84: Great Plains Ratsnake
I write to you from Arapahoe, Ute, and Cheyenne land. I am interested in learning about the different animals that live in the place where I was born. Before we start with today’s animal, I want to emphasize that biological classification as understood by western society has its roots in racism, sexism, and transphobia – here’s a good explainer about why.
The Great Plains Ratsnake, or Rat Snake (Pantherophis emoryi), is also sometimes known as Emory’s Rat Snake, after General William Helmsley Emory (1811-1887), a surveyor who created maps for the US government of among other things the modern day places of Arizona, New Mexico, and southern California. His record during the Civil War and Reconstruction - including successfully removing the “White League” (gosh, wonder what those assholes were into) from power in New Orleans – is also of note.
How about the snake itself? It’s a calm, generally non-aggressive snake that lives in open grassland and farmland as well as lightly forested areas throughout the central-western United States and northern Mexico. It subdues its prey using constriction, and likes to eat chickens, other birds, rodents, lizards, and frogs. When threatened, it shakes its tail rattlesnake-style, although the tail does not make a noise. They are active from March to late September and are nocturnal, spending much of the night chilling around burrows, hoping to catch a snack. As nocturnal predators, they rely on organs in their mouths and tongues to detect the odor of prey.