Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hunt for the Bullsnake

For many years, I've been meaning to head to Kankakee. The sand prairies at the border of Indiana and Illinois harbor some unique species to the Midwest. One species in particular had grabbed my interest, the Bullsnake. Like the Northern Pine Snakes I encountered in New Jersey this summer, the Bullsnake is a member of the genus Pituophis. These snakes are large constrictors which prefer sandy soils where they can burrow, namely in search of prey and to lay eggs. Members of this genus are also formidable to meet in the field, as the larynx has a characteristic epiglottal keel, which allows the snake to emit a very loud and raspy hiss. Though quite imtimidating, Bullsnakes are completely harmless and play a vital role in the ecology of the Indiana & Illinois sand prairies. I drove down one morning in May to meet Todd Pierson, his dad Jeff, and John B. to hit the prairies in hopes of turning up a few species.

Artificial cover is the name of the game in the area, and we began to hit as much tin, boards, and junk as possible before temperatures got too hot. It didn't take us long to hit paydirt as Todd's dad found this nice looking milk underneath some siding at our first stop around quarter to nine.

Eastern Milk Snake - Lampropeltis triangulum

For an adult milk, this was a nice looking specimen as many individuals of this species get rather ugly as they age. We didn't spend too much time photographing this snake due to rising temps, so we quickly moved on to a few more sites. The ticks were really bad in this area, and I pulled more than two dozen off of me throughout the course of the day and even found a few stragglers hanging on after the four hour drive back to Michigan. The next few sites yielded some common species including a racer, juvenile milk snake, and a few garter snakes. A glass lizard was seen but got away before anyone could get their hands on it. We also drove past a monster DOR Bullsnake that had been hit the day before, easily in excess of six feet. After a few more stops and a lack of Bullsnakes, I was beginning to become a little bit discouraged as the temperatures had risen in to the low 80s with high humidity. We made one last stop at a heavily herped spot with tons of cover. I flipped this less attractive milk within a few minutes.

Eastern Milk Snake - Lampropeltis triangulum

I snapped a few photos of this snake, and then handed it off to Todd and continued on flipping. Eventually I came to rather small and unassuming piece of cover in the open and decided to flip it anyway. I'm glad I did, as this was found underneath.
Bullsnake - Pituophis catenifer sayi

This was an exceptionally marked snake. Yellows, browns, blacks, oranges. I grabbed the snake and was greeted with a loud hiss and a few strikes, which made photographing this snake a real treat. I had wanted to see this species for quite some time, and being able to get one under cover with such hot temperatures was extremely lucky. I only had a day to spend in the area, but plan to head back next year in hopes of finding a few more bullsnakes, a glass lizard, and if I'm really lucky, an ornate box turtle. That's all for now. Until next time, happy herping.

1 comment:

  1. I was wondering if you know of anyone breeding the Kankakee locality bullsnakes? I am in the UK and have managed to find a lovely Kankakee "type" (ie. marked like a Kankakee rather than genuine locality) male, and am looking for a suitable female for him. My email address is Thanks!