Photos Of Johnny’s “Trophy” Rat Snake

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Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Photos Of Johnny’s “Trophy” Rat Snake

Beware of the belly crawler the one with cold eyes that never close. He slithers in the shadows, licks the air with a forked tongue and drinks in the delicious smells of warm-blooded prey. He needs no light, no sound, no visible victim, almost nothing, just a few molecules of the scent of purple martins in their nests is enough. Behold the rat snake. He eagerly offers his coils in a deadly embrace to those foolish enough to accept.

The belly crawler is the rat snake and these predators are deadly killers of purple martins and other cavity nesting birds. The rat snake has an organ in the roof of its mouth called the Jacobson’s organ. The snake flickers its forked tongue out to “taste” the air for molecules of prey. Then the snake transfers the scent to the Jacobson’s organ which helps guide the snake to its prey. And nothing is more inviting to a hungry rat snake than a gourd rack or house full of warm blooded purple martins!

My good friend Johnny Gerber lives in Quitman which is in north central Louisiana below Ruston. Johnny has a thriving martin colony with about 40 pairs in residence right now. He uses Super Gourds, Troyer Horizontals with cling plates, some naturals and several T-14s. His two gourd racks and two T-14s are on four heavy duty metal poles.

And ALL his poles are protected from rat snakes with net traps made from ¾ inch bird netting. He constructs his net traps very much like mine by creating a four prong metal foundation and then fluffing up netting all around the prongs to create a “wad” or “ball”. The netting is NOT tightly matted or flattened against the pole, but spread out so any rat snake will crawl THROUGH the netting and not OVER it. And there are NO gaps between the netting and the pole so that a rat snake could slither up the pole and UNDER any net trap.

Rat snakes tend to approach a net trap like they would vegetation and start to weave through the net squares. As the snake’s body is pushing through, it eventually can go no farther inside a ¾ inch square and then stops. The distance the snake can muscularly force its way through the netting depends largely on the snake’s girth. The snake can’t back up because the thin plastic netting catches the snake’s scales. The snake becomes hopelessly ensnared.

The ¾ inch netting will catch most large rat snakes including ones over three feet in length as these snakes tend to be thick in girth and can only get so far into the net squares before becoming trapped. I have seen them only get about five or six inches into the netting and become caught. However, some smaller thinner rat snakes may be able to penetrate the ¾ inch netting and not get trapped. I have used ½ inch netting to capture smaller rat snakes. I will have two layers of netting in my trap: the bottom will be ¾ inch and top will be ½ inch. Any large snake would get caught in the bottom ¾ inch netting and any smaller snake would hopefully get trapped higher up in the ½ inch layer. However, I have been unable to find any of the ½ inch netting recently and rely mainly on the ¾ inch kind.

You can often find the bird netting at garden centers, Tractor Supply, Wal-mart, and home improvement businesses like Lowes or Home Depot. It is not expensive.

Well, today April 6 Johnny called me and said when he arrived home from work this afternoon at around 3:00 he found a large rat snake completely caught in one of his net traps. When he left early this morning around 6:30 am, there was NO snake in the netting so this snake got caught later.

He took some photos and I am posting them on the Forum. I believe this may be a black rat snake even though this snake is checkered; there is much variation in coloration among the various rat snake species. But its white chin/throat area is characteristic of the black rat snake.

This photo shows the rat snake’s length as the snake’s head/neck area is ensnared in the netting. Johnny said the snake only got about four or five inches into the netting before being completely caught. The snake measured four feet nine inches. If the snake had managed to get up into the gourd rack, he/she could have eaten a number of adult martins and stayed up there and moved from one gourd to the other.


This photo shows the rat snake with its mouth wide open in defiance and Johnny took its mug shot!


PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season
Posts: 2122
Joined: Mon Jan 05, 2004 10:24 pm
Location: Delaware/Dover

Very impressive, that fellow looks like he could eat 100 birds with no problem
~Ray~ Gingerich
1999 1pair, 2006 2 pair, 2008 2 pair,
2009 23 pair, 2010 39 pair, 2011 67 pair,
2012 115 pair, 2013 160 pair,
2014 152 pair, 2015 174 pair, 2016 178 pair
2017 187 pair, 2018 200 pair, 2019 171pair
2020 233 pair
Scott D.- La
Posts: 823
Joined: Thu Jun 08, 2006 8:35 am
Location: Louisiana

How dare that Snake try and get those bird's :wink: Glad he caught it, as I am sure it could have done some major damage.
James Strickland FL
Posts: 2249
Joined: Thu Nov 13, 2003 8:04 pm
Location: Reidsville NC
Martin Colony History: 2017 Had a lot visitors no Matins nesting, hoping 2018 will be different.
2018 Had 1 pair
2019 had 30 pair

I hate snakes around the martin poles.
Posts: 633
Joined: Tue Nov 11, 2003 3:21 pm
Location: Quitman, La
Martin Colony History: Super colony

Ole Steve gives some graphic details huh? But the reality Of what "could" have happened I hope triggers southern landlords to protect their birds from these predators. I learned several years ago when a huge rat snake nearly devastated my colony what they are capable of. I'm telling y'all....this stuff is cheap, and is found everywhere and it WORKS.
Thanks for posting this Steve.
ps: you can take all your netting down, cause I hear so many martins in one spot will scare snakes away!!
Peggy Riley
Posts: 885
Joined: Tue Nov 11, 2003 1:21 pm
Location: TX/Tolar

He's huge! I don't mind dealing with the smaller ones but he'd have to wait til hubby got home!
PMCA Member
2017 101 pair
Posts: 3522
Joined: Thu May 24, 2007 1:57 pm
Location: Missouri/Licking
Martin Colony History: Colony started - 2007 with one pair
As of 2018 - 84 cavities offered, max # of pairs hosted - 82.

Glad you captured it and uggghhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!

I wouldn't have been able to deal with it either...when I see snakes I usually turn, do a fast 'high step' and go in the opposite direction and could be in the next county before I stop. :lol: :lol: I REALLY dislike them!!!
"Sometimes", said Pooh, "the smallest things take up the most room in your heart."
2016 - 82 pair
2015 - 76 pair
2014 - 75 pair
2013 - 75 pair
2012-72 pair
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