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Chet and the Rat Snake

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Not long ago, Bill was backing his van out of the garage in the morning when I heard him give a yell. ZICK! ZICK! It was his snake yell. I hoped it wasn’t a big black rat snake hopelessly mashed in the garage door track again. Not going to talk about that time. I also hoped it wasn't another big snarly copperhead disappearing into a tangle of garden tools.

This time, he’d apparently nicked a big female black rat snake with a tire as he backed out. She'd been under the car, and there was no way he could have known she was there. Two eggs popped out. One was crushed, and the other was fine. So, strangely enough, was the female snake. I watched her carefully and could discern no injuries. She moved normally, slithering away, leaving her two leathery white eggs for me to deal with. I cleaned up the busted one and buried the other in a flower pot with dampish soil and a mix of sun and shade. You can always hope…It was such a beautiful snow-white package with its leathery shell. I had to believe there was a snake embryo in there that might hatch. So far, not so good. It's looking stained and dented and feeling kind of hard. Probably too much rain for it to develop properly.

Still, we worried about the female snake, and Bill asked me every day if I’d seen her again after she coiled up behind a garbage can to sulk. Finally, I could say yes. She was making her way across the lawn, fine as frog’s hair, identifiable by her still-gravid belly and beautiful reddish cast.

Chet Baker played Offisa Pupp, and went into full snake alert mode, circling and circling her 4 ½’ length.

Black rat snakes are normally phlegmatic and cool, but this old girl puffed right up. It had been a rough week for her. You couldn’t blame her for feeling put upon. First, they run over me, then they let their impertinent pooch niggle away at me.

Careful, dog. I will bite you.

I know that, Mrs. Snake. I just want a sniff and a closer look.

You do not have to worry about me. I am a gentleman, a well-mannered smallish dog, and only curious.

Well, go be curious with someone else. I will swivel to face you no matter how many times you circle me.

I am so curious. I want to touch you, but I am afraid of you, too.

Go ahead. Come closer. Here are my little white teeth. If you want me to sink them into your muzzlepuffs or that shiny black jellybean nose, just keep it up.

All right, Chet Baker. It’s time to let Mama RatSnake go find a place to lay her eggs.

All right, Mether. I am a terrier, but I am only half a terrier. Since you asked, I will back off.

And she climbed the terrace wall and rested for a long time in the shade of a big purple coneflower, and for all I know she will leave the rest of her precious eggs there in the loose soil. And I was happy to know she was all right, and still had her babies inside her.

Sometime during the day on August 4, 2009, this blog had its one hundred thousandth unique visitor. I'd been keeping a desultory eye on the little counter at the bottom of the blog page as the unique visitor count crawled through the 90,000's, then forgot about it. It must have happened yesterday, because when I looked at 10:30 pm there had been 100,057 unique visitors since January 8, 2006. At 10: 37 pm there had been 100,087 visitors. Dang. That's a lot of people. I thought that was pretty cool, even if many of them are just clicking through and forgetting, to know that more than 100,000 people have been here, and 30 more in just seven minutes. And that some of you have come back again and again. And some of you have gotten Boston terriers, and some have put up bluebird boxes or tried growing orchids or identified a sleeping ball of feathers or stopped and wondered about an unknown animal dropping or just had fun you might not have had, if you hadn't been reading. Thanks, y'all. I've had fun, too. I think of the people I've come to know through this funny little medium and it makes my heart fill up and about beat through my ribs.


That is one lucky rat snake to have ended up in the yard of some admirers instead of a shovel-whielding ophidiophobic! Rat snakes are gorgeous.

I read somewhere that because snakes' backbones are not fused around the front like ours, with our ribs and sternum, that they can often survive being run over by a car - as long as the car continues straight across said snake and doesn't veer off too late to avoid running over the already hit snake (they of course said it much better than I am).

What a great series of shots... you ARE putting together a children's book on The Adventures of Chet Baker, right!? (...ok, truth-be-told, many of its readers WOULDN'T be children).

Congrats on your 100 thousandths post.

And thank you for all that you do..your environmental awareness, your love for all creatures, your painting, and your willingness to share it all. It takes a special kind of person to do all that.

Appropos of is a wacky lyre-bird doing his love-thang.

What a great series of Chet/snake shots.
I'm fond of Chet, though we've never met,
And any ratsnake tale is
always swell.

100,000 + readers! Congratulations on being not just an interesting, informative naturalist..but a very entertaining, empathetic person who shines through the words on the page (or the screen). It's a pleasure to read your writing! Thanks!

Congratulations on your 100,000+ visitors milestone. I have your blog marked as favorite and read it everyday. I may not always post but I'm lurking. I became a fan ever since my hubby got your book for me for Christmas. I love your style of writing and have learned so much from you. Keep on keeping on.....

Marietta, Ohio

Thanks, Sandy! Hometown folks count double. :-)

This is a "funny little medium" indeed, no doubt still in its infancy, with rapid changes always a-comin'. Congrats on 100,000!

Oh my--not gonna let my dog stare down a snake. That Chet B is one brave pup, and you one cool mom.

*sniff* I thought all your visitors were unique.

A whole new way to celebrate blogiversaries. The year of posts, the number, and the unique visitors.

Oh, I meant to ask--do you also watch the car odometer. That's one of my obsessions--and now that I have a new car...just saying.

Let me raise my arm as just one of those one hundred thousand unique people whose life has been immeasurably changed by reading your blog. Wanna bet there are tens of thousands more in that big bushel! I say we celebrate in person on the prairies in April. Calendar is clear - we're on!

Word Verification: damism - the ism of being damn proud that you hit 100,000 today!

Brave Chet -- and so polite.

Congratulations on your milestone. You've done much more than logged 100,000+ unique visitors: you've enriched countless lives, including my own. Ain't the intertubes grand?

(KGMom, I share your odometer obsession --my beloved diesel Golf's stands at 254K and counting. Congrats on your new ride!)

100,000+ individuals is a cool record.

Quick poll of the "regulars:" How many of you feel, as I do, that you have made 100,000+ visits to this blog?

Brave Chet! Brave snake! Brave Mether!

Here's hoping for baby rat snakes,

I can't wait to see the baby rat snake photos! Congratulations on your big milestone.

That Chet is one curious and brave boy! WOW... 100,000 visitors! That is a milestone. That is reason enough for my little Nobby's Amy to finally give me a bloom stem. ;c)

Julie, Congratulations on the milestone and here's to the next one, one hundred, or one million visitors.

I like the last paragraph. I don't think I've read a better explanation of why we all are part of this experiment we call nature blogging.

Congrats Julie!
You are an inspiration to all of us out here! informative, amusing,sensitive,caring,nature lover and owner of the most vocal dog ever.
Wishing you a million zillion..more hits!

Congrats on your 100,000 visitors. I'm glad I found you and was one of them. I may not allways leave a comment, but I check for Chet Baker posts every day. I do learn a lot from him and his mether.

Oh my, 100,000!!

I remember finding your blog WAY back in 2006 after meeting you at the National Zoo. I particularly remember your posts on your two phoebes you were rehabbing. At that same time I was talking to my neighbor about you and all you were doing for those two birds (putting them in the flight tent at day, bringing them back in the house in a little dog carrier at night). My neighbor started laughing and said "she sounds just like YOU!" Well, not being a wildlife rehabber, just an animal lover, I took that as a great compliment.

Here's hoping we can meeting again in person one day...

Hi Julie:

Congrats on the 100,000th visitor!

You may already know this, so please forgive me for repeating. I've been rescuing eggs from roadkilled terrapins (other folks have done the same with other reptile species) for years and incubating them successfully with the following method;

Get a Tupperware container or the equivalent (I think I used Rubbermaid or Ziploc containers last time). Put in an inch or so deep layer of dampened Vermiculite (some folks use dampened sand). Make little dents for the eggs and place the eggs gently into the dents. Close the lid, put the container into a warm place (most definitely not a hot place!) and let percolate for sixty to eighty days. I usually put the containers on top of one of my lizard tanks, which in the summer time can get temps around eighty degrees or so. Too hot or too cold will kill the embryos. The ones that are closer to the heat source will sex female (at least in terrapins), those farther away will sex as males.

The eggs will dent slightly, will harden and will change color from pink to white. They may also grow a little mold, but as long as they don't turn dark and start to smell icky or shrivel up into egg-raisins, all is good.

Moving eggs that are freshly laid or freshly extracted from the body of the living or dead mother doesn't require any special care. But if you should find a nest that is in harm's way (digging into nests is illegal in most states), and need to move the eggs, make sure to keep the orientation that the egg had in the nest. I have put little pencil marks on the upper surfaces and then carefully lift them and put them into the incubation container.

For whatever that's worth,


Oh, on Gabrielle's post. Snakes can survive a lot of punishment, but if you run over one that it on a hard surface, it will be injured or die.

Snakes have the same skeletal anatomy as us, just more ribs and more verts. I don't recall now how the belly is constructed and am on the wrong campus to go and consult the bones. So no idea about sternum, sternal ribs or gastralia (sometimes referred to as belly ribs). But I can say that the ribs are attached the same way ours are and in some cases are more firmly attached than ours are.

Boneman, you RAWK so HARD. So my egg isn't necessarily kaput? It's much harder, whitish, has a little mold, but it doesn't smell icky--I smell it all the time and check it. Can I carefully move it into a Tupperware and bring it inside, the better to control the humidity and heat? Or are snake eggs like turtle eggs, and should not be moved or rotated once placed? Right now it's outside in a flowerpot that gets a few hours of morning sun per day and shade in the afternoon. Hoping hoping it will hatch....

From my experience with snake eggs, just when you think they are totally goners, they hatch. Good luck with the experiment.

Oh and congrats on the visitation! I love your tales of Chet and the family, as well as your natural encounters.

100,220 Aug 6 4.17 pm
Just imagine if they all came to visit, at the same time.
Wouldn't that be a party.

And to think it all started when you guest hosted.

100,000+! Dang, that's sumpin'! I crested 500 a while watch your back, Missus.

Reptile eggs can be moved after they've been planted. You just need to be very, very careful about it. As long as the up side remains up, no problem. There is also a break even point where you can move the egg any way you choose and nothing happens to the embryo. But I'm not sure when that happens and recommend playing it safe.

White and a little dented sounds like a good egg to me.

Once I install the eggs in their incubator, I don't mess with them much. So you shouldn't have to add any more water (or mist) unless things get absolutely bone dry.

Good luck!

Wow...learn something everyday! Never occurred to me to look for eggs from road kill! I wonder if you could successfully incubate eggs of live bearer snakes? What is the protocol for extraction? As a woman in the deep south poking at road kill already puts me at the top of the weirdness charts so a roadside necropsy would probably get me arrested. People just seem to go out of their way to hit snakes and turtles in my part of the woods-retrieving eggs could at least put a few individuals back into the ecosystem.

Thanks Chet, what a talented photography assistant you are, eliciting such excellent poses out the model!

Congratulations on your milestone, Julie!
It's such a pleasure to be able to read your blog, view your photos & enjoy your writing.
We have learned so much from your writing.

I never thought I would find myself so intently reading about snake egg incubation, but I read every comment. I never know what I am going to come across and I love it.

Thanks for the info and great shots. Unfortunately I recently ran over what I thought was a tree branch only to realize it was a black rat snake. It then curled up so that was an encouraging sign and I'm more optimistic now that I read most snakes will survive being run over by a car. I will definitely be more careful the next time I see any "tree branches."

Posted by Anonymous June 8, 2010 at 5:19 AM

Many years later ...

along comes another curious seeker and her 12 year old son who have now encountered the Black Rat Snake less than a year apart, in our home.

It is true we do live in the country and as a result have plenty of rodent visitors. Thinking this has everything to do with the unexpected visits from Black Rat Snake.

Unlike the majority of the masses we feel strongly that is not our right to impose life or death rights on nature or its dwellers thus we have accepted our guest and live in harmony with them.

Having searched their spiritual medicine value snakes equate to death and rebirth (new perspectives born after transcending old beliefs), wisdom and healing.

Funny ... my son and I were discussing plant medicine and healing myself at the time of his arrival.

Posted by Anonymous October 16, 2011 at 2:23 PM
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