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The rat snake is listed as "threatened" in the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence region, but the population around our area is fairly strong. Its biggest risk seems to be its habit of lying on the road to warm up and not wanting to move for traffic. And the threat from cottagers who fear snakes and don't realise how useful the rat snake is at reducing the rodent population around their cottages.

The adults can be up to 8 ft long, and are easy to recognise as being effectively black on top and white underneath. But the juveniles are much more strongly patterned. They love climbing trees to raid nests. I was surprised to see a very large rat snake (probably over 6 ft long and the biggest snake I have seen in the wild in Canada) the first time I visited Otter Lake in the 1970s.

A young rat snake doing its best to climb the side of the house at the Ottery. They do love climbing! June 2017.

A young rat snake at the Ottery, July 2017. I stood still and it just slowly went between my feet.

Though we can't be sure, the two snake skeletons we found around our enclosed garden were probably rat snakes. Maybe they died by getting caught up in our anti-deer netting. Maybe another creature (like a fisher) caught them, although that seems unlikely as the skeletons were quite intact.

The strangest sight. Walking down the path to our dock near midnight we can across this small snake tied up in knots (in fact constricting its prey). Once I'd returned with a camera it had mostly straightened out and I realised it was an immature rat snake eating a bat. No sign of either the next day. August 2018

Another different experience. I came across this rat snake while in a kayak, half way between our dock and the point of land opposite. I raced to catch it up and when I got closer it stopped swimming, waiting for me to pass by. By the strong markings it is a young one, but already 30 in long. I'd thought at first it was a water snake, but what struck me was the way it was swimming on the surface, and its white colouring under the chin.

When we arrived back late one afternoon we wondered why there was so much squirrel-chatter. When we checked it out there was a rat snake coiled on a branch of the pine tree just in front of our house and a red squirrel frantically taunting it and diving at it. This went on for some time, with the squirrel moving to different positions around the snake, but the snake not moving other than to aim its head at the squirrel.

After looking carefully we saw that at the back of the pine by the branch where the snake was coiled there was a hole, which must have been the squirrel's nest. And there were bulges in the belly of the snake which must have been the squirrel's babies. The squirrel's chest shows some signs of blood, so probably she had suffered a bite from the snake defending her kids. The whole encounter lasted about an hour, the squirrel eventually leaving and the snake staying on the branch to digest.

Another example of nature never being far away at the Ottery... This big guy (over 5 ft long) suddenly appeared where I was working. It slowly climbed the rock face, checked out Anita's foot where she sat watching and then headed off.

Some are almost black, others show significant markings. We currently have at least two on our property which are 4-5 ft long.