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The Herps of La Crosse

Living With Herps

Easy Herp Monitoring

Herps as Pets

General Herp Info

Suggested Reading and Bibliography


About Me and Contact Info

Snakes Along the Trail

        There's just no way around it;  if you like the outdoors, chances are you'll eventually see a snake.  So, what kinds of snakes will you see when you're outside hiking along the trails?  Well, that depends on the habitat you're hiking through.  For instance, while hiking along the trails near the Myrick Park marsh, you're more likely to see Garter Snakes or maybe a Water Snake.  On the other hand, if you are hiking around the bluffs, you may be more likely to see a Fox Snake or, if you're lucky, a Black Rat Snake.  

What should I be on the lookout for?

            This may depend on the temperature and time of year.  In the spring, snakes will frequently be encountered on sunny patches of ground or rocks, soaking up the heat.  If you are out hiking, always try to keep one eye on the trail.  If you are rock-climbing, never place your hands or feet somewhere that you haven't checked for snakes.  Timber Rattlesnakes love to sit on rocky ledges in the spring to catch the sun.  If you place your hand near a Timber Rattlesnake, or any snake, it may think you are trying to harm it and act defensively.  Some snakes blend in very well with the ground (especially Timber Rattlesnakes) and you wouldn't want to accidentally step on one.  This is when you are more likely to get bit. 

Pictured above:  This is how Timber Rattlesnakes like to spend their days, wedged into rock crevices.  They are easily overlooked while hiking.  This individual was less than 15 inches in total length.  Had I not been looking for him, I would have placed my hand directly in front of his nose.  This is why people must always be careful when hiking or rock climbing in bluff habitats!

During the spring, snakes seem to be less active and MAY not move out of your way as you approach.  Therefore, be careful.  

NOTE:  As I've stated elsewhere, Timber Rattlesnakes may not move or rattle as you approach.  They depend on remaining hidden to hunt and therefore, might not want to give up the hunting location that they are already sitting in.  It's likely that they will remain silent and hope you pass them by.

    In the warmer months of the summer, snakes are more active and if you see one, it will likely be cruising across the path or slithering away from you as you walk by.  During this time of year, it is rare that a snake will not move along its way as you approach. 

NOTE:  This, once again, may not apply to the Timber Rattlesnake.

Will I see a Rattlesnake?

        The truth of the matter is, we live in rattlesnake country.  If you spend a lot of time hiking among the bluffs, you may at some point encounter a Timber Rattlesnake.  Remember that they will leave you alone if you leave them alone and don't startle them.  Also, if you are accompanied by a dog or on horseback, be sure to restrain your animal.  Large curious animals make snakes nervous and your pet may be bitten.

        During the summer months, males and non-gravid females tend to move into the lowlands at the base of the bluffs.  At this time of year, you may encounter them in yards (especially if you live in or near the bluffs) and golf courses.

        It is very unlikely that you will see a Massasauga (the other rattlesnake found in the LaCrosse area).  They are endangered in Wisconsin and extremely rare.  They prefer wetlands and the adjacent wooded areas.  I have never encountered one in Myrick Park or LaCrosse County (although I know they exist here).

What should I do if I see a snake?

        Try to determine what species is it (without getting too near). 

VENOMOUS SNAKES (see pictures below):

1) Have rattles on the end of their tails

2) have eliptical pupils (or cats' eyes)

3) have arrow-shaped heads

4) have heat pits near their nostrils

NON-VENOMOUS SNAKES (see pictures below):

1) have no rattles (although some will vibrate their tails against dry leave to mimic a rattlesnake, however they have NO rattle at the tip of their tail.

2) have round pupils

3)have more oblong-shaped heads (although some will flatten out to look bigger when threatened and may appear to have arrow-shaped heads)

4) have no heat pits

        After you've determined what type of snake it is, you can either watch from a distance, or carefully walk around it.  Make sure to keep a distance of at least 3 feet between you and the snake (especially if it is a rattlesnake).  Remember, if you leave it alone, it will probably offer you the same courtesy.


Pictured above: Note the elliptical pupil (cat's eye) of the Timber Rattlesnake (left) compared to the round pupil of the Fox Snake (right).  Also note the indentation below the snake's nostril (left). That is its heat sensing pit.  Now compare that to the Fox Snake, which has only a nostril and no heat pit.

Pictured above: Note the arrow-shaped head of the Timber Rattlesnake (left), compared to the oblong shaped head of the Fox Snake (right).

Pictured above: Here is the rattle found at the tip of a rattlesnake's tail.  Non-venomous snakes do not have this.

Report all rattlesnake sightings to the DNR by calling 1-888-74SNAKE

What should I do If I'm bitten by a rattlesnake?

Click Here


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