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NOTES ON THE HABITS OF. BASCANION 
CONSTRICTOR. 

W. E. PRAEGER. 

Early in August, 1898, when staying on a farm in Hancock 
County, 111., I captured a fine black snake (Bascanion constric- 
tor), a typical specimen about five feet long. One hot after- 
noon we were disturbed by the alarming report that a snake 
was in the henhouse. I investigated and found the snake 
among the boxes and straw, but for a moment the species 
puzzled me. Only its head and a small part of its body could 
be seen lying on the eggs of a hen's nest. Immediately be- 
hind the head the neck was greatly distended, colored pink and 
yellow, with fine longitudinal lines of black spots. Closer 
inspection showed that the black lines were rows of scales on 
the greatly stretched skin of the neck, and its guilt as a nest 
robber was manifest. The snake lay perfectly quiet, and as 
seizing it by the neck in the orthodox manner was impossible 
without breaking the egg it had swallowed, I took hold of it 
by the body. As though in preparation for fight or flight the 
egg was at once broken, apparently by some muscular contrac- 
tion, the contents running out of the mouth, and the neck 
quickly assuming its normal proportions. During the five 
weeks that it was in captivity I frequently offered eggs to it, 
but no other food, for I was interested to see how such a 
small pair of jaws could encompass an entire hen's egg ; but 
it refused to gratify my curiosity, and ate nothing while I 
had it. 

The snake was kept in a small box, but was frequently 
released on the porch or lawn, and allowed its freedom for 
a while. Its one idea seemed to be to escape, though it went 
about it deliberately, and did not show any signs of fright. 
When touched, it struck quickly with open mouth at the object, 
but the wounds inflicted in this way on my hand were very 

597 



598 THE AMERICAN NATURALIST.' [Vol. XXXIII. 

trifling. Black snakes have been described as expert climbers, 
which my captive soon showed me to be true. On the lawn 
stood a fine black oak (Quercus tinctorid), the trunk eight feet 
in circumference, perfectly straight, and for fifteen feet with- 
out a branch. Up this trunk our snake would go, apparently 
preferring it to the smooth lawn as a way of escape. The 
course pursued was always right up one side of the tree, and 
no attempt was made to encircle it. The general direction was 
perpendicular to the ground, the irregular curves of the body 
being comparatively slight. Once clear of the ground, progress 
was very slow ; the head and neck were sometimes moved 
deliberately from side to side, presumably in search of a good 
hold. It never moved hurriedly, and there was probably always 
some part of its body not in motion, though this was not always 
apparent. It took close inspection to see that, here and there, 
the edge of a ventral plate was caught on some slight projec- 
tion of the bark, and even then the appearance of the snake 
against the perpendicular trunk of the tree seemed like a 
defiance of the law of gravity. The muscles were thrown into 
unusual prominence, and constantly changed in appearance 
throughout its length, their contractions showing the effort 
needed to make the ascent. 

Once while I was absent the snake escaped from its box and 
climbed up the smooth stone wall of the house, to a height of 
about thirteen feet, aided only by a few small nails and a 
wooden moulding above the arch of a door. 

In more favorable situations our captive showed that climb- 
ing by black snakes .was not necessarily slow and laborious. 
The ease and silence with which it could glide through the 
loose tangle of the vines (Ampelopsis quinquefolid) that cov- 
ered the porch railing was remarkable ; and to disentangle it 
from this, or from among the branches of some bushes that 
grew near, was not easy. A single crook of its muscular body 
across a branch made a firm hold, but it never twisted itself 
entirely around a branch. It would make for any hole that 
offered ; the hollow stump of a small tree was a favorite retreat, 
and when even but a short way into this hole it was no easy 
matter to get it out. The body was bent so that it was pressed 



No. 391.] HABITS OF BASC ANION CONSTRICTOR. 599 

against the rough sides of the cavity, and it was only by main 
strength on my part, and always with injury to its scales and 
plates, that it could be pulled out. 

Placed on a porch floor, the body and tail were lashed in 
strong curves from side to side, but forward progress was very 
slow. On the tennis lawn the curves of the body were less 
pronounced, and the forward movement more rapid. However, 
it was only when it reached long grass or rough ground that 
the snake straightened out and went forward with that myste- 
rious gliding motion peculiar to its kind. As an onlooker 
once described it, " when he strikes rough ground he quits 
wiggling and just scoots."