We found a rubber boa (Charina bottae) yesterday under a piece of black plastic that was covering a huge pile of mint mulch. (Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a big mint-growing region. Mint oil is locally distilled, and then what’s left of the plant’s organic material is sold by the truckload to area farmers and gardeners.)
Rubber boas, common in the Northwest, are slow moving and not the least bit aggressive. They are light tan to dark brown or olive in coloring and can grow up to 27 inches in length. They primarily eat rodents (hooray!) but will occasionally consume lizards, snakes, salamanders, small chipmunks, bats, and bird or lizard eggs.
According to Reptiles of the Northwest by Alan St. John, they are best know for the fact that their enlarged tail tips act as decoy heads, distracting predators away from their actual heads. When they feel threatened, they will often coil up with their head in the middle, and their tail exposed. They will also stab at protectant mouse mothers with their blunt tail while they eat up her pinky babies.
I’m certainly not the kind of person who is terrified of snakes, but don’t usually go catching them for fun. Rubber boas are the exception because they are a great introductory snake for kids. They are silky smooth, completely docile, and not stinky at all. When you pick one up, it will often coil around your hand or arm. The one we found yesterday was trying hard to burrow up the sleeve of my sweatshirt. After playing with it for ten minutes or so, we let it go back into its compost heap.