Proof that I’m a biologist: While driving along a gravel road near our shop this week, I stopped and backed up to see if I’d seen a small snake or just a piece of debris in the road…
I’m glad I stopped. It turned out to be a redbelly snake, a species found in only a few counties in Nebraska. I think it’s the third one I’ve found in our Platte River Prairies, dating all the way back to when I was working out here as a graduate student in the early 1990’s.
Not a lot is known about the habits or habitats of redbelly snakes in Nebraska. When I got home with some photos, I contacted herpetologist Dan Fogell to confirm the identity of the snake and learn more about it. Rather than getting a lot of information from Dan, he instead peppered me with questions about where and when I found the snake because he’s trying hard to gather data and better understand the species.
This particular snake was on a gravel road between two crop fields when I happened upon it. The road ditches were full of old matted-down smooth brome grass. It didn’t seem like particularly friendly habitat for wildlife. Was the snake living in those ditches? Or traveling to other habitat? There was a small woodlot a couple hundred yards away, and a stream across the cornfield to the north… We released the snake where we found her, so whatever habitat she’s looking for, I hope she finds it.
There are a lot of species we just don’t know much about – not just tiny invertebrates, but also relatively large (and beautiful!) vertebrates. It’s another reminder of how important the collection of basic natural history information is. Conservation is difficult, but even more so when we don’t even know much about the species and natural systems we’re working to conserve.
I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to see and admire this snake. I hope my kids get the same chance.