Snake in tree a reminder  to look up as well as down

I was walking down a lane in the woods Sunday afternoon when I saw a big black snake eight feet up in a tree.

I always watch the ground when I walk, especially since I’ve run across a couple timber rattlers this fall.

This time I glanced to my right into the woods, and gradually something odd came into focus. I did a double-take and realized I was looking at a thick black snake lying on a tree branch.

There was a briar patch between us, and I got as close as I could get to check it out.

It was doubled up on itself and looked to be four or five feet long with a solid blackish body. I say blackish because it wasn’t jet black like a black racer, but not quite brown or gray either. The belly was the same color.

I couldn’t get a good look at the head but I could tell it was narrow, so it was clearly nonpoisonous.

I snapped a photo with my cell phone and texted it to a friend who’s well versed in such matters. His response: indigo snake.

In fact, he and I had been out here a week before and he saw what he claimed then was an indigo snake whipping through the weeds. I didn’t see that one.

Later I Googled “indigo snake” and instantly saw that he was right.

An indigo snake looks much like a black racer only thicker. It has an orange mark under its chin, while a racer has a white mark. But you’d have to be mighty close to see that.

Further research showed the indigo is the longest snake native to the United States, typically ranging from five to seven feet and growing as long as 81⁄2 feet. This one looked nearly as thick as my wrist.

Indigo snakes eat mammals, birds, frogs and other snakes, including rattlesnakes and cottonmouths. That puts it into the same favorable category as the king snake, though the king snake is more instantly recognizable.

Later in the week, Enterprise-Journal owner Wyatt Emmerich stopped by the office for a visit. I showed him the photo and asked if he could identify it.

I knew from our many canoe trips together that he’s no slouch when it comes to knowing tree species and other aspects of nature. Still, I was impressed when he immediately said indigo.

Turns out he had one as a kid.

“When I was 10 I had about 15 snakes and one of them was an indigo,” said Wyatt, who lived in Houston, Texas, at the time.

Others he had included hognose, rat, boa, coachwhip, ribbon and grass.

For Halloween he would wrap snakes around his arms and go door to door.

The hognose was peaceful, would play dead and loved toads.

The rat snake was “mean as a hornet,” he said. It got loose in the car one time and stayed hidden for a month, then emerged when the car was going down the interstate.

“Just imagine driving down the interstate and having a huge snake come out around your legs,” Wyatt said with a laugh.

“The indigo was not too mean. You just had to be careful how you handled him.”

Although the indigo is nonpoisonous, the fact that mine was eight feet up got my attention. I’ve been in the woods all my life and never seen one that high up.

From now on my philosophy will be: Don’t forget to look up.

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