Herping the Siouxland
Bullsnake: (Pituophis catenifer) These huge snakes are the
biggest ones of all! The largest snake found in Minnesota...lengths of 6 and 7
feet long have been reported in the past. However...because of massive habitat
destruction...not only have the big ones disappeared but Bullsnakes of all sizes
have been squeezed into the last of the prairie habitat still remaining. These
snakes need a lot of room to roam.
They used to inhabit the wide open grasslands of western Minnesota, hunting Mice
and Gophers. But with the oncoming tide of agriculture and a changing landscape
they are now an increasingly rare sight.
I have only seen 4 Bullsnakes in all my 30 years exploring the Minnesota
Valley. (Two were road killed specimens) 1 was
found near Belle Plain in 1997 and the other was found near Granite Falls in
2004. (The other two were a breeding pair near the edge of the Minn Valley
Wildlife Refuge in May 2009. See story below)
Reliable witnesses have informed me that Bullsnakes have been sighted in
other parts of the Valley in the last 20 years but most reports turn out to be
Fox Snakes. (You can see why. These two species are nearly identical in
appearance and habits) One easy way to tell the difference is: Fox Snakes will
let out a quick, short, sharp little hiss (more like a sneeze) when they strike.
Bullsnakes...on the other hand...will puff up full of air, look you straight in
the eye and emit a blood-curdling HISSSSS that will make you wet your pants if
your not expecting it! (The sound can be heard up to 30 feet away) Here are some
photos of a big angry female I found one day in South Dakota in May...2005.
me...This snake was NOT laughing at the time! She was over 5 feet long and was
apparently already having a Bad Day when I came upon her on the edge of a gravel
road...all coiled up and ready for a fight.
She struck at me repeatedly as I reached down and picked her up...at one time
clamping down on my T-shirt (and catching several old gray chest hairs, too.
Youch!!!) So there I was...A huge angry snake attached to my shirt, my left hand
holding it by the tail, while all the time vainly trying to photograph it all
while my hat blew off and went running away down the road! One particularly
un-nerving thing about this encounter was the fact that she focused on striking
at my face while ignoring the hand that held her. This didn't last long, as she
finally clamped down to let me know the photo session was over!
Those of you
that know me wonder why I always wear wrist bands. Well...Here's one reason. She
surely would have left me with a couple dozen tiny tooth marks! I took her down
into the tall grass away from the road and let her go. As I was walking back to
my van, I could still hear her furiously hissing away, from a distance of about
30 feet!!! Later that Fall I found
hatchlings crossing that same road. The baby's were about 18 to 20 inches long
and as tame as pieces of rope. (Not like their big old Momma at all!) Bullsnakes
especially should Never be killed as
they consume a tremendous number
of Rats, Mice and Gophers every summer. Smart
farmers know this and actively protect them in some areas where they still
remain. I only know of one report of a Bullsnake in the Mankato area from about
10 years ago...but all indications point to the possibility that it was an
escaped "pet". If you have Bullsnakes still living on your property...Please
(I'd like to come out and take some photos)
the latest up-date on Bullsnakes in the
Minnesota River Valley:
Springtime and love is in the air! Also puts a new
twist to that old Beatles tune: "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?"
On Sunday, May 3rd, while on our way up to the Powderhorn Park May Day
Parade, Deb and I took a back road and found a big Bullsnake crossing a road on
the edge of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
After a few minutes we saw
another smaller one
crossing at the exact same spot.
Now we have
two of them. At first I thought the smaller one
was a female too, until I brought them closer together.
After a few minutes things began to get frisky...
...and as soon as I put them back down onto the side of the
road... realized we had a breeding
frenzy going on.
The smaller male immediately grabbed the big gal behind
the neck and then the real fun began!
They proceeded to go at it 3 different times until I finally got
them across the
road and into the ditch.
The female shot off into the weeds with the
amorous gentleman in hot pursuit!