The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Blacksnake

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Blacksnake
Edition of 1920. See also Coluber constrictor on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

BLACKSNAKE, or BLACK RACER, a common colubrine serpent (Zamenis constrictor) found in eastern North America from southern Canada to Florida and west to the prairie regions of the United States. The typical eastern blacksnake is uniform lustrous black above and slate-color beneath, the lower jaw, chin and sometimes upper edges of the lip-plates white, the tongue black. West of the Mississippi the typical form is replaced by a distinct variety, the “blue racer,” slenderer and smaller. The young of the blacksnake, under 18 inches in length, are pale gray above, with brownish blotches on the back, and numerous black spots on the side. The female is larger than the male, but rarely if ever exceeds six feet in length; length of tail 17½ inches. This is one of the most numerous and vigorous of American snakes, making its home in hollow stumps and underground dens. At the approach of winter, many are likely to gather together in similar retreats and remain there in a torpid condition until spring, entangled into a ball, for the sake of mutual warmth. Its motions are of the swiftest, it being capable of moving with great rapidity and of scaling trees, sometimes to a height of 100 feet above the ground, where it searches from branch to branch for birds' eggs, young squirrels, etc. It seeks much of its food in swamps and along streams, mainly frogs, toads, eggs and young of birds, insects and other snakes, and is a fine swimmer. The blacksnake is harmless, and its bite is no worse than that of a mouse. It is readily tamed, thrives well in captivity and shows some intelligence. It is unaggressive, alert in getting away from danger and will not fight unless cornered. The stories recorded of its scenting out copperheads and rattlesnakes and slowly crushing them to death are fables, as it has no power of constriction, and will only attack snakes much smaller than itself. The blacksnake breeds during the summer, the female laying 15 or 20 eggs at a time in the hollow of a sunny bank, or in the midst of a decayed stump, around which she stays, guarding her young until they reach a considerable age.

Several other species of the genus belong to the southwestern United States, Mexico and the West Indies, and the Texan whipsnake is a near relative. The “chainsnake” is sometimes called “mountain blacksnake.” Other blackish serpents known as blacksnakes include a colubrine of Jamaica (Ocyophis ater); the death adders of Australia and Tasmania, and some others notable for dark hues. One of the most widespread of the native names of the East Indian Cobra de Capello has the meaning “blacksnake.”