Image credit: Carly & Art/Flickr
With a range that extends from Texas in the west to Florida in the south and all the way into Ontario, the rat snake is a common and important predator in North American forests. Opportunistic hunters, the snakes will eat anything from small mammals to squirrels, bird eggs to fully-grown adults incubating a young nest.
The problem, however, is that as birds struggle to maintain their niche in increasingly fragmented forests, the snakes are thriving.
Image credit: Furryscaly/Flickr
Fragmented forests, it has long been known, are not good for birds and many other types of wildlife. Patrick Weatherhead, a researcher at the University of Illinois studying North America's fragmented forests, explains:
It's not just that you've lost habitat, but the smaller chunks you're left with aren't as good for a variety of wildlife. The smaller fragmented areas attract birds but they don't do very well there. They've been called ecological traps.
Because snakes favor transition areas—which they use to regulate their body temperature, breed, and shed their skin—Weatherhead believed that birds nesting on the edge of forests would be more vulnerable to snake predation. His research, however, showed that this was not the case.
Still, what his team observed was that as birds were struggling to survive in the diminished habitat, rat snakes were finding their preferred range increasing.
The imbalance is just one more example of the dangers of deforestation.