I usually try to do my best in my writing to bust myths about nature, which often stem from anecdotal information that’s not accurate to begin with and is then passed on to others, sometimes for generations. But I realized recently that I had succumbed to a myth that is common here in Virginia — that the eastern ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) is a natural enemy of copperheads and will kill any copperheads they meet. It turns out that this is not true.
I started digging into the relationship between eastern ratsnakes and copperheads after a recent encounter with a medium-sized (about 4 feet long) ratsnake that lives around the cabin I’m occupying temporarily on a ridge south of Sperryville. At the time, I was standing in the driveway with a neighbor when I noticed the snake slowly crossing the driveway, heading for the main house on the property. It took a second, but as I stared at it, I realized it was probably moving slowly because of a large lump inside it that stretched out for more than a third of its body. I guessed it was trying to get to refuge under the porch to digest whatever it had just ingested.