Snake Season!

It’s a great time of year to see snakes.  As the weather cools in the fall, snakes are especially drawn to places where they can soak up warm sunlight during the middle part of the day.  That makes it fairly likely to see snakes (alive and dead) along roads.  In addition, many snake species overwinter together in communal winter dens – particularly in higher latitudes.  As they move from their summer feeding areas to those winter dens, they often have to cross roads and other open areas.  This puts snakes at risk from cars and predators but provides even more opportunities for interested people to see snakes that can be difficult to find during the rest of the year.

Yesterday, we spotted this beautiful young bull snake on a gravel road along the edge of one of our Platte River Prairies.  It was only about 16 or so inches long, but it did a great job of making itself look menacing when we stopped to take a closer look.

Young bull snake on gravel road along the boundary of the TNC Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

This little bull snake was doing its very best to scare me off, but it didn’t work.  Instead it got its portrait taken.  The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

As we approached it, the snake coiled up and flattened its head, making it look very much like a viper.  It was also wiggling the tip of its tail back and forth very quickly – a move that would have made a sound like a rattlesnake rattle in dry leaves (a great scare tactic) but wasn’t incredibly effective on the gravel.  As I moved in with my camera, the snake struck at me several times, but never came anywhere close to biting me.  Being a biologist, my response to all this was to lie down on the gravel and photograph the snake.  However, if I hadn’t known that bull snakes are basically harmless – unless you’re a small mammal or bird – I probably would have headed quickly in another direction.  The snake probably would have preferred that…

I felt badly that the snake was putting on such a great show to no avail.  Maybe I should have acted a little more frightened.  Instead, I photographed the poor snake for a few minutes and then left it alone – hopefully before I completely destroyed its self esteem.


About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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10 Responses to Snake Season!

  1. Lisa Woerly says:

    LOL nice job and love the pic. I had a baby bull the size of a pencil do the same thing to me this spring. You gotta give them credit for their fearlessness, that’s for sure!

  2. James McGee says:

    From the number of comments snakes must not be very popular. I guess people would prefer to be over run with mice.

  3. Renee' Ekhoff says:

    Love these guys! I do the same thing, at first it’s “OH! A snake!” then it’s “oooh! Let’s see what kind it is!” Great shot, thanks for sharing :)

  4. Sarah Holmes says:

    Love your posts, Chris. As a science teacher, I show your posts often to my classes.Thank you!

  5. Tim Siegmund says:

    Saw this photo ended up on the Nature Conservancy’s facebook page! Great shot! I always like seeing the coachwhips in the grasslands down here. A quick head poke above the grass and then off like lightning!

  6. Snake Facts says:

    Really nice post and great photo.

  7. James C. Trager says:

    The same day as you posted this, we had visiting Russian botanists at Shaw Nature Reserve. They were quite delighted with our flora, of course, but also with our finds of freshly molted and thus brightly patterned Thamnophis suaritus & Lampropeltis calligaster – Ribbon Snake and Prairie King Snake. (One of the visitors said I was “brrafe” (brave) for handling the king snake. ;~}

  8. Pingback: Using the Light When the Light is Right | The Prairie Ecologist


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