Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Middle American Smooth-scaled Racer, Dryadophis melanolomus

from the February 6,  2011 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO
One afternoon the fishpond contained a two-ft-long, slender snake with the tip of his tail wrapped around a snapped-off tree limb. He didn't float the way a watersnake does, though, but rather was awkwardly kinked and his head was mostly underwater. He was drowning. You can see him retrieved and revived above.

Since head-scale patterns are so important in snake identification I took the head-top picture shown below:

Middle American Smooth-scaled Racer, Dryadophis melanolomus, head scales

As well as the shot of the side of the head seen belos:

Middle American Smooth-scaled Racer, Dryadophis melanolomus, head from side

It was a Middle American Smooth-scaled Racer, DRYADOPHIS MELANOLOMUS, a species less likely to have fallen from a tree than to have tumbled into the pool and been unable to escape. The species is considered a denizen of the forest floor.

Back in 2006 I ran across this same species behind a potted plant on a patio near Telchac Pueblo 56 air-miles (90km) northwest of here. {See section below.} That picture shows a snake that's basically dark red, while our snake is grayish brown. It turns out that the species comes in several color variations. Jonathan Campbell in his Amphibians and Reptiles of Northern Guatemala, the Yucatán, and Belize remarks that in Guatemala he's seen olive-brown and deep reddish orange phases occurring side by side. That's unusual because sympatric races generally interbreed and blend. No one knows what's going on here -- what's keeping the color phases distinct. Whatever is happening, now we can report something similar in the Yucatán. Someday a graduate student someplace in the world will be tickled to read these words.

Middle American Smooth-scaled Racers mostly feed on other reptiles, especially lizards, as well as reptile eggs, frogs and sometimes small rodents.

from the March 18, 2006 Newsletter issued from Hacienda San Juan near Telchac Pueblo, northwestern Yucatán, MÉXICO

Middle American Smooth-scaled Racer, Dryadophis melanolomusIt's been a good week for reptiles. One morning back at the hacienda Darwin approached wearing his snake- at-the-big-building smile so off I went to see what it was this time. It was a slender, reddish, big-eyed species about two feet long, its body encircled by numerous narrow, pale bands, and it was hiding behind a potted plant on the patio at ground level. At first glance it looked like a coral snake, but it didn't have the right head markings. That's it at the right.

My herp field-guide by Jonathan Campbell identified it as the Middle American Smooth-scaled Racer, DRYADOPHIS MELANOLOMUS. It's not too closely related to North American racers, which belong to the genus Coluber. They do share the smooth scales typical of northern racers, however, and are just as eager to bite as any cornered northern racer.

Thank's to Vladamir's digital camera I'm especially glad to be able to post this snake's image because it comes in different basic colors, from olive-tan to reddish brown to reddish orange, like ours.

from the April 4,  2011 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

A little after dawn, before sunlight touched the treetops, I sat reading in front of the hut when a bug plummeted into a lush, knee-high parsley plant beside the door about ten feet away. I wouldn't have even registered the bug if within a second of his descent a Striped Basilisk -- one of those long-tailed, very long-toed lizards who runs on oversized back legs so fast they can stride across open water -- shot from among my Yellow Cosmoses into the parsley, clearly after the bug. Our Striped Basilisk page is at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/basilisk.htm.

Not a second after the basilisk had plunged into the parsley, a slender, grayish-tan snake over three feet long (±1m) shot from beneath a rock across the garden and dove into the parsley, after the basilisk. In about ten seconds the snake poked his head from the parsley's far side, threaded up through my Cuban Oregano and raised his head looking around. About thirty seconds after the snake entered the oregano the lucky basilisk zipped from the parsley in the opposite direction, but the snake didn't see it. The snake just hung frozen in the oregano for a solid ten minutes not moving a scale, and you can see that lovely sight below:

Middle American Smooth-scaled Racer, DRYADOPHIS MELANOLOMUS

The snake was a Middle American Smooth-scaled Racer, DRYADOPHIS MELANOLOMUS, commonly seen around here. In fact, in this year's February 6th Newsletter we got some nice pictures of a young one found almost drowned in the fishpond. However, that one was clearly banded, while our present adult shows no body patterns at all. Also, back in 2006 near Telchac Pueblo in northwestern Yucatán we found another young one, which was brightly reddish with weak banding.

So now we have a third color and pattern variation. The species is known to be very variable over its distribution area from northern Mexico to Panama, and now we're seeing stark variations just here in the Yucatán.

The species is known to feed mainly on reptiles, especially lizards, so going for a basilisk that Sunday morning was in order for it.