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Rare snake not seen in Vermont for 10 years slithers into spotlight

A man in a hat and button-down holds a black snake with both hands. He smiles and looks down at the snake.
Cindy Sprague
/
Courtesy
Luke Groff, a herpetologist at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, holds a black racer snake that was found in southern Windham County.

As far as wildlife biologists go, Molly Parren has had a pretty good run recently.

Parren, who was out tracking wood turtles last month in Addison County, took a photo that ultimately — and surprisingly — helped botanist Grace Glynn identify a rare plant that hadn’t been seen in Vermont for a hundred years.

Then, later that month, Parren was out with a group led by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department that found a northern black racer snake, which is on the state’s threatened species list.

“I think it was like a couple weeks after I got the news from Grace that, yeah, we saw the racer, and Fish and Wildlife was on a real winning streak,” Parren said.

Parren’s father worked for the Fish and Wildlife Department. And she has been doing this all her life, first as a young volunteer and now as a technician with the department.

“Sometimes you can get really discouraged. You go out and kind of feel like you’re going through the rhythm, and maybe we’re making a difference in getting these species here and hopefully helping them.”
Molly Parren

She knows it doesn’t always work like this: helping to discover a rare plant, and then a snake that hasn’t been seen for 10 years, but she’ll take it.

“Sometimes you can get really discouraged,” Parren said. “You go out and kind of feel like you’re going through the rhythm, and maybe we’re making a difference in getting these species here and hopefully helping them.”

Fish and Wildlife Department technician Molly Parren near the site in southern Vermont where the black racer snake was found.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
Vermont Public
Fish and Wildlife Department technician Molly Parren near the site in southern Vermont where the black racer snake was found.

The black racer is a large snake for Vermont. The one they found was almost 6 feet long. It has smooth, dark and shiny scales on top, with a white underbelly.

It’s not venomous but it can be aggressive, and it will coil and try to bite you when cornered and threatened.

Luke Groff, a herpetologist at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, said the black racer is more common farther south. It’s not on the threatened list in Massachusetts, but it’s a big part of his focus in southern Vermont.

“So I try to get out here,” Groff said. “We have volunteers that check the site. Some of the land managers check the site. So, try to get out several times a year to look for the snake, but for the past 10 years we haven’t found it.”

Groff helped gather a large group last month — 15 people showed up to blanket the area. And they were ultimately successful.

The Fish and Wildlife Department doesn’t want to reveal the exact location where the group found the snake.

Chris Bernier works with Fish and Wildlife and manages the state land where the snake was found.

Bernier said the department’s been supporting the snake habitat for more than two decades, which includes keeping some of the land open, and even establishing human-made dens. They've worked with the Agency of Transportation along the Route 91 corridor, where it likes to travel.

“The North American black racer, here, has been the focal point of a lot of our management activity on the property,” Bernier said. “That’s a decades-long effort, so finding the black racer here is really exciting.”

It’s unclear if the species left and returned, or if the biologists simply were unable to find one over the past 10 years.

But after a decade, the black racer does seem to have found a home again in Vermont.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

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Updated: June 25, 2024 at 1:02 PM EDT
A photo caption and the description for this article have been updated to remove the name of the town where the snake was seen at the request of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which typically withholds specific locations to protect threatened and endangered species.  
Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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