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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

For Goodness…. Snakes! Sneaky Slitherers in the Arb

<nces are, if you’ve ventured into the Arb recently, a snake likely crossed your path. The Arboretum is home to the eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), the little brown snake (Storeria dekayi), and the red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata), all nonvenomous. Oft misunderstood and underappreciated, snakes are actually quite beneficial to our environment, as they consume large quantities of insects and small mammals, and are also important sources of food for larger animals.

Garter snakes are the most common snake observed in the Arboretum. They range from 18-26 inches (46-66 cm) long and have yellow stripes on a brown, black, or olive background.
Little brown snakes, true to their name, are small (9-13 in/23-33 cm) and brown, ranging from brick reddish to nearly black. Occasionally, a lighter stripe down the center of the back or small black blotches may be seen. They live primarily in bogs, swamps, marshes, moist woods, and wooded hillsides.

Red-bellied snakes are even smaller, at 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) long. The belly is, as expected, bright red, while the remainder of the body is gray or reddish brown. These are the second most observed Arb snake, but are so small they often go unnoticed.

Because snakes are ectothermic (cold-blooded) creatures, in Minnesota they are typically active from April through late October. Soon the snake population will travel below the frost line underground to their hibernacula, or wintering areas. While historically the peak of snake-human encounters has been in September, globally rising climates and longer growing seasons may extend their active season later into the fall.

Humans are the largest threats to local snake populations. Roads and paths are dangerous places for snakes to hang out; they are frequently hit by oncoming cars while basking in the warmth of an asphalt road or are stepped on. They have a tendency to freeze in place when sensing the vibrations of an approaching vehicle. Please avoid stepping on innocent snakes crossing the path on your next Arb adventure!

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