Friday, May 2, 2014

western yellow-bellied racer ~ 05/02/14 ~ Tassajara Road

(ssp. North American racer)

Chris stopped the car rather quickly.  Snake!  On the road!  I jumped out with my camera to find it stretched out in long waves.  It still makes me laugh how snakes just lie there on the road, as if their usual hiding spots are too cramped and they just need to stretch themselves out for a bit. Reminds me of how I feel the need to stretch out on a flat bed after a long flight in a cramped airplane.

As soon as I got closer, it coiled up and made the most amazing continuous backwards movements onto itself.  According to Gary's CA Herps (linked in the scientific misnomer above), this Northern American racer is not a constrictor, and it bites aggressively.  I didn't know that at the time, but I'm always a bit cautious around snakes I don't know.  Chris, who stayed with the car should another car come barreling around the corner, shouted for me to get video.  Ha!  As if. I was just hoping I could get at least one non-blurry photo, because so often these opportunities are fleeting.  Little did I know the snake wasn't too keen on moving anywhere.  It held its ground and watched me closely.  I didn't want it to get run over by a car, so I tried herding it to the side of the road with a nudge from my boot and then a stick to pick it up.  That's how I got the yellow belly picture.  It was extremely reluctant, but once it decided to go, it went in a flash.

After I got home and looked at my pictures, I noticed the oozy stuff here and there on its back.  Click second picture above for closeup.  It was my first shot out of the car before I molested it with my picture and herding activities.  What is that shiny stuff?  Did it already get run over?  Was it in some mammal's mouth and dropped?  Is it some kind of defensive secretion?  Is it the result of a twisted mating position?  Hmm...

Ken @ Nature of a Man has an excellent blog post on Coluber mormon.  Some view this snake as its own sp., not a ssp.


Hugh said...

Hi Katie,
I think the oozy stuff is musk, which many snakes expel from their vent when threatened. The coiling back on itself was (I'm guessing) to spread the musk around to make itself less appealing, should you be planning to eat it.

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Awesome, Hugh! Thanks. Too bad I didn't try to take a whiff, like with the ring-necked we found:

Anonymous said...

I found one of these guys under a board recently. I didn't actually know what he was at the time, I just knew he wasn't one of our venomous snakes, so I caught him. I actually just IDed him off of this post, so thanks for that!
He tried to bite me, but he was very cold (it's just warming up and he was on clay ground) and he kinda just bit at the air for a minute and then just sat in my hand. I put him in my vest pocket for a bit so I could show him around, and he was pretty calm once he realized that I didn't mean to eat him. I put him back, of course, and he went on his way.

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Nice story, Anon. For another local blogger's experience with these snakes, check out Dipper Ranch: