Rare Snakes

Maine is currently home to at least nine species of snake, one of which is state Endangered (Northern Black Racer) and two of which are state Special Concern (Ribbon Snake and Brown Snake). The Timber Rattlesnake was historically native but is now thought to be extirpated from the state. The Maine Amphibian and Reptile Atlasing Project [MARAP] continues to provide location records for all snakes, but more detailed research is needed in order to assess movements, habitat requirements, and potential threats to our rare snakes.

Northern Black Racer Photo credit: Jonathan Mays

To determine home range size, over-wintering sites, and habitat use, MDIFW conducted a radio telemetry project on Black Racers, which reach the northern extent of their range in southern Maine. Racers are long, slender snakes, jet black in color with a white chin and gray belly. At present, less than 30 sites in Maine are known to host Black Racers and only six of those locations have had racers observed at them within the last five years. Fourteen racers were implanted with radio transmitters and data analysis has shown that these animals are using very large home ranges in early successional habitat (ca. 250 acres of predominantly scrub/shrub habitat and surrounding grasslands and open forests). Knowledge gained from this study is informing protection efforts and habitat management for Maine’s longest and fastest reptile.

Historically, snakes have been misunderstood, feared, and persecuted. Some have stated that snakes are among the least appreciated of Maine’s wildlife. While this may be true, snakes fill an important place in the environment and provide balance: preying on small mammals, insects, and other reptiles and amphibians, and providing food for various predatory birds and mammals. Snakes are fascinating creatures and our state is certainly richer with them here.

Funding for this work comes from the federal State Wildlife Grants Program (USFWS), Loon Conservation Plate, Chickadee Check-off, and Maine Department of Transportation.