4 Lies You’ve Probably Heard About Black Snakes

    Black Rat Snake Photo Courtesy: Virginia DGIF
    Black Rat Snake
    Photo Courtesy: Virginia DGIF

    I know, I know, snakes are great for the ecosystem and without them doing their critical job, the world we know would be overran with disease creating mice and rats – of this I am fully aware.  Still though, there’s just something about a snake that I simply don’t like… for whatever reason, the very sight of them slithering about causes me incredible trauma!

    In spite of my overwhelming fear for all snakes, I still find them incredibly fascinating and have dedicated much of my adult life to reading about them in my leisure time — surprisingly, in my studies, I have come to realize that just about everything my grandfather told me about the Black Snake (rat snake) was wrong!

    Below are four myths you’ve probably heard about black snakes:

    1. Black Snakes are Harmless
    Being someone who has never been a huge fan of snakes, this one is particularly difficult for me to swallow – I’ve always taken solace in the fact that though the odds of me encountering a black snake at least once each summer is fairly high, “at least they’re harmless.”

    Unfortunately, this simply isn’t the case.  Yes, black snakes may not be poisonous, but neither are raccoons, possums or rabid dogs!  Blacks snakes feast mainly on mice and rats, therefore if their teeth puncture your skin, you are running a great risk of having significant infectious bacteria injected into your bloodstream and body.  Should you ever find yourself unlucky enough to have been bitten by a “rat snake,” you should seek medical attention for the bite immediately, as their bites can lead to some pretty nasty infections.

    2. Black Snakes will run away all poisonous snakes
    This is probably the most popular myth pertaining to black snakes floating around, again, this one is unfortunately not true.

    Though it is true that black snakes have been known to eat copperheads and other poisonous snakes, the reality is that a black rat snake is just as likely to “befriend” a copperhead or rattlesnake – especially during the cold months – in an effort to keep each other warm as they hibernate.

    The old adage of “I saw a black snake, therefore there must not be any poisonous snakes around” is simply not true.  Sorry, friend.  If you run into a black snake during the hibernating season, you should actually be on heightened alert for poisonous snakes, as they often bed together through the winter months.

    3. Black Snakes can Cross-Breed With Copperheads
    Going in the complete opposite direction of #2’s great black snake lie, Myth #3. maintains that black snakes can cross-breed with copperheads, creating a nasty-venomous black snake.

    Fortunately, this imagined snake that sounds like it could have had a role in the Hunger Games movie simply does not exist in the real world.

    According to the Pennsylvania State University, “this cross-species breeding is not biologically possible. These two snake species are, in fact, in different taxonomic families! The chance of these two species successfully interbreeding is as likely as a human being producing viable offspring after mating with a lemur, or a dog being able to hybridize with a house cat! This myth possibly came about because of the previously mentioned observation that black rat snakes and copperheads often den together during hibernation. There is a big difference, though, between communal denning and reproducing!”

    4. A Good Snake is a Dead One
    This is a saying I’ve heard more than once in my adult life and unfortunately, it is the life’s motto of more than one.

    All snakes, however, play a critical role in maintaining the world in which we live from falling into chaos – and in our neck of the woods, the black snake is at the top of this list.

    Functioning as a powerful constrictor, these hungry snakes catch their prey, wrap their body’s around it and squeeze until the animal suffocates. Dining mainly on birds, eggs, lizards, frogs, other snakes, chipmunks, squirrels, small rabbits, mice, rats and bats, these much despised reptiles are largely responsible for keeping our region from experiencing many of the worst plagues of human history… Without them, society could quickly be plunged into another “Black Death Plague” situation.

    So here’s to you, Mr. Black Snake!

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