Monday, May 14, 2012

Queen of the Coastal Marsh

One of Michigan's largest and most beautiful snake species inhabits the once widespread coastal marshes of Lake Erie and Saginaw Bay. It is a large, powerful constrictor that is a member of the rat snake family and spends much of its time in pursuit of rodents, birds, and their eggs. It can be hard to imagine a large rat snake species roaming habitats like the one pictured below.

Coastal Marsh is an herbaceous wetland community occurring statewide along the shoreline of the Great Lakes and their major connecting rivers. Vegetational patterns are strongly influenced by water level fluctuations and type of coastal feature, but generally include the following: a deep marsh with submerged plants; an emergent marsh of mostly narrow-leaved species; and a sedge-dominated wet meadow that is inundated by storms. Coastal Marshes provide important habitat for migrating and breeding waterfowl, shorebirds, and our snake of interest, the Eastern Fox Snake. As my time in Michigan is once again winding down before I head out east, I decided to swing down to a few sites after meeting a friend for lunch in hopes of seeing one before I depart. Less than five minutes after reaching my first location, I saw this.

This was a very large female, well over four feet in length and basking right next to a man made structure. Jason Folt and I saw a bunch of neonates at this same exact spot last fall and it would indicate that the fox snakes in this area are utilizing a space under the foundation as nesting location.

Eastern Fox Snake - Pantherophis gloydi

This big girl was extremely gravid and I could even feel the eggs along the underside of her belly. It would appear that she is hanging around the area looking for an ideal location to drop her eggs in the coming weeks. It was exciting to see one of these awesome snakes before I take off for the summer once again. Unfortunately, this species isn't doing terribly well in Michigan as much of its coastal wetland habitat has been and continues to be lost. The Eastern Fox Snake is listed as a Threatened species in Michigan and any observations should be reported to the Michigan Herp Atlas. Sightings of this snake are increasingly uncommon, so if you get the opportunity to bump into the field, enjoy it from a distance. That's all for now, stay tuned for a post about when I got to go Herping with Dylan.

No comments:

Post a Comment