The Western Foxsnake
Wisconsin status: common
length: 36-56 inches
Coil, Rattle and Strike
There are 20 kinds (species) of snakes found in Wisconsin. Only two are venomous and this is NOT one of them. You can tell because the foxsnake's eye is round in shape and not elliptical like a cat's eye. Unfortunately, many people mistake their coloration; a tan body with reddish-brown blotchy patches; as a venomous copperhead snake and kill them out of fear. (We don't have copperheads in Wisconsin.) They will pretend to be a rattler--you'll see them coil, vibrate their tail quickly in leaf litter, and strike to scare away predators.
Whew, What's that Smell?
The foxsnake's name actually comes from the odor it emits when it is disturbed. It has a musky fox or skunk-like odor. You may be surprised by the foxsnake's large body, measuring 3 to 6 feet long. It's covered with 34 to 43 large dark blotches with smaller spots on the sides with a light gray to yellow background. The belly is yellow with square shaped dark blotches. The snake also has a dark band of color extending from the eye to the angle of the mouth as well as another line vertically between the eye and mouth.
I'll Squeeze You to Death
Foxsnakes are great rodent eaters. They strike their prey, grab it with their teeth and wrap themselves around it to stop its breathing. They are called constrictors. After they kill their prey, they swallow the animal WHOLE, head first! Yikes! Believe it or not, because of their unhinged jaw, snakes can swallow animals up to FIVE TIMES the diameter of their heads. Gulp. Look out rabbits, ground squirrels, mice, chipmunks, frogs, and birds, here they come and they're hungry.
They're Stumped, Oh Well
Foxsnakes live in dens found in old tree stumps, in humus (leaf litter), or under logs. They mate in late April or early May and lay from 8 to 27 yellowish eggs that are incubated until late August when they hatch. The young snakes are about 1 foot in length at birth. When winter is on the way, they look for a place to hibernate in groups, like in an old well. They can be found there as early as October.
Some people like to call them pine snakes because they live in pine barrens, but they also can be found in oak savannas, southern lowland forests, and dry southern and northern hardwoods. They like to hang out on the ground even though they are great climbers. They can be seen around the edges of forests and old woodlots where there are open fields, or near small creeks and streams. They are commonly found around the Yellow, Black, and Wisconsin Riverways. Their range is the Great Lakes region to South Dakota to northern Missouri.
Now that you know they're not venomous, they're not very scary, right? But I bet you wouldn't want to be a mouse in foxsnake country!