Sunday, July 14, 2013

Epic battle between kingsnake and copperhead!

A while back, I wrote about Black Kingsnakes, Lampropeltis getula, and shared some images of one of these fabulous beasts. You can see that post RIGHT HERE. Kingsnakes are not a widespread animal in Ohio, occurring only in perhaps a half-dozen of our southernmost counties. The snake that was the subject of the aforementioned post was one that John Howard had caught that morning in his Adams County garden; later that same day I went on to find another elsewhere in the county.
A noteworthy quality of the Black Kingsnake is its tameness and gentle nature, at least towards humans. When first captured, a kingsnake might be a bit feisty, but they normally soon settle down and are quite easily and safely handled. I have been around enough kingsnakes to know firsthand of their docile nature; a behavior that seems quite surprising when one learns what true tough guys these reptiles really are.
Last Saturday, botanists Andrew Gibson and Michael Whittemore were exploring Shawnee State Forest when they stumbled across a true battle of the reptilian titans. Andrew (check his great blog HERE) was kind enough to send along some of his characteristically excellent photos, documenting an ophidian fight to the death. 
Photo: Andrew Gibson

Can you imagine stumbling across this scene?! It would either be the stuff of which long-lasting nightmares are made, or, if you're like me and many of my friends, a dream come true! Black Kingsnakes are well known for going after, killing, and consuming other snakes, notably venomous snakes. While this bit of interesting herpetological knowledge is well known, it is one thing to read about such behavior in a book, and quite another to actually experience it firsthand!

While cruising one of Shawnee Forest's little traveled back lanes, Andrew and Michael came across this scene, stopped, and obtained what is certainly among the best photo-documentation there is of a Black Kingsnake plying its trade. I don't think that I need point out which of the serpents is the kingsnake; the other is the most common of Ohio's three venomous snakes, the Northern Copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix (I've written about them HERE, should you be interested).

The kingsnake has engaged the copperhead, and is working to subdue its venomous relative. You'd think an animal with the fortitude to pursue such fare would be a raging, barely containable maniac of an animal, but as I pointed out when in our hands kingsnakes are about as soft and snuggly as a snake can be. That demeanor changes bigtime when on the hunt, obviously.

Photo: Andrew Gibson

At this point in the struggle, the agile kingsnake has gained the upper hand and has the copperhead in a death grip. The copperhead, of course, would have attempted to defend itself with all of its might, but kingsnakes are impervious to the bites of chemically protected snakes such as this, and the copperhead's bites left it unfazed.

Photo: Andrew Gibson

By now, the copperhead is doomed. The crushing death-grip that the kingsnake has on the throat of the copperhead probably brings about its demise fairly quickly, as does the kingsnake's tightly coiled body, which crushes the life from the unlucky victim. Death by constriction, essentially.

Congratulations to Andrew and Michael for a great find, and to Andrew for the excellent photo-documentation, and for allowing me to share his images with you.


Peter Kleinhenz said...

This is definitely the coolest post of yours I have seen, and you post some really awesome stuff. I can't imagine what my reaction would be if I came upon that.

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks Peter! In this case, though, all of the credit goes to Andrew and Michael for making an extraordinary find, photo-documenting it beautifully, AND sharing it with others!

Jon Farnsworth said...

Very cool!

Michael Whittemore said...

Jim, just came across this. Thanks for the mention! Andrew and I always stumble upon extraordinary finds when we're together - looking forward to another exciting spring ahead! - Mike