Plop! That’s what I heard when I stood out in the garage and pushed the button to open the garage door. This Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) fell off the rising door and landed right next to me. Naturally, I wanted it to go out the door and back into the woods. However, it was determined to crawl into the garage. I had to get a broom and block its way to get it to crawl out onto the driveway. My visitor is only a small one, about 24 inches long. Although in the first photograph, the snake appears to be solid black, it still retains some of its juvenile markings, and these can be seen in the second photograph where there is better lighting. As it grows, it will become progressively more black, while retaining a white chin.
This species can grow to about five feet. Despite the species name “constrictor“, this species does not constrict its prey. It simply rushes anything it thinks it can eat and overpowers it, often eating the victim while it is still alive. True to its common name “racer”, this species moves very fast, faster than most any other snake.
Black Racers are more slim than the commonly seen Black Rat Snake (Elapse obsoleta obseleta), and they are faster-moving and more nervous in their behavior. Black Racers are quite pugnacious, and they do not hesitate to bite if handled. They will not normally become tame in captivity, and will continue to resist handling and to bite. This one repeatedly sprang into this position and struck at the broom I was using to steer it into the woods.. Sometimes Black Racers will charge a person if the snake feels sufficiently threatened. They almost always veer away before actually biting, however.
I finally got this one herded into the woods with my broom. It retained its defiant attitude for a time, but eventually calmed down and crawled away. It will need to be careful, however. These snakes may become prey themselves. Birds of prey, such as Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, and the larger owls will eat a small specimen like this one if given the chance. So will the Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula) or larger Black Racers.
Interestingly, this is not the first occasion where a snake fell out of our garage door. Several years ago, my brother was visiting from Indiana. I was raising the garage door in the same manner, but we were standing more toward the middle of the door. A Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus) fell off the ascending door right onto my head and shoulders! Since Rough Green Snakes are arboreal, it had no trouble staying on my shoulders. I have to admit I was momentarily startled, but I am quite familiar with this species, and I knew it would be harmless and likely docile. I was able to pick it off my shoulders, admire it for a bit, and place it into the woods without incident. Unfortunately, I was not writing a blog at that time, and I have no photographs of the incident. If you want to see a picture of a Rough Green Snake, I recommend this Savannah River Ecology Lab page.