Western Ground Snake

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This is a neat little reptile that is highly variable in color and pattern. Individuals can be brown, red, or orange, with black banding, orange or brown striping, or be solid-colored.

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It only grows to about a foot in length. Being so small and prone to dehydration, in the desert it tends to be found near sources of water. In the rest of the southwestern United States, its preferred habitat is dry, rocky areas with loose soil.

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These snakes are seldom seen in the open; they remain hidden under flat rocks during the day. They may become active on the ground surface at night. In hot weather, they burrow underground to find cooler temperatures and higher humidity.

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The Western Ground Snake eats a variety of insects, spiders, scorpions, centipedes and lizards.

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It was awesome to come across this gentle, secretive species in the wild.

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Shawnee Kingsnake

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While visiting southern Illinois, I came across two of these fine serpents basking only a few feet away from each other.

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This snake is a naturally occurring intergrade between a Speckled Kingsnake and an Eastern Black Kingsnake. They have varying amounts of yellow speckles and in some cases a faint chain pattern on a dark body.

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Shawnee Kingsnakes average 36 to 48 inches in length and have shiny, smooth scales. One specimen that I found was going through a shed cycle and had eyes that appeared to be milky blue.

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These reptiles are quite adaptable to a wide range of habitats from forests and bluffs, to rocky hills, open woods and stream valleys.

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Shawnee Kingsnakes are powerful constrictors and predators of other reptiles, including snakes, as well as eating birds and small mammals.

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They tend to be slow and deliberate in their movements. They are a fun snake to encounter in the wild and I enjoy seeing them each time I come across one.

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Red Milk Snake

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I saw this beautifully colored serpent crossing Snake Road while visiting southern Illinois. It’s overall pattern is similar to the Eastern Milk Snake which I often find in my home state of Ohio.

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Its body color can be white, gray, yellow or light tan, with red or orange black bordered blotches. Like the Eastern Milk Snake, its belly is strongly checkered in a pattern of black and white squares.

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Red Milk Snakes are secretive and seldom seen out and about. They spend much of their time hiding under rocks and logs or in rodent burrows. They are not particularly large snakes, often only about two feet in length. They subdue their prey by constriction and feed on lizards, snakes and small mammals.

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It’s always thrilling to come across this boldly marked, colorful snake in its natural environment.

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Eastern Black Kingsnake

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Although this serpent lives in my home state of Ohio, it is uncommon there, listed as a “species of concern” and only found in a few counties. I’ve found several examples on different visits to various parts of Kentucky though.

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This is a shiny, mostly jet black snake with a white, yellow or cream belly. Some spotting may occur particularly along its lower sides. The adult length averages about 3-1/2 feet long. Like other Common Kingsnakes, its head is not significantly offset from its body.

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This species is a habitat generalist and can be found in hardwood and pine forests, bottomlands and swamps, farmlands, hillsides, meadows and suburban areas. Most of the examples I’ve found were under sheets of rusted metal in abandoned fields (including this one which has cloudy eyes because it is going through a shed cycle).

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Eastern Black Kingsnakes are powerful constrictors eat a variety of different kinds of food, including snakes, lizards, rodents, birds and turtle eggs. They are resistant to the venom of pit-vipers and they readily eat copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes.

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Kingsnakes are one of my favorite snakes to find in the wild and encountering these handsome reptiles has always been a herping highlight.

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Western Blind Snake

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While driving in southern California one night in late Spring, I saw this tiny creature making its way across the road. At first glance, the Western Blind Snake resembles a worm more than a snake.

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They rarely measure more than 10 inches in length and no wider than a shoelace. This snake is pink, purple, or silvery-brown in color, shiny, wormlike, cylindrical, and blunt at both ends. It has light-detecting black eyespots.

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Considered among the most primitive of snakes, slender blind snakes retain tiny remnants of pelvic bones embedded in their muscles as well as rudimentary leg bones. Another curious feature of their anatomy is that they only have teeth in their lower jaw.

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They frequent rocky hillsides with patches of loose, moist soil suitable for burrowing and canyon washes near streams. I have mainly found them under rocks near creeks in Nevada. Though it is probably quite common, the Western Blind Snake is rarely seen.

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Western Blind Snakes feed upon soft-bodied insects, especially ants and termites and their eggs and larvae. Its cylindrical shape and solid head allow it to easily enter the nests of its preferred prey. This unusual serpent is also know as the Slender Blind Snake and Western Threadsnake.

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Diamondback Water Snake

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While visiting southern Illinois I have occasionally come across this semi-aquatic serpent.

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They are heavy bodied with greenish-brown to brown hues and a dark net-like pattern formed by dark blotches along the back, with each spot being vaguely diamond-shaped. The blotches are connected by alternating dark bars on sides.

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Diamondback Water Snakes are non-venomous, but they can be extremely aggressive when cornered, striking and biting continuously until the danger goes away. Adults are typically three to four feet long.

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Their range tends to be concentrated along the Mississippi River, as well as west into Texas and Mexico, east to Alabama, with smaller populations in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.

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A diurnal hunter, the Diamondback Water Snake trolls shallow shorelines and deeper water for prey. The diet mostly consists of frogs, toads, slow moving and small fish, which are eaten live. Carrion is also a common part of their diet.

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Like other North American water snakes, the Diamondback Water Snakes give birth to live offspring, producing 20 or more babies in the late Summer or early Fall.

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Smooth Earth Snake

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I had my first encounter with this very cool species while visiting southern Illinois. It is a small (7 to 10 inches) somewhat heavy-bodied, brown-to-gray snake with smooth scales and a pointed snout.

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The Smooth Earth Snake is found in a variety of forested habitats with plenty of ground cover, but is most common in moist deciduous forests and edge habitats. Smooth Earth Snakes mainly live underground and are most often found hiding beneath rocks and logs.

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This species feeds primarily on earthworms, but takes other small invertebrates such as insects and snails. It gives birth to to live young, producing as many as 14 offspring in the late summer.

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The Smooth Earth Snake is an uncommon secretive serpent with a scattered distribution, so I was glad to finally come across one in the field.

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Mississippi Green Water Snake

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Here at Snake Road in southern Illinois, I am enjoying searching for a reptile that I have found on several occasions previously; it is only found in Union County and is listed as State Threatened.

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A medium-sized, dark-colored, heavy-bodied snake, the Mississippi Green Water Snake is greenish brown with numerous small, obscure olive-brown or dark brown markings. One might describe it as “drab”. The belly is dark gray with yellow half-moon-shaped markings.

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Although not venomous, like other water snakes, it may bite viciously to defend itself as well as secrete a strong-smelling musk from glands at the base of the tail.

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A unique characteristic that differentiates Mississippi Green Water Snakes from other types of water snakes in the United States is the presence of a row of scales between the eye and upper lip scales.

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These snakes prefer large, permanent bodies of water, especially in open country and around open cypress lakes and marshes. Compared to other water snakes, they are more abundant where there’s heavy vegetation and water currents are slow.

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It’s diet is a variety of fish, frogs, toads and salamanders. Mississippi Green Water Snakes are primarily nocturnal, searching for prey along banks of ponds or slow moving bodies of water at night.

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Like other North American water snakes, they give birth to live yong, usually numbering from 8-34, though as many as as many as 101 offspring were recorded in a single litter.

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California Kingsnake

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This reptile is a subspecies of Common Kingsnake, which have an extensive range that stretches from coast to coast.

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The California Kingsnake lives in a wide variety of habitats, including woodland chaparral, grassland, deserts, marshes, along rivers or farms and even in bushy suburban areas.

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Their food items include rodents, other reptiles, birds and amphibians.They are powerful constrictors. The “king” in their name refers to their ability to hunt and consume other snakes, including venomous rattlesnakes.

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This reptile is more active during the daytime in the colder regions of its range, but with higher temperatures, the California Kingsnake becomes night, dawn and dusk.

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Adults tend to be about three feet long. Although the distinctive banded pattern is common throughout its range a striped version occurs naturally as well in coastal southern California.

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I enjoy coming across this snake on my travels to California, Arizona and Nevada.

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Pacific Gopher Snake

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This large constrictor is native to the western coast of the United States. It is just one of the several subspecies of Gopher Snakes that we have living in the United States. I look forward to seeing more of them on my current visit to California.

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Although they can grow seven feet in length, most adults that I find are about half that size. I tend to find them in habitats such as meadows, fields and agricultural farmland; they are seldom found in dense forests.

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Pacific Gopher Snakes range from cream to light brown and have dark blotches on their backs and smaller dark spots along their sides. Young examples tend to be more boldly patterned than adults.

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Their keeled scales caused their skin to have a bit of a rough texture. Thier pointed head and enlarged scale in the tip of the nose are adaptations for burrowing.

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The Pacific Gopher Snake can produce a loud hiss when agitated or fearful. This species will also inflate its body, flatten its head, and vigorously shake its tail, when threatened.

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These snakes are primarily active during the day, though are sometimes seen moving and hunting at night – especially during warm weather. They are good climbers and burrowers.

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Harmless to humans, these reptiles are important to keeping the rodent population in check and maintaining their local ecosystems.

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