Above / Naturalist Jack MacRae shows and tells Rotarian Nancy Quigley a few things about snakes found in DuPage County.
During a recent meeting of the Rotary Club of Naperville/Downtown, Rotarian Pat Benton arranged for naturalist Jack MacRae to talk about snakes—and to dispel local myths about snakes that hang out along the DuPage River. Benton also enlightened club members with the factoid that Antarctica is the only continent without snakes.
MacRae, who has had a fascination with the long, legless animals covered with dry scales since childhood, has been talking about them professionally since 1979. Today the naturalist has his “dream job” at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.
As he began his presentation, MacRae unknotted a plaid pillowcase where his live Foxsnake had been staying until his time in the program. All during his talk, the snake wrapped around MacRae’s arm.
A discussion of poisonous snakes in Illinois was the first category MacRae addressed.
With his Power Point presentation of photos and facts, MacRae said only four poisonous species are native to Illinois— the Copperhead, the Water Moccasin or Cottonmouth, the Timber Rattlesnake, and the Massasauga. All are uncommon, rare and seldom seen, especially in DuPage County and not along the Riverwalk as some folks report, he said.
The copperhead is restricted to the southern half of Illinois where it inhabits certain rocky wooded hillsides. The water moccasin is found only along the big rivers and swamps, also in the most southern section of the state.
The timber rattler is limited to the wilder areas of rocky bluffs along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. The massasauga, also a rattle snake, has a spotty distribution in swampy or prairie regions.
The closest poisonous snakes are a few massasaugas, native in northeastern Cook County. The common water snakes that curl up on rocks or traverse in the DuPage River are not “water moccasins, ” MacRae emphasized.
During his presentation, MacRae rattled off a long list of the flexible nonpoisonous reptiles that live throughout Illinois: Kirtland’s Snake, Eastern Racer, Ring-necked Snake, Ratsnakes, Western Foxsnake, Mudsnake, Western Hog-nosed Snake, Eastern Hog-nosed Snake, Kingsnakes, Milk Snake, Plain-bellied Watersnake, Southern Watersnake, Diamondback Watersnake, Northern Watersnake, Rough Greensnake, Smooth Greensnake, Dekay’s Brownsnake, Red-bellied Snake, Flat-headed Snake, Western Ribbonsnake, Plains Gartersnake, Eastern Ribbonsnake and Common Gartersnake are just a few of the species in Illinois.
Coincidentally, RCN/Downtown President Nancy Quigley had a photo of one-half a wiggly Gartersnake on her iPhone, a picture she had taken earlier in the week when a hawk likely dropped it on her sidewalk. (Note the first photo in the gallery.)
The Foxsnake, a constrictor, is the biggest snake in DuPage County, growing to lengths of 50 inches.
MacRae has presented his “Snakes of Naperville” program to local law enforcement officers to help when a resident reports an unwanted snake in the grass.
The Northern Water Snake is most common along the Riverwalk.
No names for snakes, please…
Good-natured MacRae suggests not giving snakes a name because they are not to be considered pets. In fact, even naming a species has become more descriptive in recent years. For instance, the Midland Brown Snake formerly was known as DeKay’s Brownsnake. MacRae joked that the snake first had been named after a dentist.
During the 30-minute presentation with Q&A, MacRae also addressed reproduction that occurs when a fertilized egg develops into a new individual. Some snakes lay eggs that hatch while others give what most call “live birth.”
The light-hearted presentation provided the good news that poisonous snakes do not live along the Riverwalk.
Earlier this year, MacRae presented an informative program about owls to the Rotary Club of Naperville/Downtown. The club, one of four different Rotary Clubs of Naperville, meets weekly at 4:44PM on Wednesdays at Hugo’s Frog Pond in the Main Street Promenade.
For more information about wildlife, plan a trip to Willowbrook Wildlife Center and then visit local parks. Willowbrook Wildlife Center is located at 525 S. Park Blvd in Glen Ellyn. For information, call (630) 942 6200.
Click on any photo to enlarge. Use the arrow to navigate the photo gallery. Thanks for reading. And thanks for commenting about any snakes spotted in Naperville.
UPDATE JUNE 21: Due to large response on and off-line since this story was first posted, PN is happy to add news forwarded by former bee keeper Pat Benton. Jack MacRae will present a program titled “Snakes at Sundown” from 5-8:30PM Sat., July 21, 2012, at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center. The cost is $30.00/one parent and child, $10.00 for each additional participant (Payment required in advance) This is a family program for snake lovers of all ages. There will be snake games, snake crafts, snake Q & A sessions, and of course, snakes. The event starts with a pizza dinner and ends with snake stories around the campfire.
The Willowbrook Wildlife Center is located at 525 S. Park Boulevard in Glen Ellyn. For more information and/or reservations, call (630) 942 6200.