Photo of the Week – November 1, 2012

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…)

A juvenile eastern racer (Coluber constrictor) – The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.  As always, you can click on the image to see a larger and sharper version of it.

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.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is an ecologist and Eastern Nebraska Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. He supervises the management and restoration of approximately 4,000 acres of land in central and eastern Nebraska - primarily along the central Platte River. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press.
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6 Responses to Photo of the Week – November 1, 2012

  1. Brodie says:

    On the farm, I grew up with (what we called) blue racers, black snakes, bull snakes, and, of course, garter snakes. The blue racers could really scoot! “Hence the name,” I thought. (The black snakes were longer, more slender…and faster.) Thanks for the photo of the juvenile blue racer.

  2. Harry Greene says:

    Now your talking!

  3. Teresa Lombard - Lincoln Nebraska says:

    Beautiful little snake – don’t you just admire their spirit? Poor thing being towered over by some odd alien with an ENORMOUS eye, and he’s just taking it in stride … err, slither.

  4. James McGee says:

    Cool little snake. I must admit, I’m still awe struck by the information about aphids. WOW

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