The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 05-08-2003, 04:54 PM
caracal caracal is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2002
what is the largest snake in North America?

Here's why I ask:


I cannot believe what I just saw. I was outside just a few minutes ago [edit that-about an hour ago-my hands were still shaking when I first posted this] working on a truck. The truck sits about four feet from a wire fence that seperates my land from a very dense wooded area.

When I walked around to the side of the truck that runs along the fence, I heard a LOUD, low hiss. In fact it sounded just like my old monitor lizard did when he tried to scare off my other pets. They quickly fill themselves with air to gain the illusion of greater mass as well as to make one hell of a menacing hiss. Very cool and very prehistoric sounding.

Anyway, having owned pythons, monitors, copperheads, and kingsnakes I knew as soon as I heard that hiss that this was a huge herp. In fact If you've been around reptiles you know what I mean. It sounded like it was swollowing air by the gallons. And it was a very low, almost Darth Vader-like tone.

The scary part was that it was that even though I couldn't yet see the source of the sound, it was obvious I was no more than two feet away from whatever it was. I had just set of some animals proximity alarm.

I swiftly stepped back a few feet, knelt down and stared at it for a few seconds. It was clearly a head-only view of a very large reptile. At first I couldn't quite wrap my mind around what is was I was looking at, even though I could see it clearly from only six feet away. I guess the image didn't make sense to my brain.

Then my mind started to piece together what I was looking at. An adult alligator snapper. The only reptile with a head that big here in NW Arkansas would be an alligator snapping turtle.

Then my mind started to piece together other bits of information. This turtle's nice and shiny. Also, my mind was still stuck on that long fork tongue flicking everywhere. That definately should have tipped me off first thing. I caught kept an alligator turtle when I was 12. It did't have a forked tongue.

And then my heart started pounding and I realized that this wasn't a turtle. The top of its head was very dark, maybe black in color. And very light off-white under its "chin".

Now that I've had time to calm down I am pretty sure that it was a cottonmouth. But the head was just too big to believe. The best view I got was its lower jaw-thanks to the white underside. The front of his bottom jaw was around 5" wide(!!!). The shape of the head that of a flat tip screwdriver, so its head widened to over 6". That is in no way an exaggeration. The snake head I just saw was twice the size of a the head on my old burmese python (9' 7" long and 30-35 lbs). I got a good hard look at it and the size is in the burmese python/reticulated python/anaconda range, but it did't seem to be as thick(top-bottom).

Having owned, caught, and handled numerous snakes in this area-oddly enought I caught and released two kingsnakes a couple days ago-I would never believe anyone that told me they saw a snake in Arkansas with a head the size of a large python.

Is this thing a freak of nature? Does anyone know of snakes in the Southeastern US getting so big?
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 05-08-2003, 05:12 PM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2000
Assuming it was a cottonmouth...
http://www.geocities.com/ervineco/snakes/snakes.html
Quote:
Average adult size is 20-48 inches, record is 74.5 inches.
<< shrug >>
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 05-08-2003, 05:21 PM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
Right Hand of the Master
Moderator
 
Join Date: Feb 1999
Location: Chicago north suburb
Posts: 15,395
Largest snake in North America is a toss-up between Enron and WorldCom.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 05-08-2003, 05:33 PM
caracal caracal is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2002
A 6-ft long cottonmouth with a head this big would look like a matchstick.
It may very well be someones lost pet. It didn't seem very docile, though.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 05-08-2003, 05:41 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
SD Curator of Critters
Moderator
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Panama
Posts: 24,369
To answer the question posed in the title, the largest snake that presently occurs in North America (north of Mexico) may in fact be the Burmese Python, which some researchers now believe has become established in the Everglades.

http://www.southalley.com/snakes_exotic.html

Previously, the largest snake in North America (by length) was the Indigo Snake, with a maximum length of 103 inches, or 8 ft 7 in. The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, at about 8 ft. max, is probably heavier, though.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 05-08-2003, 05:46 PM
sivispacem sivispacem is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
The Eastern Trouser Snake has been known to grow to pretty immense proportions. Haven't seen any truly amazing specimens myself though.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 05-08-2003, 05:50 PM
Tamerlane Tamerlane is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: SF Bay Area, California
Posts: 10,125
Two possibilities here ( actually more than that, if we count foreign escapees ).

1) Color-wise you're just perfectly described the Black Rat Snake ( Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta ). Adults are black with a cream/white throat. The record length is 101 inches - 8.4'. They're usually quite a bit smaller. Six feet is more normal for an adult, but maybe you saw the garnddaddy of them all.

2) The other possibility is North America's largest snake - the Indigo Snake ( Drymarchon corais ). Superficially similar coloration, only the throat and chin are more often orange/red. Size range is also similar, with a slightly larger recorded North American maximum of 103.5 inches, but the average adult size being somewhat larger - More like seven feet to the Black Rat's six.

Black Rat Snake - http://community.webshots.com/photo/...48197819TvESqc

Eastern Indigo Snake ( Scroll down and hit enlarge for a passable photo ) - http://www.floridasprings.org/anatomy/life/reptiles/

Eastern Indigo eating a Pit Viper - http://www.arachnophiliac.com/burrow..._pit_viper.jpg

- Tamerlane
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 05-08-2003, 05:54 PM
Tamerlane Tamerlane is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: SF Bay Area, California
Posts: 10,125
Quote:
Originally posted by Tamerlane


Eastern Indigo eating a Pit Viper - http://www.arachnophiliac.com/burrow..._pit_viper.jpg

- Tamerlane
Actually, staring at that photo ( which I just included for the neato factor ), it looks more like a Black Rat .

Colibri - Thunder-stealer. Just you wait until the next hummingbird question...

- Tamerlane
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 05-08-2003, 06:00 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
SD Curator of Critters
Moderator
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Panama
Posts: 24,369
Quote:
Originally posted by Tamerlane
Colibri - Thunder-stealer. Just you wait until the next hummingbird question...[/B]

/\

(That's a forked tongue, by the way.)
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 05-08-2003, 06:49 PM
norinew norinew is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: Wilds of WV
Posts: 10,652
According to USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center the largest north americal snake is the Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon
corais couperi).
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 05-08-2003, 07:12 PM
caracal caracal is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2002
Quote:
Originally posted by Tamerlane
Two possibilities here ( actually more than that, if we count foreign escapees ).

1) Color-wise you're just perfectly described the Black Rat Snake ( Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta ). Adults are black with a cream/white throat. The record length is 101 inches - 8.4'. They're usually quite a bit smaller. Six feet is more normal for an adult, but maybe you saw the garnddaddy of them all.

2) The other possibility is North America's largest snake - the Indigo Snake ( Drymarchon corais ). Superficially similar coloration, only the throat and chin are more often orange/red. Size range is also similar, with a slightly larger recorded North American maximum of 103.5 inches, but the average adult size being somewhat larger - More like seven feet to the Black Rat's six.

Black Rat Snake - http://community.webshots.com/photo/...48197819TvESqc

Eastern Indigo Snake ( Scroll down and hit enlarge for a passable photo ) - http://www.floridasprings.org/anatomy/life/reptiles/

Eastern Indigo eating a Pit Viper - http://www.arachnophiliac.com/burrow..._pit_viper.jpg

- Tamerlane
I looked at all of the snakes listed in for the state of Arkansas. It isn't an indigo snake. I see those all the time.
A very large black rat snake might be it. I didn't see any part of the body. So maybe it's 5 feet long and really fat. I would like to see a picture of one straight-on. The head on this one (the snake in the woods here) was very wide.
But even by going solely by the size of the head, this snake is much bigger than any snake in those pictures. There's not a snake I saw that would have a head this big even if you put another couple feet on any of them.
If someone else posted this story I would say that it was probably nothing more than the eyes playing tricks on the OP. That's pretty common in the woods. If you ever saw and heard a black bear or wild boar running through the woods you would understand how so many people report seeing sasquatch. Things get bigger in the woods. But I got to nearly eye-level with this thing. It never moved until I ran off to find a long stick. When I came back it was gone.
After thinking about it, this almost has to be someone's pet. There are many different kinds of large pythons. My Austrailian rock python was 11 feet long and black-[i]and[/] I lost it. But that was 11 years ago-I hope that vicious little bastard* hasn't found me!

Also, there's only about 15 acres of woods here. Is there a way to humanely trap it?



*Don't EVER buy an Austrailian rock python-pure evil.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 05-08-2003, 10:25 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: A better place to be
Posts: 26,718
Our friends down the road (now sadly moved away) lived in what was formerly a farmhouse, with a couple of outbuildings left from when it was a farm, and a fair amount of semi-overgrown land came with the property.

Underneath the old barn (mostly now used for storage), an amazing array of animals seemed to have taken up residence. And among them was a black rat snake about 6'6" (estimate, from measuring ground where he'd been laying -- he was not at all cooperative about laying still while someone took a tape measure to him! ).

Black rat snakes are quite common throughout the South, though they tend to be fairly retiring and are often semi-nocturnal (unusual for a snake) because of when their usual prey is active, so they are not well known to the average Southerner. And they are startlingly large if you aren't aware of their existence.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 05-09-2003, 01:18 PM
caracal caracal is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2002
Quote:
Originally posted by Polycarp
Our friends down the road (now sadly moved away) lived in what was formerly a farmhouse, with a couple of outbuildings left from when it was a farm, and a fair amount of semi-overgrown land came with the property.

Underneath the old barn (mostly now used for storage), an amazing array of animals seemed to have taken up residence. And among them was a black rat snake about 6'6" (estimate, from measuring ground where he'd been laying -- he was not at all cooperative about laying still while someone took a tape measure to him! ).

Black rat snakes are quite common throughout the South, though they tend to be fairly retiring and are often semi-nocturnal (unusual for a snake) because of when their usual prey is active, so they are not well known to the average Southerner. And they are startlingly large if you aren't aware of their existence.
Great answer, Poly. After sleeping on this, it's starting to make sense. This small wooded area next to my house (plus another 25 or so acres adjacent to the other side of my yard) have become the only forrested area on what is now the edge of town. The number of reptiles and other animals that wander on my own yard (10 acres) is astounding.
Every morning I get to see 3-5 deer wander in my yard. I don't want them to get the bad habit of trusting humans, so I keep my distance. Rarely a day passes that doesn't involve someone I know bringing up the incredibly original idea of spending the night in my yard with a rifle (armchair deer-hunting must be very alluring idea to some people around here).
A real alligator turtle that lives in the creek just below my house, and I hear coyotes at night. My little cousin even invented the game, " 'dillo kickin' " for the times when he comes to visit. He just walks up to an armadillo and kicks it-I made him stop, but it illustrates how many armadillos I have here. Plus I seen foxen (sic?), opossums, rabbits and the ubiquitous squirrels (strangely few of these) . But the top of little ecosystem here seems to be the reptiles. The concentration of lizards and snakes is amazing.
I don't think they have any natural predators around here. I've often noticed the low population of birds here. And the amount of bugs around here is a plentiful foodsource to all the lizards, frogs, and small snakes. All the lizards, frogs, and small snakes make a bountiful harvest for the bigger snakes (at least the ones that eat reptiles-like kingsnakes).
If I remember correctly snakes (all reptiles?) never stop growing. I could see a black rat snake surviving 15 years in this area. And, as they say-livin' large.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 05-09-2003, 05:02 PM
USAPatriot USAPatriot is offline
Member
 
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Colorado Springs
Posts: 17
Just for the sake of interest, some years back I caught an orange-red Coachwhip here in Colorado that measured a bit over 7 feet. Mucho impressiv-o! -Rod-
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 05-09-2003, 05:44 PM
Morbo Morbo is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: 123 Fake Street
Posts: 8,967
Last July I saw a water moccasin roughly the length of the kayak I was in cruising along the surface of Lake Gibson in Oklahoma. Without a doubt the largest water moccasin I had ever seen. I thought it was a large fish caught in some line by the way it was slowly moving on the surface, so I had a closer look.

I must've broken a kayak speed record getting away from it...
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 05-09-2003, 05:55 PM
beajerry beajerry is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Ok, I'm not modest.....zzzzzipp
Reply With Quote
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 05:56 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.