Posts Tagged ‘snakes’


August 24, 2010

Earlier this summer we bought some snake videos for Moira, our resident herpetologist. I bought a set of four DVDs about reptiles, but she is really only interested in the two about snakes. One day we were watching the video that features Jules Sylvester. In this video he visits various places around the world, wrangling and rescuing snakes. The kids decided we should go outside and hunt up some snakes, so we went out to the garden. Aidan was getting a bit frustrated because he couldn’t find any. As I was explaining to him that you can’t just decide to hunt snakes and then magically find them, he magically found some. They were under a big piece of cardboard that was out in the garden area.

One snake was a good sized garter snake. I wasn’t sure what the other two were, but they were not any of the four venomous species found in Illinois. So the kids “played” with them. They carried them around, took them up to their dad and showed him, and had a great time. Until Aidan decided to see if one of the snakes had fangs and put his fingers in the snake’s mouth. The snake bit him, naturally. He was pissed and crying and bleeding a tiny bit and telling me we should cut the snake’s head off. I could hear Moira crying in the distance and I thought for sure that Aidan had done something to the snake and she was upset because she loves snakes so much. Much to my surprise, Moira was also in favor of cutting off the snake’s head (it’s times like this when I know they actually do love each other!). We did not cut off the snake’s head and I explained that I didn’t think a snake deserved to have its head cut off for biting a finger that was jammed into its mouith. The snakes were released and that was that.

Fast forward to yesterday. Aidan is mowing and he excitedly hops off the mower to tell us he found a snake. Before I can say anything or get over to him, he is picking up the snake. I told him to hold it properly by its neck so it couldn’t bite. At first glance it was not anything venomous. We shouldn’t have cottonmouths this far north. We probably shouldn’t have copperheads, either, but I think we might. Anyway, it was not a copperhead and I am 98% sure I could identify a copperhead if I saw one because they are very distinctive looking. I still wasn’t sure what it was, so we put it in a big, blue plastic tub and looked it up online. This is what it looked like:

A young snake

Picture of a snake we found in our yard

A snake we found in our yard

So I have no idea what kind of snake this is. I’m pretty sure it’s not venomous because it doesn’t have a “button” at the end of its tail. I know some snakes that it is NOT, but not what it is. We took these pictures and then released it down by the creek. So, any ideas? I’ve looked at pictures of snakes that live in Illinois and I can’t figure this one out. The problem is that snakes don’t all look the same, just like people. So one picture of a snake is not enough. I really need to find a naturalist or someone nearby to help us identify snakes.

UPDATED: My best guess at this point is that this is a bull snake.

*And just in case you are wondering, yes, we have talked about safety with snakes. But sometimes kids need to learn on their own. Aidan learned that snakes do have teeth and they will bite you, especially if you put your finger in a snake’s mouth.


What I’ve learned about snakes

September 23, 2009

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.

Snakes – some background

September 19, 2009

Recently I posted a picture of a snake that Tim had accidentally run over with the mower. In this post I asked for help identifying the snake. I received some really helpful comments, but also heard from one angry commenter. The person was angry because he/she thought that we had deliberately killed the snake. The issue was resolved, but I would still like to give a little background into the snakes on our farm, as well as sharing what I have learned about snakes in the process. I want to do this both to clarify my stance and to possibly educate others about the benefits of snakes.

First, I have to confess that I never thought about snakes in Illinois before we moved. I knew there were harmless garter snakes here, but I honestly thought that when we left Arizona we left snakes and coyotes behind. How wrong I was! I’ve written about the snake Aidan found and in that post talked a little about the snake that Farmer Clayton found. Farmer Clayton’s opinion was is, “the only good snake is a dead snake.” I wasn’t sure I agreed, but I was nervous about the possibility of poisonous snakes being in our yard, especially with barefoot country kids running around.

A couple of days after Farmer Clayton found the snake under the stump, Scott the Farmer asked me if we wanted to kill snakes. He said he usually just moves them. At that point I didn’t know what to think or to say. I knew that I didn’t want to be worried about poisonous snakes, but I’m not really into killing things just to kill them (except maybe ticks). Plus, I really trust Scott the Farmer and I figured he knew more about snakes than I did, since I barely knew anything at the time. I didn’t really answer Scott the Farmer and I didn’t think much about snakes for a while.

Then a couple weeks later, Aidan found another snake. That’s when I wrote the post Aidan finds a snake. Tim caught the snake and gave it to Scott the Farmer to relocate it. We thought that one was a copperhead, but now I doubt that it was. We’ve seen other snakes, too, such as garter snakes and some kind of silvery snake near the garden. One of the silvery looking snakes got in the chicken coop once. Needless to say, that didn’t end well for the snake.

Anyway, fast forward a month or two and we went to the local library to see the Snakeman, aka Gary Liesen, of Quincy, Illinois. I learned a lot about snakes that day, and more importantly, so did Moira, who was fascinated by them! She kept “going to the bathroom” because in order to get to the bathroom, she had to climb under the table where the snakes were (some preserved in bottles). It was really cute. A few weeks later we found a snake book at the library. It’s for kindergarteners and has a few words, plus pictures and labels at the end. Moira loves that book. She loves it so much that when we were in Phoenix and she wasn’t feeling well, she would plead for me to read that book to her. In fact, it’s way overdue and we should probably just buy a new one to replace the library’s copy.

Anyway, that book has been terrific. We know what a lot of snakes look like now, plus it inspired us to look up more information about snakes. We’ve read and watched videos about flying snakes, anacondas, boomslangs, sidewinders, and more. What we’ve learned in the process is another post entirely, but suffice it to say that my initial worry is pretty much unfounded and we definitely will not be killing snakes on this farm, unless we are in imminent danger. I will write more about snakes, but in the meantime I leave you with this really cool video about flying snakes (which are not found in Illinois in case you were wondering!).

Is there a herpetologist in the house?

August 15, 2009

This is the snake Tim ran over with the mower a few weeks ago. It’s a little squashed, but it looks very similar to a snake Aidan found.


After looking through a snake book we got at the library (Moira is fascinated by snakes and knows most of them in the book), I have decided that these pictures are not of Copperheads, as we thought before. Copperheads are called that because they actually have a solid, coppery looking head. Both of these snakes we have found have markings on their heads and the banding doesn’t look quite right. I’m no expert, though. I cannot figure out what kind of snakes these are. I don’t think they are timber rattlesnakes. They could be milk snakes, corn snakes, or prairie kingsnakes, but I am not sure. Most milk snakes are very colorful, but I saw a few pictures that had similar colorings to the ones we’ve seen.

According to this site, the prairie kingsnake is not in my county, nor is the timber rattlesnake, the copperhead, or the milk snake. I suspect this site is a bit out of date.  Anyway, at least it isn’t a copperhead because they are dangerous. If you have any other ideas, please feel free to post them in the comments.

Aidan finds a snake

May 18, 2009

OK, I finally finished a post I have been working on for a week. I have it scheduled to post tomorrow morning. Now, just because I spent a week on it does not meant it is some fantastic post. I hope it is, of course, but mostly it took me that long because I just don’t have a lot of uninterrupted time to sit down and write. So I write while the kids are watching TV or playing video games. I still get interrupted to get them stuff or to feed the cats, or sometimes I just have too many kids and cats on me to do any typing. Anyway, I hope you will like the post tomorrow. I wanted to post something that took a bit more time and that was more than a post about what we are doing here on the farm. I mean, I hope the day to day stuff is also interesting to anyone who reads, but as interesting as it can be, it can still get boring to read yet another post about kittens and chicks.

Having said that, here is another post about animals. The difference is that this one includes a snake. Yes, a snake. We lived in Phoenix for 8+ years and I didn’t see a single snake, even when playing in the washes at the park. We also rarely heard coyotes. Now we are in rural Illinois, which is not a place people associate with snakes and coyotes, and we have seen two snakes and hear coyotes almost nightly. Last week when Scott the Farmer and Farmer Clayton found a snake under a stump that had been lying in one of the crop areas since last fall. Clayton went to move it and there was a snake under it. He said it was a cottonmouth. Then on Wednesday Aidan saw a snake close to the front door (but up the hill, so not anywhere we would normally walk). Tim snapped some pictures so he could look it up. The guys say it is a Northern Copperhead. I don’t really care what it is called. I don’t really want any snakes in my yard where the kids walk barefoot! EDITED on 9/3/09: This is NOT a copperhead snake, but is probably a rat/corn snake.



Here is a picture one of the kids took of the Buff Orpington chicks we got last Wednesday. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I have not taken any more pictures of them. I suppose I’m trying not to get too attached to them since they are destined to be eaten. They are still cute, though. We put in a roost that we had used for the New Hampshire chickens when they were little. I’ve seen some of these tiny chicks on the higher roost and it is so cute!

Buff Orpington chicks

Buff Orpington chicks

The pink bucket had a bit of cow feed in it. It looks and is very similar to the chicken feed, so it’s not wonder they were confused.

Chicken in bucket of cow feed

Chicken in bucket of cow feed

Here are the big chickens (the New Hampshires) enjoying some cage-free time. This garden bed was unplanted at the time, so don’t worry! For some reason the kids had dug little holes and the chickens loved it.

Chickens in an unplanted raised bed

Chickens in an unplanted raised bed

The chickens eventually discovered that they could fit into the holes. I think this was the first dust baths we’ve seen them take. They really liked the holes!

Chicken in a hole

Chicken in a hole

This is one happy little chicken! She was even making some happy little sound and was really relaxed when the kids came near.

One happy hen!

One happy hen!