“Hey Steve, you want to go looking for snakes today?”
“Yeah, giving me a few minutes and I’ll be ready”
That’s how it started on a late September morning, my first time “herping”, which basically means intentionally looking for reptiles and amphibians.
In the past I have come across snakes while hiking, but I was never crazy enough to actually look for them until today.
My friend Steve, was preparing to go back to China to teach. He would be leaving near the end of October and it would be one my last chances to go with him on one of his expeditions.
Steve is a herpetologist who has worked with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Southern Illinois University on various reptile and amphibian projects. In 2005, he discovered a previously unknown genus and species of salamander in Korea, which is named after him, Karsenia koreana.
Not a bad person to go with on your first time herping. I knew he would keep me safe and provide the opportunity to photograph some cool snakes.
1st Stop: Flipp’n Tin
After meeting up with Steve, our first stop was private land near Jonesboro. This is where I was introduced to the Art of Flipp’n Tin.
Snakes are attracted to the undersides of flat objects that retain heat and we had found tin heaven. The place we visited had hundreds of pieces of tin just waiting to be turned over.
Like most people, I instinctively have a dislike for snakes, but over the years I have noticed that even when I unexpectedly come upon rattlesnakes, copperheads, or cottonmouths they really did not want to have anything to do with people.
After about 30-40 minutes of searching we found our first snake and it was a whopper! The colorful and tiny Ringneck was situated between two sheets of tin.
The ringneck is non-venomous and is unmistakable. It lives up to its name with a pale orange ring around its neck. Its top color is brownish-black and sports an orange underside.
They can reach 16 inches in length and prefer places like we found it and under rocks.
Dekay’s Brown Snake
Flipp’n some more tin, produced another small snake that resembled the ringneck snake without the ring.
The Dekay’s Brown snake reaches about the same length as the ringneck at around 18 inches. They are abundant in Illinois, but can be hard to see without looking for them. They are found in many different habitats throughout Southern Illinois.
Black Common King Snake
After flipping hundreds of pieces of tin, we made our way to another private location just on the outskirts of Alto Pass. There we found a copperhead and a king snake.
This was the first time I had encountered a king snake and it soon become one of my favorite. This snake is easy to identify with its glossy black scales and yellowish/white dots.
They can reach up to four feet in length and are fairly common in the Shawnee Hills, but they usually stay out-of-sight.
First, as if you didn’t already know, I am no snake expert. The best policy is to never provoke or handle any snake. If you do encounter a snake on the trail the best action is to slowly move away always keeping your eyes on its location.
The best policy to avoid encounters is to constantly be on the lookout for snakes. If you are with a group on a narrow trail and you are the one in the lead, it is your responsibility to be scanning.
Check Out this website for information on How to Prevent or Respond to a Snake Bite.
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