Chicago Garter Snake

by Carl Strang

After nearly two years at Mayslake Forest Preserve I finally saw my first snake yesterday. I had heard reports of 4 or 5 sightings over the two years, and a staff member showed me photos of a Chicago garter snake that appeared in front of the mansion one day last summer, but given the amount of time I have spent out on the preserve I feel that I can safely say the preserve’s snake populations are small. I used the plural there because one description was of a probable fox snake. The reptile I saw yesterday was a Chicago garter snake.

This is a subspecies of the eastern garter snake that occurs in northeast Illinois. It is characterized by black spots that interrupt and cut across the pale side stripes in the front part of the body. Those side stripes are on the second and third scale rows up from the belly scales.

At this time of year it is likely that this 2-foot-long male was not far from a hibernaculum he has used in the past. There are several human structures nearby that might give access through the morainal clay to a space below the frost line. He was missing the tip of his tail, which gives me hope that I will be able to recognize him if I encounter him again.

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