A late start to a planned beach adventure found Mr. B. suggesting that we find something else to do, preferably in Alachua County. This meant a county park, but our experience with county parks in Alachua has been that the parks are little more than boat launches with an occasional public restroom. Nevertheless, Mr. B. went on line and found a park at Santa Fe Lake near Melrose that he thought seemed worth a look.
When we ended up at Santa Fe Lake with no park in sight, Mr. B. said I had rushed him off the Internet before he could write down the directions, while I maintained that I knew exactly where the lake was: I always use the road to Melrose when going to Whole Foods in Jacksonville.
It turned out that while I knew where the lake was, I had no idea where the park was. We drove through Melrose and headed up the road towards Keystone Heights. I pulled out my trusty Gazetteer and elected to take a side road that appeared to skirt the lake.
We drove down the road, semi-admiring the lakefront properties, and then we headed north when the road turned away from the lake. Since the map showed that we were approaching a swamp, I continued to drive. We both enjoy a good swamp, even if a swamp wasn’t on the original agenda. I think we were doing that thing couples do when they get lost, alternately placing blame while simultaneously agreeing to forgo previously agreed upon plans.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something by the side of the road. There’s always something by the side of the road: a piece of metal, a strip of tire, burlap, an ear of corn, a dead armadillo. This thing I saw looked like black tubing and I swear I saw it flick when I drove by, so I called out, “Snake!” and slammed on the brakes.
I don’t know what motivates me to have to get a (semi) close-up view of snakes on the side of the road. I have seen, and almost stepped on, more snakes in the past two years than in the entire time I lived in California. I lived in California for two decades and the only snake I saw was at the California State Fair, so I can only chalk this fascination up to morbid novelty.
I stopped my car opposite the snake and got a good look. There was a lot of writhing action going on and I immediately identified the snake as a black racer. Except that it wasn’t one snake, it was two.
“Cannibalism!” I shouted. “One snake is eating the other one!”
From the vantage point of the passenger seat, Mr. B. opined that it was one snake shedding its skin. The snake (or snakes) was halfway in the grass by the side of the road and I strained to prove either of our snap hypotheses correct. Suddenly, the coiled lengths were out in the roadway and it was indeed a tete-a-tete battle. A larger racer had the head of a smaller one in its mouth, and they writhed and flipped and my camera wouldn’t work. I had just charged the battery and the thing wouldn’t power up…the sheer frustration of it! It was like the time Mr. B. and I saw the most remarkable storm cloud and I forgot that 1. my camera has high-speed burst capability and 2. that it also has a video feature.
I grabbed Mr. B.’s camera and wrenched the lens cap off while the struggle got livelier. The head of the smaller snake was inside the mouth of the larger. It was horrible and I had to photograph it. I have friends who have lived their whole lives in swanky city condominiums who really miss out. I used to be one of those people. Finally, I got the camera focused and snapped off a few pics before insisting that Mr. B. get out of the car and get some close-ups. As you can see, I am a very demanding girlfriend.
Mr. B. was out of the car for a minute when the smaller snake popped out of the mouth of the larger and began to slither towards my car. I put the car in gear and moved forward so that I would not run over the smaller snake (Mr. B. claims I was trying to abandon him) and the smaller crossed the road and vamoosed. The larger, exhausted from the battle, lay on the left side of the road.
Everything was going to be downhill from there, including the county park, which turned out to be a boat launch with a public restroom. There wasn’t anything worth photographing, but I’ve learned that I need to be ready to draw and fire my camera everywhere I go. You just never know.
(NB: Upon closer examination, you can see that the attacker is the smaller snake, which has the lower jaw of the larger snake in its grasp. Since several people have inquired whether this was a mating game, I am appealing to my more experienced readers to solve the mystery: Was this a dance of death or a dance of amour?)
COLUBER CONSTRICTOR PRIAPUS, the Southern black racer times two:
Do yourself a favor and double-click this one. Trust me, it’s worth it. If you are repelled by snakes, please click on a link in my blogroll. There are some wonderful reads out there.
A fine example of reptile cannibalism. Mr. B. said that he thought racers eat venomous snakes, but he wasn’t aware that they ate eat other. A free lesson in herpetology, and all because I hadn’t given Mr. B. enough time to write down directions to the county park!
While the attacker victim lies exhausted at the side of the road.