As the citizens of Tupelo celebrate the Elvis Festival this weekend, it is with great pleasure that the Lady of Earth can report a recent sighting of Elvis. However, this sighting was not that of the king of rock ‘n roll but that of a royal eastern snake nicknamed “Elvis”.
For a few decades now, a great royal snake, descendant of the first royal snake “Elvis”, has patrolled faithfully on the same wooded hill north of Tupelo. “Elvis, the First” was about 6 feet long and was definitely the King of the Hill. When intruders invaded his domain, whether out of curiosity or goodwill, “Elvis” frequently came to visit him. He loved to bask in the sun on the porches and doorsteps. An encounter with “Elvis” was always rather surprising – at times there was a lot of shaking – but with a little encouragement, this gentle-mannered snake slowly and gracefully walked away. Sadly, “Elvis the First” has met an untimely demise. He was hit by a leaving car, but he must have had a loving relationship, as his offspring still roam the hillside.
The eastern royal snake is a shiny black snake with a chain-like pattern of white or yellow bars, and its belly is speckled with white or yellow spots. This species is usually around 3 to 4 feet long, but can grow to a length of 6 to 7 feet.
This native snake of the region plays an important role in the balance of nature. As a predator, it constricts its prey and feeds on rodents, frogs, other snakes and, unfortunately, birds, which is difficult for an ornithologist to tolerate, but this is how nature does it. . If threatened by humans, a king snake bites and can give off a foul smell of musk. (Just be happy you’re not a mouse.) Interestingly, king snakes are immune to the venom of vipers, like copper heads, cotton moths, and rattlesnakes. You don’t have to be a herpetologist to appreciate this species. With a little knowledge, even people with a snake phobia will tolerate a king snake, as it feeds on poisonous snakes.
The Eastern King Snake is generally rather docile and is frequently seen during the day, especially mid-morning or late afternoon. During the hot summer months in Mississippi, it is generally nocturnal. When not on the prowl, this snake takes refuge under planks or logs. The “Elvis” who lives in this neighborhood curls up in the pile of wood. Because this snake is gentle, it is popular in the pet trade. Even though the eastern royal snakes look rather fearsome, they are often preyed upon by hawks, owls, coyotes, and of course, humans who think the only good snake is a dead snake.
Unfortunately, in many parts of the country this once common snake has become a species of special concern. This decline is mainly due to habitat loss due to urbanization and agriculture, but fire ants, capture for the pet trade, and road mortality have also contributed to the decline.
At the end of every Elvis gig, the announcer would tell hysterical fans “Elvis has left the building.” Oh, how we miss Elvis! Fortunately, “Elvis” the Serpent King of the East is content to wander in its bucolic setting. Long live the king!
EARTH LADY by Margaret Gratz appears monthly in the Daily Journal.