Bullsnake In A Bottle

Frances' trailer

Typical sand road

Eastern Milk - Photo by Ken Felsman.


Prairie Racerunner


"I found one in my yard a couple weeks ago, a baby one.  I put it in a bottle for these other snake men that was here, in case they came back, but it died the other day.  I threw it into the weeds across the road there - it was smellin' up my house".

"It" was a hatchling Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi).  We had knocked on the door of Frances' ramshackle trailer.  We were looking for snakes, and could we check around the dump across the road?  We sure could, said Frances. "And take every one you find!" she added. Furthermore we could check the debris around her trailer as well.

Rick Milas and I were up in the sand counties south of Chicago.  We were off the tarmac, cruising the sand roads looking for good places to find Bullsnakes.  There is a small isolated population of Bullsnakes in this area and in adjacent Indiana, confined to these areas of loose sandy soil. The character of the soil is poor for farming, which makes for poor farmers.  Indeed, the area is populated by the poor and poverty-stricken. The back roads are littered with trash heaps and abandoned buildings, which makes for great snake habitat.

The sandy soil provides easy digging for pocket gophers and other rodents, as well as for Bullsnakes.  The Bullsnake's "nose" is somewhat pointed as an aid to burrowing in the loose soil in pursuit of rodents.

We checked the trash piles around Frances' trailer first.  Plastic burned in a smoky trash barrel, filling the yard with an acrid stench.  I turned over a square of plywood near the barrel, and underneath was a nice Eastern Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum), my first enounter with this species.  Brightly colored for an Eastern Milk, and about twenty four inches in length, it was our first snake of the day, under the first board of the day, twenty feet from Frances' trailer door.

No other herps presented themselves in the rich habitat that was Frances' yard, so we headed towards the dump across the road.  A couple of lank, scruffy looking mongrels wandered down from the next house down the sand road, giving us the once-over with their noses and begging a scratch behind the ears.  Both looked like life had been hard for them.  Crossing the road we entered a patch of shoulder-high weeds, and decided we would hunt up that Bullsnake in a bottle, and confirm the identification.  After poking around in the weeds for some minutes I managed to find it, and sure enough inside was a very dead and odorous hatchling Bullsnake, beautiful with its black, grey and white patterning. Frances knew her Bullsnakes, at least.  Where there was one Bullsnake there were sure to be more, so we approached the dump with renewed enthusiasm.

What a dump it was!  Two acres of open field filled with tires, plywood, tin, refrigerators, car parts, chicken coops, worn-out modern office furniture, house trailer parts, and the assorted flotsam and jetsam common to all trash dumps.  The kind of dump a herper dreams about.  We spent the next hour and a half turning over the hundreds of objects scattered across the field - the potentiality of it all staggered us.

Unfortunately, the dump didn't live up to its promise this day.  We found a few Fowler's Toads (Bufo fowleri) and Prairie Racerunners (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus viridis), but no snakes.  It was early April, we rationalized, and not quite warm enough for optimal herping in Illinois, so we were prepared to come back and give it another try.

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