Corn Snake. Maybe.
The other evening I had just settled down on our little dock, glass of wine in one hand and cell phone in the other. I was enjoying a nice chat with our daughter about her recent trip to Jamaica, when the puppy started to bristle and growl at something behind me.
Turning around, I saw that a beautiful snake had come up through one of the holes of the dock and was surveying us. I said to my daughter, “Snake. I’ll call you back.” (I knew she’d understand, because she is even more into nature and photography than I am. You can see her adventures at My Wildhood.) I grabbed my camera and got lots of shots. Through it all, the snake seemed as interested as I was. The dogs came up to within just a few inches, but it didn’t strike or back away.
I really love that there is no sense of scale with snake pictures. This could be a giant python for all you know. Really, it looked to be about 18 inches long and about one inch in diameter.
Getting the pictures was easy; getting the ID was another story. I remembered that the spear point marking on the head was an important characteristic, but I couldn’t remember for which species. One time here I saw a Prairie Kingsnake, and that has a spear point marking, but facing toward the spine and not the tip of the nose. Finally I asked for ID help on Project Noah, and within a few hours someone identified it as a Corn Snake.
(Although why it is not a Great Plains Rat Snake is beyond me. They look identical to me. With all the genetic research going on, it seems that species get split and lumped and name-changed all the time, and I just could not find a good explanation of what it is that differentiates between these two species, Pantherophis guttatus and Pantherophis emoryi. It’s possible that the patterning on the belly would tell me, but I didn’t flip it over to look. Either way, this is our twelfth snake species here.)
Decades ago, I saw a Corn Snake here, basking in some shallow water. It had beautiful intense cream and red coloring, and for that reason, that species of snake is easy for me to remember. But this one was cream, gray, brown, and black — just like almost every other snake I see. This color combination is not one that helps me figure out the species. On the Wikipedia page, I learned that this combination is called anerythristic — it shows that the snake has a recessive mutation of lacking erythrin pigments, that normally cause the red, orange, and yellow colors.
The really fascinating thing I learned from that page, is that because corn snakes are docile, they are popular pets, and breeders have bred them for all kinds of different color and pattern morphs, including “sun-glow,” “caramel,” and “fluorescent orange.” I would love to see them!