Snake identification 101
April 8, 2010 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Help me ID the snake....

My mother just called freaked out about the snake her grandson was "playing with" in her flowerbed. She snapped two shots, one clear and one a bit fuzzy. I'm guessing Rat Snake, but I couldn't find any example shots that have the red/orange under the chin like this one appeared to have. That, plus the light-gray along the jaw looks really distinctive, but Google is failing me in my image comparisons.

She guessed it was 4-5 feet long, and this is in North Georgia, US.

Help me put her mind at ease, Mefi!
posted by griffey to Pets & Animals (10 answers total)
INYH (I'm not your herpetologist). But it sure looks like a rat snake to me, and I'm even surer that it isn't a cottonmouth. (Head doesn't look triangular at all in the pictures, and most have some pattern at least on bottom.). There are only four kinds of poisonous snakes in North America, and that's the closest one.

Do a google image search and look at thousands of pictures of the two. Snakes are good critters, and this one probably just ate something that would do more harm around your house then he will. (that would be why he was slow enough to be the grandson.)

posted by Some1 at 2:41 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you're right.

Black rat snake

(Caveat: I am not a professional snake identifier)
posted by ehamiter at 2:42 PM on April 8, 2010

*behind the last 'be' the word "caught" should have been typed, but wasn't. I have no idea where that Google at the bottom came from.
posted by Some1 at 2:43 PM on April 8, 2010

Black Racer?

That or a black rat snake
posted by Think_Long at 2:43 PM on April 8, 2010

The Snakes of North Carolina (you're in Georgia, but there's a lot of cross-over) leads me to believe it is a a black rat snake not a racer, as "unlike racers whose scales are smooth, rat snakes have keeled scales" and as far as I can tell from your pictures those look like rather rough, not smooth, scales. Additionally black racers "will often aggressively defend themselves and will usually bite repeatedly if picked up" but "rat snakes are usually rather docile, but may bite and release foul-smelling musk if picked up or threatened." Not sure how close the grandson was, but it seems like rat snakes would be a bit more friendly.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 3:21 PM on April 8, 2010

Looks a lot like a Grey Rat Snake. They are common to Tennessee (your neighbor to the north) and are harmless. Like Some1 said, it probably just ate something and is a little lethargic. Her grandson should not be afraid of snakes, but should learn to come ask an adult before picking up a snake. There are only four viperous snakes in this part of the country but he's not an expert yet.
posted by Old Geezer at 3:53 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

General Rule, Snakes Native to the United States East of the Mississippi River: If the snake *head* is about the same size as the snake *neck* AND the snake is NOT brightly colored with black, yellow, and red stripes, you're golden. The snake is not poisonous.

If the snake *head* is about the same size as the snake *neck* AND the snake is striped red-black-yellow WITH Red-next-to-Yellow, it is a coral snake. (There's a rhyme: Red on black is a friend of Jack. Red on yellow will kill a fellow.) You can die from being bitten by a coral snake. However, they are not aggressive or easy to find.

If the snake has a broad, triangular-shaped head with a definite neck, it is a pit viper and poisonous. Pit vipers all have cat-style pupils (Slit vertically) instead of round pupils, too.

Case (A) Snake has rattles on its tail ... rattlesnakes. They come in various colors and patterns, but nothing bright (red or yellow or whatever), mostly dirt-type colors. Eastern Timber Rattler (only rattler native to where I live) is relatively shy, will not come after you or chase you. (I have met several in the wild.) You can die from a timber rattler bite.

Case (B) No rattles, very attractively colored in rounded patterns of warm, pretty medium browns, like fallen leaves. This is a copperhead. It is not horribly likely that you will die from a copperhead bite but they do bite and are venomous.

Case (C) dark colored (adult) with some pattern, near water, no rattles. This is a cottonmouth. They do bite and are venomous and are (according to wikipedia -- I've never met one) nasty.

Now, as to the pictured snake: Not brightly-colored in black-red-yellow stripes. Does not look to me like it has a definite head and neck. Looks kind of rat-snake to me. Clearer pictures would help, but I'm betting nonlethal, here.

Here's a Black Rat Snake on my coffee table. (I did not put it there. House is old and apparently not snake-tight.) Black Rat Snakes have a very distinctive "threatened" posture that they do when they are worried. They kink up, kind of, and freeze. That's what the snake on my coffee table is doing. (I gently broomed him off the table and into a loose ball, scooped him up in a five-gallon-bucket, and tipped him out in the woods behind the house. He survived the experience, has not come back since.)

Please to be looking at the pictures to see appropriate "head and neck same size" thing.
posted by which_chick at 4:59 PM on April 8, 2010

I am unable to link worth beans.

Snake on coffee table: here

Snake in woods: here
posted by which_chick at 5:02 PM on April 8, 2010

Best answer: I know what that is: it's a Red-bellied Water Snake, Nerodia erythrogaster erythrogaster. Definitely harmless -- water snakes are related to garter snakes, not water moccasins -- though they can be a bit feisty.

It's not a black racer: black racers have smooth scales. And it's not a rat snake of any sort (I have four of them, and know them cold). Neither racers nor rat snakes have red chins like that.
posted by mcwetboy at 5:35 PM on April 8, 2010

Good pictures of Red-bellied Water Snakes here and here.
posted by mcwetboy at 5:59 PM on April 8, 2010

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