Friday, March 30, 2012

Stuck - The Southern Black Racer

It’s Sunday night and I find myself in a predicament. The story I wish to write involves a mystery to which I never solved and I’ve invested all of my time and thought into writing about this particular subject matter. I am stuck but I have no choice but to plow forward. My wife found a Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) in our back yard in Lehigh Acres, FL. It was dead with its head firmly entrenched in a hole in the ground. The body was unscathed. I have no idea how this happened.

Ignore the “constrictor” part of the species name for the racer. The snake most often uses its speed to chase down prey. Once in its toothy grasp, it will eat its prey live rather than squeeze it to death as the species name might imply. The racer is most likely to freak out those with snake phobias. When threatened, it will rapidly shake its tail, causing nearby vegetation to vibrate and simulating the sound, as best as possible, of a rattlesnake. More commonly they will simply dart off with impressive zip. You can’t really call it a slither. More aptly they tear off like black lightning.

None of this helps me come any closer to solving the mystery of the snake with its head buried in the sand. I grab it by the tail and by its midsection, attempting to retract it from the hole. A series of internal pops discourages me from pursuing this tact. I switch to a shovel, which ironically is how many snakes die. In this case I gently pry the sandy soil from under the snake to discover that the hole was no deeper than the two inches the snake had progressed. The snake had nothing in its mouth and nothing seemed to be hanging on to the snake.

Had the snake chased after prey in an undiscovered subterranean hole? Had the snake investigated a hole and simply got stuck? Or had a predator chased it and the racer died trying to make its own escape route? I don’t know and I’m left with a mystery and stuck with a story I don’t know how to end. 


  1. Pete, our cat, Doogie, just dragged one of these snakes into our living room last week. It was all balled up and not moving. She feared it dead, and arrested it from the cat, who she thinks had it by the tail and dropped it outside on the porch, and gentley moved it with a broom away from the door. She came up to tell me in my office. By the time she returned, the snake was gone!Playing dead, but wasn't!

  2. That was one wild find!

  3. Hi Pete,
    How far do you live from the beach? Could it have been the hole/burrow of a ghost crab the snake was chasing.

  4. Hi Thomas,
    I live in an area 25 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico. It's predominantly pine, oak, palmetto. Suspects include moles which we have in the loose soil closer to the house but again, no holes were found under the surface and no raised earth was found to suggest a tunnel.