Slowinski's Cornsnake (Pantherophis slowinskii)
This uncommon, medium-sized snake is grayish-brown with a series of large, alternating, chocolate-brown blotches. These blotches are often bordered in black. It has a spearhead marking on the head. The belly is checkered black and white, giving it an appearance of maize. (Its close relative, the Cornsnake, gets its namesake for this belly pattern!)
This snake was long considered an intergrade subspecies of the Red Cornsnake and Great Plains Ratsnake, but it has recently been elevated to species status and named to honor the memory of Joseph B. Slowinski. These three sister-species are probably best delineated in Arkansas by simply consulting a range map, given that their ranges in the state do not overlap.
While superficially this species resembles the Prairie Kingsnake, the spearhead marking present on the head of the Slowinski's Cornsnake is usually sufficient for identification. An imaginary cross-section of this species, as with all of the Ratsnakes, would be shaped like "a loaf of bread" (i.e. rounded top, steep sides, and flat belly).
As young, this species can be distinguished from the Eastern (Black) Ratsnake be considering the dark bar that runs through each eye. In the Slowinski's Cornsnake, this bar extends through the jawline and onto the neck whereas in the Eastern (Black) Ratsnake the bar extends only to the jawline where it stops abruptly.
Little information is currently available regarding the habitats of this species in Arkansas. As with its sister-species, the Great Plains Ratsnake, it is an excellent climber and likely spends a large portion of its time up in trees!
Presumably, it follows an activity pattern similar to other Ratsnakes: hibernate through winter, breed in the spring, and lay eggs in the summer. Otherwise, little is known about the reproductive biology of this species in the state.
This species feeds primarily on small mammals and birds. Little information is available about the foraging behavior for this species. It is likely to use a combination of sit-and-wait and active foraging, depending upon the type of prey it is hunting. Much of this behavior likely occurs "above our heads" in the trees, or at night, or both! Prey, when caught, is constricted and consumed.
While individual temperaments may vary, this species is likely very similar in temperament to its sister-species, the Great Plains Ratsnake: tame and pleasant.
This species seems to use typical snake defense: musk and/or poop, bite if you have to, but primarily don't be seen! It is an amazing climber and blends in unbelievably with tree bark. Its nocturnal tendencies may also help it avoid potential dangers, such as day-foraging hawks and the like.
At the time of this writing, no information was available concerning the current conservation status of this species. At the least, it is sure to warrant a rare status by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. The lack of voucher specimens may indicate that further protections are also warranted.