A Love Letter to the Black Snakes of the Appalachian Trail

Dear black snake,

I know I didn’t make a great first impression when we met. There you were, sunning yourself on the Appalachian Trail during a warm spring day in Georgia. And there I was, a blundering hiker still breaking in her first pair of trail shoes, quite unlearned in the ways of the outdoors. I apologize for the many colorful and totally inappropriate words I said when I first saw you.

It wasn’t you, black snake. It was me.

You see, I didn’t know how incredibly cool you were when I met you. And let me be clear, black snake: you are pretty much the coolest.

How, you may ask?

You’re cool, black snake, because you hunt what we humans consider to be vermin; mice and rats are at the top of your menu. As a hiker who’s shared shelters with mice, who’s had her food bag chewed through by mice, I greatly appreciate your service in keeping the rodents from getting out of control.

You’re cool because you are not a venomous snake. Your species is a constrictor, and so you’re pretty harmless to us humans. When the mother of this hiker was researching all the dangerous snakes on the Appalachian Trail, you were not on that list. Thanks for teaching us how to spot the differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes. It’s important for us to learn about you and all the other snakes of the Appalachian Trail, so we can better understand and respect your role in the AT ecosystem. 

You’re quite chill with letting hikers carefully step over you while you sunbathe on the trail. Sometimes you even pose for photos. Your calm temperament is one of my favorite things about you.

You have a cool scientific name. Pantherophis obsoletus. You’re the panther of the snake world.

You hold the record for the longest snake in North America (8 feet and 5 inches).

I know you have a rough childhood. You’re so small when you’re born, you’re often prey yourself, even to other snakes. And when you grow up, we humans become one of your greatest predators.

When you feel threatened, you wrinkle yourself together and shake your tail. We know you’re not actually venomous, but you’re pretty smart to have picked up that trick from the rattlesnake. Sorry if we humans ever made you scared — and sorry for calling you stinky. You only release that smelly musk because you don’t like to be picked up, and hikers should know better than to disturb you like that.

And you’re pretty cool, black snake, for putting up with us hikers. The mountains are your home, and we’re just visitors passing through. And even though humans sometimes don’t treat you very well, you’re there for us every year, ready to eat the mice at our shelters and remind us to enjoy the sunshine. That’s pretty cool of you, black snake.

So thanks again, black snake, for everything you do.

Much love.

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Comments 7

  • Avatar
    Charles : Jun 9th

    Very nice article. ..getting the information out there regarding black sbakes so hikers and hunters don’t kill them when they cross paths. I’ve been camping many times in the Smokey Mountains and surrounding areas and come across many of them. I’ve even picked a couple up going crossing an open road, after they calm down they are very docile. Long live the black snake. Thank you.

    Reply
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    jdub : Jun 12th

    is there any unwritten rule that says we cant carry a king snake with us on the trail, ya know, for when we do encounter the rattlesnakes?

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Sandra : Jun 16th

    Loved it!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Del : Jun 17th

    One of the best pieces I have seen on Badger. Almost, makes you want to hug these guys. While I do not carry mice (not intentionally), I did offer one an “M&M peanut” but my black snake friend refused: conclusion—they are probably allergic to peanuts. Love those guys.

    Reply
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    Rob : Jun 23rd

    And the black rat snake is also a great climber. Look for it overhead in trees often sunning or feeding on innocent little song-bird or raiding their nests of eggs!!!! There’s a reason the good lord made snakes to slither on their bellies!!!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Pando : Jul 4th

    Awesome! Nice to see a little love for a little less iconic, but no less important, resident on the trail.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Steve : Mar 17th

    I enjoyed your article on my favorite snake as it brought back some fond memories of my earlier years. Having grown up in Northern New Jersey I spent a lot of time at Boy Scout Camp located on the Appalachian Trail. On one occasion as I was trekking around the woods I too came across our friend the Black Snake and thinking it would make a nice pet I was able to us my ingenuity to captive it. Once in hand, and it being a cool day the snake took a liking to my warm body and shirt and slithered in and down my sleeve. When I return to the camp proper, my Father, one of the scout leaders told me in no uncertain terms the snake is not going home with us, so it was released back to the proper environment of Camp Yaw Paw.

    Reply

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