Snake Pregnant, or Great With Egg?

How to account for this snake's conspicuous lumpiness?

Pulling the black plastic off the woodpile in the spring is always an adventure in biology–first, a very large wolf spider the other day. I’ve seen bigger, but this one, I’ll admit, startled me after a long (though admittedly tepid) winter’s absence of activity other than mine at the wood stacks.

But when I pulled the plastic cover back another two feet, I really did jump back. What I saw at first glance was a black snake that was two inches thick!

Then I realized it was only a three inch segment about two thirds towards the tail that was this thick. What was going on?

My first thought was “this is the varmint that has been eating our hen eggs over the past couple of years.” But the suspicious lump was too far back to be the snake’s stomach. And from the looks of it, it had been thusly swollen for some while, the area muddy and a bit abraded.

What does a pregnant snake look like? This degree of enlargement certainly limits where this snake can go to hide or hunt. Could it be a tumor?

I’m hoping somebody out there has an answer. I’m guessing I’ll see this critter again before the summer is over.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Hmm… that does not look normal to me. That is not what a gravid snake looks like, at any rate. It is hard to tell from the pic since I can’t see the head or tail, but are you sure about the “2/3 towards the tail” part? It looks more like the middle of the snake to me, but again, hard to tell from this pic. The bulge does not look to be in the right place to be from being egg-bound, nor does it look to be in the right place to be swollen hemipenes. If the bulge is more in the middle of the snake, it could be from a large food item, or it could be the end stages of gastric cryptosporidia, in which case probably the next time you see this snake it will be dead.

  2. I watched it slowly crawl off the woodpile after our photoshoot. The lump was definitely in the distal half. My best guess was disease state, other possibilities as you suggest not being consistent with what I was seeing. Very odd!

  3. Fred – Thank you for NOT showing (or perhaps even taking ) a picture of the Wolf Spider. . . PLEASE no pics of them EVER!!