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Biological Survey

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. 
Believe 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 several 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 call me!
   (I'd like to come out and take some photos)              --------------------------------------------
Here's 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!



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