Old wives’ tale? Myth? Made up story?

I don’t know for sure, but I do know that in Appalachia most folks will tell you to leave black snakes alone. They’ll even work to make them feel welcome. Okay, at least not unwelcome!

Why? There are a variety of reasons. They definitely keep the mice down in the barn. And they’ll rid your yard of moles or voles. They’re also thought to be a sign of a healthy environment. But the #1 reason mountain folk welcome a black snake is the notion that they’ll kill and even eat poisonous snakes. Most particularly copperheads.

I did a bit of digging to see if this is true and the consensus seems to be that while it’s not common, king snakes will sometimes kill and even eat a copperhead. So, apparently, the trick is to determine if you have a rat snake, a racer, ringneck, or the coveted king snake. Because regular ole black snakes are not only unlikely to kill a copperhead, they’re actually known to den with them (as well as rattlesnakes) for warmth. Talk about sleeping with the enemy!

Some folks will tell you that black snakes will mate with copperheads. This one I feel pretty confident in relegating to the myth category. Juvenile black snakes have markings similar to a copperhead that fades to black as they mature. It is not, however, an indication of crossbreeding!

Other items of interest regarding black snakes:

  1. They’re constrictors. They squeeze their prey rather than biting it.
  2. That said, they WILL bite as a last resort when threatened. And while not poisonous, the risk of infection is high if you’re bitten.
  3. Often, before they strike, they’ll emit a foul odor to warn you off.
  4. They’ll also vibrate the tip of their tails in the manner of a rattlesnake. Psych!
  5. They’re excellent climbers and can shinny up trees or poles to rob birds’ nests of eggs.
  6. They’re sometimes called “pilot” snakes thanks to the notion that they guide or pilot rattlesnakes to safe dens (where they just might hole up together). Ugh. And here I thought we were going to be friends.