On Wednesday, our staff was out enjoying some beautiful fall weather and harvesting the last of our prairie seeds for the season. Walking along a gravel lane, we found a small snake basking in the sun. I didn’t recognize it, so I stopped to photograph it in case it was a species we hadn’t seen in our prairies before. Thanks to Mardell Jasnowski and Nelson Winkel for helping me get the photo. (And for being patient while I shot it from many different angles…)
Juvenile eastern racers look very different from the adults of that species. Adult racers don’t have any patterned markings on their backs, and are a uniform blue or green color on top and yellow on the belly. In fact, they’re often called green racers or blue racers because of that coloration (also yellowbelly racers). When I saw this juvenile, I didn’t even think about the possibility it might be a racer. I was running through the names of all the snake species I could think of with brown and black patterned backs, and none of them fit what I was seeing.
Eastern racers aren’t the only snake species in which the juvenile has a different, more camouflaged appearance than the adult (black rat snakes are another example). It’s also a phenomenon seen in other kinds of animals, including white-tailed deer and red-winged blackbirds – among many others. I guess a little extra camouflage when you’re young and inexperienced in the world is probably a good idea!
Thanks to Dan Fogell for writing his excellent field guide, which helped me identify this snake.