Herping the Siouxland
Western Fox Snakes (Elaphe vulpina)
keeping Fox snakes as pets since I was 10 years old, and now, after all
these years, I am finally able to offer a few of them as pets too. The
snakes you see for sale down below are all captive bred and hatched from
2 wild caught/rescued adults. The story of how they came to be
permanent residents of our household began in 2011, with the
installation of some nylon mesh erosion control netting along a bike
trail near Mankato, Minnesota.
(I will provide a link to the whole story soon)
For now... I will introduce Rocky: (The female)
And Bullwinkle: (The male)
Western Fox Snakes (Elaphe vulpina)
The Fox Snake is a tan and brown spotted snake that can grow up to 5 feet
long. They emerge from hibernation during the last week of April. The month of
May is the breeding season.
On Memorial Day weekend I had the opportunity to
witness (and photograph) some rarely seen courtship and breeding behavior. These
photos were taken with a Pentax K1000 35mm camera. Remember...These snakes
are all completely wild. (No tame pet actors here.)
However...most of them were
so intent with courtship and breeding that very few exhibited aggressive
behavior. Only one thing on their tiny little minds: Reproduction!
This photo gives you an idea of how big these are. This one measured about 3 and
1/2 feet. Each snake was caught, measured, photographed and released again. Most
of them stayed around the immediate area and some of them were re-captured several times.
When 2 males meet they size each other up.
If they are an
even match and neither one backs down... the fight begins.
It can get a bit rough and one of them gets in a good bite! I didn't even see this
when I took the photo.
The confrontation usually involves a wrestling match as one tries to pin the
other one's head to the ground.
They spin around and
around like 2 ropes in a Tornado!
It gets pretty tight
and nasty towards the end. Below you can see one of them gets in another
did it! The loser crawled away and the winner gave a brief chase until he was
out of sight. A few minutes after the fight ended a female came crawling into
view. He picked up her scent on the ground and began following close behind.
lighter colored male was totally oblivious to me as I frantically snapped the
photos. The female was an unusually dark colored specimen. She had just emerged
from a nearby pond and was still pretty slow and cool to the touch. This was to
his advantage ...as I recorded the ground temperature at 103 degrees! He was all
warmed up and ready to go.
the mating process is just as rough as the male dominance battle. When
reaches the female's neck he bites her too! If she's ready to mate she
crawling and the male begins to wrap his tail around hers.
The chase and capture took place right out in the open on a hot sunny day.
after he had retained his new mate...he gradually guided her into the
shade of a
small clump of weeds nearby. There they proceeded to mate. They remained
together for about a half hour and paid no attention to me at all. I've
all of this before in captive specimens... but have never before
this in the wild. (I do have even more detailed and graphic pics of
mating but I think we'll stop it here for now.
About a month later during the last week of June (usually around the Summer
Solstice) pregnant females can be found crawling across roads and trails looking
for a safe place to lay their eggs. In 1994 I found several females out moving
around just before sundown and decided to bring one home. (I already had a nice
place all set up for her so I could photograph the procedure)
You should NEVER bring home a wild animal of Any kind unless you have
done extensive research first and can provide it with adequate care...even if
it's only a temporary captive!!! During the 4th of July weekend she began
the nesting procedure. The photos down below show a female in the process of
"building" a nest. In the wild they lay their eggs under a hollow log or large
flat rock...anywhere the eggs can be warm and moist and safe from predators such
as Raccoons and Skunks.
She began by digging out an area in the moist soil under a small hollow log. (I
removed the log when she started for better viewing and to take the photos) She
didn't seem to mind and kept right
on digging) She's actually turning round and around hollowing out a small
depression in the soil. She did this for 10 minutes until she had it just right. Then the actual egg laying began.
The eggs come out of the vent near the base of her tail. Each one is
inch long and is soft and flexible like a marshmallow.
Here comes egg # 3. An egg is laid about every 20 minutes. At the bottom of this
photo you can just barely see the snake's head. It
appears as if she becomes unconscious
just before egg-laying begins. Her head
drops down to her side and does not move through-out the process.
I've noticed this in other
too. No eye movement or tongue flicking
occurs during the several hours it takes to lay about a dozen eggs at a
This female produced 14 eggs. Shortly after the last one was laid...she
to regain consciousness and eventually left the eggs to hatch all by
them from the big observation cage and put them in a container filled with mulch
from an old rotten log. Here you can see the set-up I had to view and photograph
the show. Towards the end of August the eggs begin to hatch. These were kept
at room temperature.
in My little one-room non air-conditioned apartment was about 85 degrees) The
baby snake makes a slit in the soft eggshell with a tiny "egg-tooth" on the tip
of it's nose. This looks like a tiny grain of salt and soon falls off after the
baby emerges. You can see the sliced up egg-shells to the left. The little
snakes literally knife their way out of the egg! (These were hatched out in a 10
gallon aquarium with a nice "Autumn Scene" taped to the back. All
hatchlings are piled up under the light soaking up the heat. The momma snake was
released at the spot where I found her shortly after she laid her eggs. And soon
after these photos were taken...all of these little ones were released in the
same general area where the female was found, too. Young Fox Snakes are about a
foot long, eat small mice and can be found from about late August
right on up to the first blizzard of the Winter! They spend the winter
underground down below the frost line.
Adults will climb up into low trees and bushes and eat hatchling birds and
fledglings they can catch on the ground... but they are mostly great consumers of Mice, Rats
and Gophers and should be considered a friend of the farmer and gardener!