What I’ve learned about snakes

When we moved to the country, I expected to learn a lot about chickens and gardening, but not snakes. Thanks to Moira and her interest in snakes and all the snakes we’ve found around the farm, we’ve learned a lot. So what have we learned?

I’ve learned that there are indeed venomous* snakes in Illinois and throughout the country. Most people probably think of diamondback rattlesnakes when they think of venomous snakes in the United States. I know that was what first came to my mind. However, there are many different kinds of rattlesnakes and they are found in many parts of the country. For instance, there are timber rattlesnakes, pygmy rattlesnakes, and the eastern and western massasauga rattlesnakes. According to the Institute for Natural Resource Sustainability’s (INRS) Illinois site both timber and massasauga rattlesnakes are found in Illinois, with only the timber rattlesnake in my county.

There are two other venomous snakes in Illinois: the copperhead snake and the cottonmouth. Farmer Clayton claimed to have found a copperhead, but I find myself doubting that it was a copperhead for two reasons. One, it seems to me that someone who believes the only good snake is a dead snake is not likely to learn about them and learn how to identify them. Two, the INRS and this article do not have data about copperheads being in my county. That doesn’t mean they definitely are not in my county, just that it is unlikely. Cottonmouths are in Illinois, but only the very southern tip of Illinois. We went to a talk by a herpetologist and he said that many people will claim to have seen a cottonmouth, also called a water moccasin, but many people think that any snake found in the water is a water moccasin.

I have also learned that many snakes have very descriptive names. For example, copperheads have a coppery head and cottonmouth snakes have a white mouth. The black mamba, which is only found in parts of Africa, is named for its black mouth, though apparently its skin also turns black as it gets older. This brings me to the hognose snake, which seems to be what we have found most often in our yard. It is so named because the tip of its snout curves up a bit.

As I said, it seems that this is the kind of snake we’ve found a few times. Some commenters suggested the hognose when I asked for help identifying snakes. In fact, the kids found another snake the other day. I’m sorry to say it was squashed, probably by the bike.

Baby western hognose snake

Baby western hognose snake

The hognose uses its snout to dig around in the dirt and sand. It primarily eats toads and frogs, but will also eat rodents and insects. I read somewhere that it will act like a cobra and sit up and act like it will spit. Of course, I can’t find that linkn again, so maybe I am remembering it incorrectly. The hognose can also play dead, as evidenced in this cool video:

I’ve also learned that many snakes are threatened or endangered. Most snakes eat mice, rats, and other rodents. When you live on a farm, this is a good thing! Between the cats, owls, chickens, and snakes we have not seen any living mice. We won’t be killing any snakes on this farm, unless they are threatening us. Even if we saw a timber rattlesnake or copperhead, we would probably try to relocate it or find someone else who could relocate it. Copperheads are generally not that aggressive and mostly hunt at night, so they shouldn’t pose a problem, especially if they aren’t even supposed to be in my county. It would really be great if everyone learned a little bit about snakes, just so they know how useful they are and how endangered some are. Somehow it seems that animal conservationists focus on cute, furry mammals. Perhaps they get more money that way?

*Apparently venomous is the correct word for snakes, as opposed to poisonous.

Also, I’ve made a snake page that includes links to all the posts I’ve written, as well as really useful links.

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3 Responses to “What I’ve learned about snakes”

  1. CELLULITE ANALYST Says:

    Best of luck with your new life in the country. What an adventure for you! We are in the process of buying a new house and while we won’t be going completely rural, we have been looking at a few properties with some acreage. Last week we put in an offer on a little 5 acre place on a road called Rattlesnake Run (named as such for a reason). The offer fell through, which is probably a good thing because the future in-laws HATED it! Oh well. Someday…. Thanks for sharing your adventures with all us strangers. Enjoy your little plot of paradise!

    • hippygirl Says:

      thanks for the comment! i hope you find your own plot of paradise soon. 🙂 Oh, can I use that as the title of a blog post? hehe. I need to take some more pictures for sure. It’s beautiful out here now with the leaves changing and falling and the walnuts falling.

      i need to read more of your blog. i read a bunch the other day and love the fact that you are challenging conventional medical “knowledge.” i got to the part about the lymphatic system and had too many distractions to finish reading.

  2. MARK KIRK Says:

    I love snakes and remember gardner snakes are harmless and good for the garden.

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