This Saturday, the Little River Wetlands Project will be holding its annual Eggstravaganza Event, at which time kids and adults have the opportunity to learn about the eggs that have been laid and fertilized in preparation for the spring season. It will take place at their Eagle Marsh location and will be a created and fun time of learning.
So I got a call from the education director asking if I would be willing to man the Snake Egg Learning Center. I thought, hmm, I really don’t like picking up snakes, but she assured me that would not be necessary. So I’ve been brushing up on my snake egg knowledge.
So first off, most snakes lay eggs and do not give birth to live young. These are known as oviparous and are in the majority. Ovoviviparous snakes give birth to their offspring and include the garter snake.
The female lays the eggs underground in loose soil or sand, which acts as a natural incubator. She lays them and then abandons them, unless she is a cobra or a python. They will not let anyone near the eggs until they hatch. Depending on the species, a female snake can lay anywhere from two eggs to one hundred in a”clutch”. Don’t worry, I didn’t know what you called it either.
Snakes make their nests in hidden areas where the hatchlings are least likely to be disturbed, like tree hollows and abandoned burrows. Snakes also leave room for the baby snakes to move around once hatched, to better acquire food immediately after birth.
Snakes must also be protected from extreme temperatures because they are cold-blooded or ectotherm creatures.
So if you find an egg in the wild, how would you know if it’s a snake egg. Well I found these helpful steps.
Lift up your egg and feel its outer surface. If it is hard, such as an egg you would buy in the grocery store, the egg is a bird egg. If the egg is soft and leathery — with some give to it — the egg is most likely a snake’s.
Take your egg to a room at night and turn off the lights so that you have no exterior lighting in the room. In the dark, shine your flashlight on the egg and identify the shadow that is the embryo inside. If the shadow is in a ball shape and not in an oval shape, your egg is even more likely to be a snake egg.
Well, what are some of the common snakes you might find in the Midwest?
Common Garter Snake
The pattern and coloration of the Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) is extremely variable with either spots or stripes predominating. It is a wellknown and probably the most common snake in the Eastern United States. It feeds on frogs, toads, salamanders, fish, tadpoles, and earthworms. It occupies a wide variety of habitats—meadows, marshes, woodlands, hillsides, along streams and ditches, and in city lots and dumps.
These snakes are referred to as “Hognose Snakes” (Heterodon spp.) because of the upturned rostral or nose scale. It is believed that this feature aids them in uprooting lizards, toads and other prey from the sand. When first approached the Hognose “hoods out” (flattening their heads and necks) and tries to look like a small cobra. When hissing loudly, the Hognose also inflates their body with air, as they produce a show of hostility that would unnerve all but the stouthearted. Pictured below is the plain hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus).
Eastern Hognose Snake
The Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) is larger than the Plains species, but its actions are the same. When the bluff of the Hognose Snake fails to frighten the intruder, it will soon roll over on its back, open its mouth, give a few convulsive movements, and then lie still as though dead. When turned right side up, it will promptly roll over again, probably thinking that the only position for a dead snake is on its back.
Normally snakes swallow their prey beginning with the head first. The flexibility of the snake’s
skull and body enables it to swallow prey much larger than its own head. By working the two
sides of its jaw independently, the snake literally pulls its body over and around its food. Once
the food has passed the mouth, it is worked back to the stomach by a series of muscular
contractions in the snake’s body. Corn Snakes (Pantherophis guttata) are common in the pet trade, because they accept food easily, reproduce in captivity, and rarely attempt to bite.
Another species of Rat Snake is the Black Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoleta). These snakes
are semi-arboreal, spending a considerable amount of time in trees. Amazingly, they can climb almost any kind of tree by working their scales and muscles on the rough bark. In the spring they are known to prey on young birds in their nests.
This large black and white snake with a noisy hiss is called the “Bull Snake.” Due to its habit of burrowing underground, its presence is often unsuspected, even by people who have lived in the same area with it for years. It’s diet consists primarily of rodents, including the Pocket Gopher,
therefore, earning it another common name, the “Gopher Snake.”
The Worm Snake (Carphophis vermis) is a small species that is fossorial (living mainly underground). When held in the hand, Worm Snakes attempt to push their way between the fingers with both the head and the spinelike tail tip. Their primary diet consists of termites, ant larva and small insects.
Yellow Bellied Racer
This slender, satiny snake has a solid color both above and below. While the underside is always
yellowish, the top color may be light lime green, dark green, blue green, or grey green. The long
keen tail and prominent eyes help to identify this as the Yellow Bellied Racer (Coluber constrictor), one of our fastest snakes. Contrary to many folk tales, these snakes do not move that rapidly. Actual measurements have shown that the fastest species never travel more than three or four miles an hour.
Northern Water Snake
The Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) is harmless and is commonly found around most bodies of water around the U.S.. It’s prey consists of frogs and fish. It is an accomplished swimmer and climber, often found up in trees 20 feet high or more. The head is distinctly triangular shaped, again destroying the belief that only venomous snakes have triangular shaped heads.
Ringneck Garter Snake
The dorsal, or upper pattern and coloration of the Ringneck Garter Snake (Diadophis punctatus) varies between grey and black. However, each has a distinctive yellow or orange ring around the neck. The underside of this small, slender snake is brightly colored reddish orange. Being distasteful, this snake will show it’s bright underside to predators in hopes of being spared. The
Ringneck snake feeds on small worms and insects as well as baby spiders.
Looking somewhat like the Garter or Rat Snake, the Massausaga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catuntas) is at home in close to wet meadows and marsh areas. I slept on a big rock in the Niagara Gorge once and upon rolling up my tent, found one had nestled under me for the night. Yikes! This rattlesnake is known more for hiding quietly rather than rattling when approached. They are a secretive snake, commonly staying deep in tall wetland grasses and hibernating in crayfish burrows. The Eastern Massausaga’s populations are in decline.
The Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) prefers retreat to combat, but will fight bravely when cornered. Considerable variation may be found in the coloration of this species. The most familiar
phase is a yellowish ground color with wide, dark brown or black cross bands. The tail of some specimens is black. It’s food includes small rabbits, squirrels, rats, mice and birds.
With Copperheads, (Agkistrodon contortrix), the dark markings on this venomous snake resemble an hourglass when viewed from above. It is able to hide extremely well amongst leaf litter on the forest floor with it’s light and dark patterns that perfectly imitate the upper and underside of falling leaves. Prey of the Copperhead includes small birds, frogs, insects, and mice. While not a rattle- snake, it will rattle the end of it’s tail in the leaves as a defense mechanism. They are more common in the southern reaches of the Midwest.
Listed among our most popular and beneficial reptiles are the Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis spp.). They are powerful constrictors which kill rodents, other snakes, including venomous ones. Contrary to popular opinion, they do no prowl around looking for rattlesnakes to fight, but they will make a meal of any snake. They apparently are immune to the venoms of our native venomous snakes.
The Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) can easily be identified by the white or yellow markings against a background of shiny black.
Remember that the further south you go in the Midwest, the more likely you are to find venomous snakes. Speaking of which, snakes are venomous and not poisonous. Remember that poison is something you ingest, and venom comes from without.
So come on our this Saturday and learn more. I’d love to meet you.