Massasaugas 2005

First Garter Snake

Walking the field

Not so easy to spot.

John carries several bagged rattlers

The 'new one', a big male

April 15th, 2005
Jim Scharosch
Ryan and Rich Thies

Sunny; light wind.  Ground temperature 84F at 0945.

A spring trip to see some Massasaugas.  It was a little later in the year than I like to go, but spring seemed to be several weeks behind this year and the vegetation was not as advanced as it normally is for mid-April.

Our first stop yielded only six Eastern Garter Snakes.  Jim and I walked right by one on the path in - I guess we were already slipping into a Sistrurus search image.  One possible catenatus escaped into a brush pile.  Ryan was the only one who saw it, but didn't get a real good look.

We moved on to another area and ran into some researchers doing a protracted study of Massasaugas at various Illinois sites.  Mike and John were doing a sweep of the area to look for previously captured snakes and any possible 'new' ones.  They had located one study snake already before our arrival.  We spread out to help with the search, looking everywhere from under rocks to beneath old garden furniture.

Unless they happen to be smack dab in the open, these little ground rattlers are hard to spot in the vegetation.  Mike and John spotted two in close proximity at 1140, and another large male at 1216.  At each capture site the temperature and other environmental conditions were recorded, along with the GPS coordinates.  The snakes are 'tubed' while being checked for a PIT tag and for paint patterns on the rattles.  It's a lot safer to do this with the business end of a rattler tucked into a clear plastic tube.

John spotted a neonate in some thick green grass, but the little snake was able to get away (it's easy to forget that these are venomous snakes - it's not like grabbing a garter).  At the same time, Rich (Ryan's dad) spotted an adult, a new one unknown to the study.  Of course, Rich had to give Ryan some grief about having to find snakes for him.

Along the way we found a nice adult Ornate Box Turtle.  I had seen a number of nice Eastern Box Turtles in this area, but this was the first ornata I had encountered here.

A Blue Racer rounded out the snake discoveries at this location.  Six Massasaugas altogether, five of which were captured.  I was glad that we were able to help out and add at least one more snake to the study by our efforts.

We goofed around a bit at another location, turning up a couple more garter snakes and a few Southern Leopard Frogs before we headed our separate ways.  It was great to get out in the field again with Jim and Ryan.  I was glad Jim was able to see some 'saugas today - it's a long drive from Iowa just for garter snakes!

Species Observed

Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus)
Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)
Blue Racer (Coluber constrictor foxii)
Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata)
Southern Leopard Frog (Rana sphenocephala)
Blanchard's Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans blanchardi)

Birds of Interest:

Brown Thrasher
Northern Parula
Redtailed Hawk


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