Canoeing, Walking, and Snakes!

Julian Wild
I had the pleasure of attending "Julian Wild's cooking and tasting
demonstration" presented by Paul Kosir and his family last weekend at
Wyalusing and it was wonderful! The Nettles Italiano was a tasty
delight but the hit of the evening was Blackberry Flummery. I
especially enjoyed the bass wood leaf salad. A big THANK YOU!!! to
Paul for sharing his knowledge and love of the park with so many of us
with his guided hikes and wonderful demonstrations!!

Coming up tomorrow is a guided canoe ride with Bruce Klang at 9:00 am
(either bring your canoe or rent one from concession stand) at the
boat landing. A walk though history with Bruce will start at 7:00pm
at the concession stand. Mosquito repellent and sunscreen are
recommended for both events.

Hope to see you at both events!! Kathy Paske

Matt Heeter Visits Wyalusing State Park
Published with author's Permission*
Photo by Jim Solberg

by Jim Solberg
“Here’s one,” shouted Matt Heeter. I’ve heard those words before and when Matt says them, it usually means that he has found something pretty interesting.

This time, the La Crosse herpetology expert was leading a field trip in Wisconsin’s Wyalusing State Park south of Prairie du Chien at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers. The critter he found was one of the targets of our foray, a black rat snake.

The two-foot snake was sunning itself in a rock structure where it had hibernated with several other rat snakes and prairie ringneck snakes. Unfortunately, the juvenile rat snake scooted back into the rocks before I could get there, and it seemed that most of the others were hiding or had already left their hibernaculum.

Matt then went downhill a few yards to look under some rocks and soon the exciting words were repeated. “Here’s one,” he said and then, “here’s another one.”

Soon he was climbing back up the hill with a couple wriggling prairie ringneck snakes in his hand. They were pretty little snakes with a satiny gray back, an orange ring around the neck and bright orange bellies with black spots. Even though these were full-sized adults, as Matt assured us, they were barely over a foot long and thinner than the average pencil.

To everyone’s delight, they were very gentle snakes and never attempted to bite anyone. They did, however, display one very unique trick meant to alarm a potential enemy; they coiled the end of their tails so the bright red belly was then facing the foe.

The dramatic display could obviously distract a predator from the vulnerable head, and most predators recognize bright colors as a warning sign — nature’s way of saying, “danger ... leave me alone.”

Prairie ringnecked snakes are very secretive animals, preferring, like the ones Matt found, to stay under rocks or rotting logs. They are mainly found on the bluff prairies and remnant prairies near the Mississippi River Valley in both southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin. In Wisconsin they are considered species of special concern.

During the summer the ringnecks might seek moister habitats, where they feed on worms, insects, sowbugs, spiders and very small vertebrates. Ironically, they are preyed upon by another snake, the yellow-bellied racer, as well as other prairie predators.

Later, after the field trip was over, I briefly saw another black rat snake as it quickly disappeared into another rock wall at the western edge of the park. Young black rat snakes, like all those we saw that day, are heavily blotched on a light background, while the six-foot long adults are a hazy black color with flecks of lighter colors between the scales.

While their much more common and lighter cousins, the fox snakes, are found in a variety of environments all over Wisconsin, the black rat snakes prefer deep woodlands in the summer, where they spend a lot of their time in trees. They mainly feed on rodents, birds and their eggs.

Black rat snakes are still found in extreme southeastern Minnesota, where they are a species of special concern, and in Wisconsin they are found in the southwestern counties along the Mississippi River and along the western parts of the Wisconsin River, where they are a protected species.

I have long puzzled over a large mystery snake that a friend and I saw in the east side of south La Crosse when we were kids — a long time ago. I remember it being as large as a bull snake or a fox snake, but much too dark to be either one. I now wonder if we saw a black rat snake many miles north of its present range. Hmmm.
*Ridgerunner Reports: Wyalusing field trip yields interesting snakes