|from the JANUARY 22, 2006 Newsletter issued from near
Telchac Pueblo, Yucatán, MÉXICO
RED-BLOTCHED RATSNAKE IN A CABINET
The other day Darwin was moving an old cabinet in one of the guesthouses when he saw a boldly patterned red, black and white snake about 15 inches long on the cabinet's floor. His first thought was that it was a venomous coral snake, but then he remembered that corals have bands, not big blotches like this one. Still, the coloration looked dangerous and he was good enough to call me. That's it below.
It was a young Red-blotched Ratsnake, ELAPHE FLAVIRUFA. One nice feature of the above photo is that is shows so nicely the typical ratsnake flat bottom. If you make a cross section of a ratsnake it'll be shaped like a slice of bread, rounded on top, with flat sides and a flat bottom. As you'd expect, right angles are formed where the flat sides and flat bottom come together. These sharp angles help the snake keep its grip while climbing among tree limbs.
My herp book says that this species is distributed from central Mexico to Nicaragua, but that throughout its range it doesn't seem to be common anywhere. It occupies many habitats, though, from very dry forests to tropical wet ones, and it has been found eating rodents, bats, birds and lizards. When Katharine heard this she decided that this may be the reason why mice hadn't been a plague in that particular building.
When Doña Lupe the maid saw the snake she confidently pronounced it a young rattlesnake, no doubt about it. I suspect that the vast majority of folks here would have said the same, and they would have dispatched the pretty snake forthwith. The Doña didn't seem too pleased when we released our find into a nearby stone wall.
Several flat-bottomed ratsnakes of the genus Elaphe occur in North America. I have a friend in Kentucky who named his kids after snake genera and one of them is called Elaphe. Ratsnakes will bite you if you bother them, though of course their bite is not venomous. This little fellow tried to bite me but I don't think his small teeth could have done much damage. The species grows to five feet or more, however, and I wouldn't carelessly handle one of that size.
In September, 2008 I found the following snake, nearly four feet long, shot through the head and left dead along the road near Sabacché about an hour southeast of Mérida. Despite bearing brown blotches instead of red ones, this is apparently a Red-blotched Ratsnake. I'm told that North American species of the genus Elaphe, of which this is one, have been reassigned to the genus Pantherophis, so the new name may be Pantherophis flavirufra.