One morning a few years ago, after I had gone to work my wife was in our bedroom and the cat started hissing, its tail bushed up, its hair standing on end. The dog went crazy barking. A large rat snake came out from under the bed. Surrounded by enemies, it immediately took refuge in my underwear drawer, which I had characteristically left open. It coiled up and would not come out.

What to do? Kay was a practical woman, so she removed the drawer with the snake still in it and carried it out into the yard and dumped it there upside down, her theory being that the snake would leave when the coast was clear. She turned the drawer over an hour or so later with a stick and the snake was gone. She picked up the contents of the drawer and took everything back inside. So I was picking fragments of dry grass out of my the underwear for a while.

Addendum to the snake story

My daughter Eve reminded me that she was there, and that I had forgotten some important details, such as:

She, not Kay, was in the bedroom with the cat when the cat discovered the snake. Eve, afraid the snake might be poisonous, and that the cat might attack it and get bitten, grabbed the cat to remove it from possible harm, and at that point the cat became convinced that it had been suddenly seized from behind by a gigantic ally of the snake, and the cat went berserk, clawing and biting Eve severely, but Eve, who deeply cherished that particular cat, held on to the struggling animal and shouted for Kay to bring a towel to hold onto the cat without further injury.

Kay, when she realized that there was a snake in the bedroom, did not immediately focus on the issue at hand, which was that Eve needed to somehow get disengaged from the thrashing terrified cat. It took several minutes to finally accomplish this. The dog was barking the whole time, of course. Finally, I think after the blood was stanched and the Eve's wounds bandaged, the snake was discovered to have gotten into my underwear drawer.

Then the drawer was removed to the yard, as per the story above, but the snake did not voluntarily depart from the drawer, so (I had forgotten this part also) Kay got a ceremonial sword belonging to her father--who collected swords and knives, and tended to leave them in other people's houses--and together Kay and Eve lifted a piece of underwear with a live snake tangled in it on the point of a Knights of Columbus sword and took it fifty yards out toward the back fence, and left the snake there, unharmed.

The rest of the story is correct as written.

No comments: