Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

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TeeJay
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Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by TeeJay »

Well I suppose its time to get this posted. I could have made it 3 times longer but I wanted to get this up by the end of October, so here it is:

The Lined Snake (Tropidoclonion lineatum) is quite possibly the rarest snake in Minnesota. (That is, until someone actually finds a Massassauga) Lined Snakes are only found in Rock County in SW Minnesota and all known specimens have only been documented within the boundaries of a certain protected area.

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Even the biggest ones look like small dull colored garter Snakes, but it's the distinctive "half-moons" on the belly that easily identifies them.

Lined Snakes are only found out crawling around during "Indian Summer" in early October. (Usually any sunny day after the first frost)

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...And most of the time this is not so easy: Can you see the Lined Snake?

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How about now?

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There it is. And its not even a neonate. (They get even smaller than this!)

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From 2002 - 2005 I had the opportunity to conduct field research in eastern South Dakota. The Lined Snake has been a state endangered species there since the 1980's (?) due to the fact that only a handful had ever been found in the very southeastern corner of the state. In October 2002, during the very last warm day of the year, and shortly after a frightfully violent thunderstorm, I found 13 freshly road-killed Lined Snakes on a one mile stretch of road. This photo shows more Lined Snakes than had Ever been found in the state! All found within one hour after the storm. No live ones were found. It was a heartbreaking start to the Lined Snake project.

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Here's a photo of typical habitat they're found in and along the Big Sioux River Valley.

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Another photo from NW Iowa:

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Lined Snakes are only found in areas of gently rolling prairie and cow pastures.

Oddly enough, the highest concentration was found near a housing development east of Sioux Falls.

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Sometimes the only way you can find them is on a bicycle or walking!

Road crusing from a vehicle is nearly impossible with these tiny snakes!

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Back in SW Minnesota again. Here's why they call it Rock County!

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Purple Sioux Quartzite is found throughout portions of NW Iowa, SE South Dakota and in Rock and Pipestone Counties of SW Minnesota. (This is not a result of wierd PhotoShop. It really is this color!)

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I grew up on a farm only 5 miles away from here. My Dad used to take us all out to this place on short "day vacations" and after he retired from farming in 1973, we both made many expeditions out here together. (Dad passed away in 2005 at 96 years old. Mom still lives in nearby Luverne, Minn. and we go to visit her at least once a month)

On October 16, 2010, we traveled back to visit Mom and to attend the "Collect the single dead Lined Snake off the park road" festival. (An annual event) I first found Lined Snakes on the north park road in 1972. The south park road was opened to the public in 1975.

Even though I have searched there every year in October, I haven't seen a single Lined Snake on the north road since 1986. They are now only found in an even smaller area in this county than ever before and I have genuine concerns that this tiny isolated population may be in danger.

In recent years we have found specimens in this area exibit an odd peach color phase, usually only on the belly. The latest one we found had a peach colored stripe on its sides too.

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Part of the research project was to gather information on the secretive nature and habits of these seldom seen snakes.

In July 2005, I found a young adult gravid female Lined Snake about 8 inches long in a ditch in South Dakota. With a state permit securely in my possession, I carefully put her in a small traveling terrarium and brought her home. The photo below shows the typical kind of habitat that Lined Snakes are found.

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Back at home I went right to work setting up a natural habitat for the snake. I got a ten gallon aquarium and proceeded to create an area where I could observe underground behavior.

First…I made an inner box of thick plexi-glass and filled it with ground up Sioux quartzite. (This would prevent the tiny snake from burrowing in to the center and completely out of sight.)

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Next…I filled in the 2 inch wide area around the edge with loose soil, mulch, moss and small flat pieces of bark. This would confine the snake to the very edge of the tank within visible range and would also create small pockets and hiding places.

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On the surface…I arranged some pieces of quartzite and a layer of grass clippings with a small water bowl. (The whole tank became very heavy now…so I put it on a piece of plywood with wheels for easy turning and viewing. And the bark trim looked nice in the close-up photos, too.)

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Last of all…a secure escape proof lid with plenty of ventilation and a full-spectrum 60 watt light bulb.

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Final ingredients: A dozen small Earthworms and one very small gravid snake.

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At first she was so heavy and clumsy…she moved around in the same manner as a huge Python! Inching her way forward and then pulling up the rest of her body. After a while she felt more secure and had much better traction when she cruised around just below the surface of the moss and grass

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She never really “tamed down” at all. At the slightest movement from me, she would freak out and panic and dart off to the other side of the cage! She continued this crazy behavior until the day she was released again. Most of the time, this is all I saw of her, if anything at all. Even though I had limited her access to only a small portion of the aquarium, she still had a habit of completely disappearing. Sometimes for days at a time

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This eventually became her favorite spot, just under one of the quartzite rocks. She also spent a lot of time during the afternoons just under the surface of the grass in day time temps that reached well over 100 degrees!

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After some time had passed, she began exploring the underground passages that the worms had made during the night. She gradually enlarged them and gained access to the open chambers down below.

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She continued tunneling and enlarging the worm holes till she had a network of underground pathways.

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It was never easy to get a good photo of her, even when she was right out in the front part of the cage. She usually went tunneling at night. This meant that I had to have the camera all ready and focused. As soon as I turned on the spot light (I didn't have a flash at the time) she crawled out of sight after about 15 to 20 seconds.

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She finally began spending more time in one of the big underground chambers right in front.

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Early one evening I watched her as she began hunting for a worm that I dropped at the entrance to her favorite tunnel. Down below you can see she has caught the scent and is ready to attack.

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Here's another sequence of photos where she has captured the worm and is dragging it down the hole.

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She finished swallowing it right in front of the camera. This is the only photo sequence I ever got of her eating. She usually either ate on the surface and dragged it under her rock or disappeared farther back down a side hole when hunting underground.

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Here she is all fat and happy in the chamber down below...digesting a big worm and carrying 7 babies.

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She had 7 babies on August 19 in the late afternoon, during the only 2 hours that I was out of town! I had hoped that I could capture the event on film…but she waited till I was out of the house.

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Each neonate was about 3 inches long.

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The babies were relocated to their own smaller terrarium with a similar set up as the mother. About a couple dozen tiny worms were introduced and each baby hunted and captured its prey just like the adult.

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After about 3 weeks…I began to notice only 3 babies visible at any one time. I began to fear that the other 4 had died somewhere down in the dirt. On the last day before release…I carefully dug down into the substrate and removed the dirt and moss. There…way down below nearly at the bottom of the terrarium…were the missing 4! All this time they were all doing fine and had, in fact, each grown about an inch before all 7…including the mother…were released on Sept. 14 back at the exact same location under the piece of concrete in the ditch.

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(Unfortunately…I didn’t get photos of the release…as that roll of film was accidentally exposed and destroyed.)

It was a fun summer science project!

During the summer of 2006, the Minnesota County Biological Survey concentrated on finding additional populations of Lined Snakes outside the park. Only one was found near the edge of the road, just outside the park boundaries.

No other specimens have ever been found despite the fact that a lot of likely habitat still exists in SW Minnesoat.

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TeeJay
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by TeeJay »

...Ooops. Minnesota! (Time for a break!)

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Carl Brune
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by Carl Brune »

Very cool and interesting post. Thanks for sharing that.

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TeeJay
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by TeeJay »

It took me over 3 hours to put this post together. When it was all ready to go, I accidentally hit the 'save' button instead of 'submit' and poof! Everything went black! (I nearly passed out !!!) Fortunately I hit the reset button and got most of it back, but it took me another hour to fill in the missing gaps.
Has this ever happened to anyone else? Jeez...I think I lost about 20 minutes off the end of my lifespan when this happened!

matt ignoffo
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by matt ignoffo »

Awesome awesome awesome!

Most interesting to me is the Indian summer observation. I did not know that and I won't forget it...Thanx for that.
Matt

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muskiemagnet
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by muskiemagnet »

looks like you spent a lot of time on the project. nice work. seems like you enjoyed it very much.

back to the massasauga comment. do you think they are exterpated? not looking for any locales, but do you know if they are still around? be tough to think they are not found somewhere in the vast mississippi river flood plain.

-ben

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justinm
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by justinm »

This is soooo cool. I kept a Worm Snake for a long time and wished I could have seen it more often. This would have been a perfect solution. I really like the small snakes and feel that they are unappreciated all too often. Good on you to make a great post on them.

Long ago I learned the hard way not to put my posts together on the internet. I use Word but you can use any word processing program to make a post save it and then copy and paste it to the internet. If you don't have word you can get a free Office type suite from this site http://www.openoffice.org/

Justin

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Chris Smith
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by Chris Smith »

Great post TeeJay!!! For longer posts you might want to write up the narrative in WORD (or some other similar program) as a back-up in case there is a glitch in FHF. GREAT POST though, I am glad you took the time to fix everything!! :thumb: :thumb:


-Chris

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Chris Smith
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by Chris Smith »

muskiemagnet wrote:looks like you spent a lot of time on the project. nice work. seems like you enjoyed it very much.

back to the massasauga comment. do you think they are exterpated? not looking for any locales, but do you know if they are still around? be tough to think they are not found somewhere in the vast mississippi river flood plain.

-ben
To the best of my knowledge there is only 1 vouchered Massasauga specimen for the state of Minnesota, and there is some doubt regarding authenticity (collected in the '30-'40s). There are sauga populations on the Wisconsin side of the river (within sight of MN), but a lot of the habitat on the Minnesota side has been destroyed by the Army Corps. of Engineers for shipping channels.

Would I be surprised if a massasauga turned up in MN? No. But will not consider them a species of Minnesota snake until someone finds a viable (breeding) population.

Just my 2-cents,
-Chris

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Tim Borski
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by Tim Borski »

Bravo TeeJay. This was over-the-top in the interesting Dpt!! Really cool stuff. (If you're still involved in this, please keep us posted.)
:thumb:

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Andy Avram
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by Andy Avram »

Very cool post. I really appreciate it when people focus on learning about the smaller, normally unappreciated snakes and herps out there. Nice job on the post. Hopefully you did (or will ) also put this on the main forum.

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Crazins
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by Crazins »

Very very VERY cool post. Well done and documented.

-Marisa

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Mike Pingleton
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by Mike Pingleton »

Fascinating! It's great that you had the opportunity to observe the snake's daily habits.

Lined Snakes seem to do quite well in urban and suburban areas, btw.

-Mike

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Gary2sons
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by Gary2sons »

Awesome post! :thumb:

Really liked your aquarium set-up. Good way to observe a species like the lined snakes.

Also congrats on caring for the mother and her 7 little ones! Your hard work paid off!

Gary

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Don Becker
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by Don Becker »

Do you think the burrowing activity would be the same in the wild where the ground would be more compacted? How easy would it be for the snake to widen a worm hole in hard ground?

iwo gross
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by iwo gross »

matt ignoffo wrote:Awesome awesome awesome!

Most interesting to me is the Indian summer observation. I did not know that and I won't forget it...Thanx for that.
Matt
Indeed.

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TeeJay
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by TeeJay »

Hey...Thanks everyone for the kind replies! I think Chris pretty much summed up the Massassauga situation in the state.

And as for putting things together in WORD first: I DID!! (Thats why it only took me an hour to re-do it) Good idea though, to have it a little more streamlined and organized before hammering it altogether.

Regarding wether they would behave the same in a more authentic hard-packed prairie environment: You should have seen the great big idea I had in my head before I made this scaled down model! I still have plans for more research like this. (Browns and Redbellys will be next) A larger, more elaborate, and more easily accesible design for observing these small snakes is on the drawing board.

Anyway...Glad you liked it. Thanks again. TeeJay.

MNHERPER
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by MNHERPER »

That was made up of awesome in its purest form. Thank you so much for posting this TJ.

will lattea
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by will lattea »

really nice post. This is the type of post I hope to see while searching through this forum. thanks!

John Kilner III
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by John Kilner III »

Being from MN but not frequenting the SW portion of the state I found this most interesting. Great post and fantastic observations. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and observations TeeJay! :beer:

FrogO_Oeyes
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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by FrogO_Oeyes »

This thread is a bit old, but would seem to be the most relevant and up to date on the subject. I'm hoping to take the kids out tomorrow to look for lined snakes - the weather seems particularly nice for it.

With regard to massasaugas, there's good evidence that they formerly occurred well up the Cannon and Cedar drainages and may have been widespread across southern Minnesota. With agriculture, drainage of swamps, and persecution of snakes, they may well have been wiped out in most of the state. However, they were formerly common near Lyle [Mower county], and were also recorded near Austin, Waseca, and Faribault [Rice County]. There is still some good potential habitat near Albert Lea [Freeborn], Waseca [Waseca], Austin [Mower], Owatonna [Steele], as well as counties bordering the Mississippi. I don't know if there's suitable habitat in Dodge county. They would thus likely have been made up of the two major lineages of eastern massasauga; eastern and Iowa. Timber rattlers also seemed to have been much more widespread. I've heard one "anecdote" of a "rattlesnake" from Kasson/Mantorville [Dodge], as well as a very recent report of a timber rattler there. I've also had one generic report of a "rattlesnake" from the lakeshore in Albert Lea, which seemed quite doubtful until seeing how much mixed swamp and hardwood forest is there, and learning of the previous likelihood of massasaugas there as well. There would seem to be a few places worth searching still, as recent results in Michigan show that they can still crop up many years after they are thought long gone.

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Re: Lined Snake. Rarest snake in Minnesota?

Post by FrogO_Oeyes »

With temperatures of about 22C, we found 4 red-bellies and one prairie skink at the south end, my stepson possibly sighting a lined snake in the grass. At the north end, he claims to have seen several garters , and I found a DOR red-sided garter.

Today in Faribault [Rice County], five red-sided garters on the crawl or under rocks at 20C, and a brown snake under talus, 4-5pm, and a couple of painted turtles basking. Also an AOR red-belly nearby on a gravel road about 5pm. AOR, but probably mortally injured. The forecast is still great for at least a day or two, if not a week, for more squamates. I haven't seen a skink in Steele County in a bit over a week, but red-bellies are still out.

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