Friday, May 21, 2010
An Interview with Terry VanDeWalle: Part 2
Range: Eastern (L. t. triangulum): IL, IN, IA, MI, MN, OH, WI; Red (L. t. syspila): IL, IN, IA, KS, MO, NE, SD
Size: 24–36 inches, maximum 52 inches
Description: Small to mediumsizesnake varying from gray to tan with series of white or yellow, red, and black bands. White or yellow bands never contact red bands. Reddish blotches on back and sides boldly bordered by black in eastern subspecies, reduced or absent in red subspecies. Y- or V-shaped mark near back of head (eastern) or light collar on neck (red). Belly irregular checkerboard with black on white. Scales smooth, anal plate single.
Habitat: Fields, woodlands, rocky hillsides, river bottoms, wetlands, outbuildings
Similar species: Copperhead has coppery, virtually unmarked head, single row of crossbands on back, no checkerboard pattern on belly. Water snakes have keeled scales, divided anal plates. Prairie kingsnake has brown to reddish brown blotches on back, never bright red, brown blotches on belly.
What’s your best snake story?
I was working as a naturalist for a county conservation board in Iowa and was showing live snakes to a group of senior citizens from a local care facility who were visiting the nature center. I had a small milk snake out and was showing it to the group. I was talking and not paying attention to the snake when I felt a small pin prick in my little finger. I did not think too much of it, but after a short time I looked at the snake in my hand to find that it had bitten me and was hung up on my finger and could not get loose. I easily got the snake loose while the group watched, and then I finished the session. Later on, as the group was boarding the bus to leave, one of the caretakers asked a little old lady in a wheelchair what she liked best about the trip. She responded, “I liked the snakes best, I have never seen anyone get bitten by a snake before.”
Beyond snakes and lizards, what other plants and animals are you especially interested in?
I consider myself a naturalist and have interests in all areas of natural history. In addition to reptiles and amphibians, I have done a lot of work with wetland plants, raptors, and bats.
What has changed in the outdoor world since your first days of trying to learn about it and protect it? What’s better, what’s worse?
A positive change is people’s attitude toward the natural world. Much of the credit for this I believe goes to environmental educators who are working with young kids to teach the importance of, and a respect for, the natural world. As a result, more kids are growing up with a strong conservation ethic. Unfortunately, at the same time, many kids are growing up in urban areas who never get to experience nature first hand.
Terry VanDeWalle, Snakes and Lizards in Your Pocket, with photographs by Suzanne L. Collins