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Waking Up to Enjoy the Warmth

May 27, 2020

Waking Up to Enjoy the Warmth

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Micah Siegel Micah Siegel

As New York settles into spring, we’re not the only ones wanting to get outside and stretch our legs (or tails). Aside from the bees and butterflies once again visiting our gardens, there are many more critters waking up to enjoy the warmth. Take these two eastern rat snakes (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) I spotted on a sunny rock wall. It was midday in early April, and the pair were elegantly draped over the rocks to soak up the sunshine.

Also referred to as black rat snakes, the eastern rat snake is a large non-venomous New York native. Found throughout much of the eastern United States, they can reach up to seven feet in length and eat a wide variety of small animals such as rodents, birds, and amphibians. Like many animals adapted to the seasons of the northeast, the eastern rat snake will hibernate during winter. In the warmer months, they can be spotted in a variety of habitats from forests to farms, even crossing into our suburban backyards on occasion. They are ectotherms (or cold-blooded) and must get their body heat from their environment, making sun-warmed rocks like the ones I encountered an ideal spot to bask and raise their body temperature.

Unfortunately, like all snakes, the eastern rat snake is often misunderstood. It’s important to remember that snakes are typically shy, secretive animals and pose no threat to humans if left alone. In fact, snakes play an important ecological role by controlling rodent populations. The best way to make sure snakes continue working as free pest control is to leave them undisturbed. If you are lucky enough to come across a snake in your outdoor adventures, admire them from a respectful distance.

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