My first thought was that they were hunting as a pride, much like lions do. But they looked so relaxed, even disinterested, that I thought this circle of cats had to be a coincidence. One cat licked absently at her tail.
Then it hit me. They were only pretending to be disinterested. They were actually acutely aware of something in the flower bed. I sat down on the steps to watch.
Nothing happened for a minute or two. I reached down to scratch Boo-Boy’s back and he flinched at my touch. He was annoyed rather than pleased. Obviously, I was destroying his concentration.
So I waited motionless with the cats. After a moment, something dark moved among the weeds. Was it an injured bird? A mouse?
Boo-Boy crept closer. I leaned over and saw it. It was a snake. Technically, it was just part of a snake. It was very black, almost blue-black. The loop of snake slithered through the Bermuda grass, showing only a section of itself at a time. It took several seconds before the tail appeared. I realized it was a big snake.
This snake had to be an Indigo Snake. They are found in the thorny brush country of South Texas and into Mexico. Indigo Snakes are non-venomous and harmless. Actually, they are better than harmless. They are beneficial.
It went around the corner and into a hollow the dogs had dug. It was a cool, shady depression under the shrubs. There it curled up. Boo-Boy could see it, and he edged toward it. The poor snake was beleaguered and maybe even injured. It hissed faintly. It vibrated its tail. I didn’t want the cats to harm it, so I shooed them away. Boo-Boy wouldn’t go, so as he crept toward the snake, I tweaked the base of his tail. He jumped a foot in the air, sure that the snake had gotten him!
I had to lie down on the driveway to get close enough to photograph the snake. It was about four or five feet long. It was a beautiful, glossy black. But it was not a happy snake. The tail vibrated again, and I noticed its neck looked sunken in on the sides. I found out later that these are common defense behaviors in Indigo Snakes.
I wanted to reach in the hollow and pull the snake out. I knew it wasn’t poisonous, but it still could bite. And it was as thick around as my forearm. It looked strong. I was afraid it might writhe. The idea of holding five feet of writhing, thick-bodied, black snake kind of gave me the weebie-jeebies.
Mind you, I wasn’t scared of the snake. I just wanted my husband to catch it, not me.
But I didn’t have to call my husband after all. The snake slithered quietly into our garage. I decided to let it be. After all, there was a cat door in the back wall of the garage. I am sure it left through that exit back to the wild.
I read later that Indigo Snakes are surprisingly gentle and almost never bite when handled. But it is illegal to keep one in captivity. They make restless captives anyway, rubbing their snouts raw by banging themselves against their cage.
Indigo Snakes need room to roam. An adult needs several hundred acres of brush, with access to water, to subsist. It roams about its territory going from abandoned armadillo burrow to burrow hunting for anything smaller than itself. When it encounters a rodent, a frog, a bird, even another snake, it overpowers it with its strength. The indigo holds down the prey with a coil of its body, but it cannot constrict. It just proceeds to grab the prey with its jaws and shakes it. Then it swallows. No need for venom or constrictor muscles. It is just a big, strong snake.
South Texas ranchers and farmers like the Indigo Snake. It so frequently feeds on rattlesnakes, that it can control that poisonous snake population. South Texans in the know have an adage: “If it’s indigo, let it go.” I like this approach to the Indigo Snake. In fact, I like this approach for all snakes.
A Texas Indigo Snake is indigo-colored on its dorsal side, but can be anything from cloudy orange to pale blue-gray underneath. There is usually some patterning on the head and neck as well. Juveniles look quite different. A young indigo may be two feet long at hatching, so you may think it is older than it is. Young ones are spotted with white and sometimes orange. Indigos don’t acquire that full blue-black coloration until adulthood.
Despite continued protection both by the state and the federal government, Indigo Snakes are still threatened. The biggest problem seems to be loss of habitat. They need acres of undeveloped brush to survive. And since they roam over hundreds of acres, they are bound to cross roads. A large snake crossing a road is sure to be run over. This is partly due to our human prejudice against snakes, I’m sure.
Since we humans will probably not stop our continued expansion into wild areas, we must be especially vigilant to not destroy the wildlife that is trying to hang on there. Please, please watch the road ahead of you. Give snakes a brake. Most are harmless, even beneficial. Let them live to add to our wonderful South Texas fauna. You will be glad you did.