Trip Details

Location: Jackson County, Iowa

Weather: 80 degrees. Sunny and breezy.

Time: 12:30 p.m.

Herpers: Jim Scharosch

I went out to a spot in Jackson county (no, a different one this time) where we have been monitoring a ratsnake den. We have seen timber rattlesnakes in this area so I was hoping to see a timber as well.

I headed straight to the outcrop that holds the ratsnake den, and right off the bat I saw the telltale shiny black scales of a Western Ratsnake (Pantherophis obsoletus) in a crevice.

I didn't try to coax the snake out, but I could tell it was a fairly large adult. I have mentioned this before, but in other parts of the country, ratsnakes are common, but in Iowa they are a pretty cool find.

A couple of feet away there was the head of another ratsnake poking out of a crevice. I grabbed a quick shot before it pulled back into the crevice.

I moved further along the outcrop and saw a Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) basking in a crevice.

This is fairly common here as we often see watersnakes and milksnakes sharing this den site with the ratsnakes. This one was about eighteen inches long.

As I was peering through the camera viewfinder taking photos of the watersnake, my peripheral vision caught some motion and I realized something was falling off the rock face. I instinctively reached out and caught it, and was rewarded with a bite on the finger from this twelve inch long neonate ratsnake.

It was nice to see that there had been a successful reproduction again this year and that at least this one baby had made its way to the den. When I was taking pictures this little guy kept trying to strike at me and was launching himself off of the rocks. I'm guessing that was what had happened when he first fell off the outcrop. I also got thinking how I was glad that I wasn't in an area where there were timbers at the moment. The outcome of my instinctive grab wouldn't have been as positive if it had been a baby timber.

As I was getting ready to take photos of the ratsnake, this Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis) came crawling past my feet and tried to take refuge in the outcrop. I just grabbed a quick shot.

I released the ratsnake and saw this larger watersnake on the face of the outcrop.

It was a little over two feet long. I spotted one last watersnake back in a crevice as I was leaving.

I went over to the area with the timber den and saw a couple more gartersnakes. I didn't take any photos. No timbers today, but that wasn't a surprise as we haven't been seeing them there consistently for a number of years.

All in all, even without any timbers it was a nice way to end the season.

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