Snakes

Legless Reptiles

Snakes are one of DuPage County's two categories of reptiles (turtles are the second). As with all reptiles they are covered in scales and breathe with their lungs, but snakes are different than most because they don't have any legs.

Like several kinds of animals, a snake smells with its tongue, which picks up chemicals in the air and brings them back to two small openings in the mouth. There,  a group of special cells called the  "Jacobson's organ" transmits signals to the brain.

Snakes can also detect sound waves, even though they don't have ears. Bones in their jaws pick up vibrations that let the animals know what's around them — or on its way. Because their upper and lower jaws aren't connected and the tendons in their mouths stretch, snakes can eat animals three times their size. They're important members of any ecosystem because they keep populations of insects, mice and other animals in check.

Snakes have teeth and will bite if provoked, but most found in DuPage are docile and nonvenomous. (The eastern massasauga, a small rattlesnake, is the only venomous snake ever recorded in DuPage and hasn’t been seen in the county in 20 years.)

Eastern Milk Snake Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum

What It Looks Like

White and brown with 33 – 46 red or brown spots outlined in black

Where It Lives

Wetlands, fields and rocky, wooded hillsides

What It Eats

Small rodents, birds, lizards and snakes

eastern-milk-snake

Eastern milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum)

 

Garter Snakes Thamnophis radix radix, T. sirtalis and T. sirtalis semifasciatus 

What It Looks Like

Black with yellow stripes; grayish-green belly; only trained eye can tell the three species (eastern plains, common and Chicago) apart

Where It Lives

Forests, vacant lots, fields, pastures, wet meadows and marshes; tolerates cold and active year-round but spends most of winter hibernating

What It Eats

Fish, amphibians, young birds, earthworms, slugs and invertebrates

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Common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) 

 

Graham’s Crawfish Snake Regina grahamii

What It Looks Like

Brown or dark olive;  yellow or off-white belly; scales along back form a keel

Where It Lives

Still waters in prairies and along soft-bottomed, heavily vegetated lakes, ponds, streams, sloughs and ditches; not seen in DuPage in several years

What It Eats

Crayfish, fish and frogs

Grahams-crawfish-snake-JohnWilliams

Graham’s crawfish snake (Regina grahamiiImage by John Williams/CC BY-NC 4.0

 

Kirtland’s Snake Clonophis kirtlandii

What It Looks Like

Red and orange belly with black spots

Where It Lives

Crayfish burrows, wet prairies and meadows, and grassy edges of creeks, ditches and ponds; threatened in Illinois and not seen in DuPage in several years

What It Eats

Earthworms, leeches and slugs

Kirtlands-snake-AndrewHoffman

Kirtland’s snake (Clonophis kirtlandii) Image by Andrew Hoffman/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

 

Midland Brown Snake Storeria dekayi wrightorum

What It Looks Like

Small; brownish-gray with dark blotches on sides of neck and under eyes; two rows of dark blotches down back; light-pink belly

Where It Lives

Forests, prairies, floodplains, uplands, forest edges, fields and vacant lots

What It Eats

Earthworms and slugs

midland-brown-snake-JeffSkrentny

Midland brown snake (Storeria dekayi wrightorum) Image by Jeff Skrentny/CC BY-NC 4.0 

 

Northern Red-Bellied Snake Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata

What It Looks Like

Small and slender; black, brown or gray with one to four reddish-brown stripes; deep-red to orange belly

Where It Lives

Forests, moist woodlands, pastures, bogs and wet meadows

What It Eats

Earthworms and slugs

northern-red-bellied-snake-FynKynd

Northern red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculataImage by Fyn Kynd/CC BY-NC 4.0

 

Northern Water Snake Nerodia sipedon

What It Looks Like

Light-brown or gray with dark reddish bands; light-yellow belly; often mistaken for venomous cottonmouth or copperhead, although neither live in DuPage

Where It Lives

Streams, lakes, ponds, rivers and ditches

What It Eats

Small mammals, salamanders, small turtles, crustaceans, amphibians, and minnows and other small fish

northern-water-snake

Northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon)

 

Queen Snake Regina septemvittata

What It Looks Like

Brown or dark olive; yellow or off-white belly with two brown stripes down center and each side

Where It Lives

Banks of relatively unpolluted, rocky woodland streams with abundant crayfish

What It Eats

Crayfish

queen-snake-MattTillett

Queen snake (Regina septemvittata) Image by Matt Tillett/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

Smooth Green Snake Opheodrys vernalis

What It Looks Like

Small and slender; green; off-white belly

Where It Lives

Prairies, savannas, bogs, marshes, wet meadows, old fields and vacant lots

What It Eats

Spiders, centipedes, millipedes, slugs, snails and insects

smooth-green-snake

Smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis)

 

Western Fox Snake Elaphe vulpine

What It Looks Like

Yellow to bronze back with brown blotches throughout; often mistaken for venomous eastern massasugas, which hasn't been seen in DuPage for over 20 years

Where It Lives

Prairies, fields and pastures

What It Eats

Small mammals, birds, eggs and nestlings

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Western fox snake (Elaphe vulpine)