Pantherophis vulpinusWestern Fox Snake

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Geographic Range

Western fox snakes (Pantherophis vulpinus) are found in farmlands, prairies, stream valleys, woods, and dune habitats from the central upper peninsula of Michigan, through Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and into northwestern Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota. (Conant and Collins, 1998; Michigan Natural Features Inventory, 2004)

Habitat

Western fox snakes are found in grasslands, prairies, dune areas, farm fields, pastures, and woodlots. They are typically found fairly close to water. Like all snakes, they can be found basking near the edge of marshes or in grassland clearings. (Michigan Natural Features Inventory, 2004)

Physical Description

Western fox snakes are usually between 91 and 137 cm long. The published record is 179 cm. They are blotched snake, with light brown to black spots. The head varies from brown to reddish. The reddish head is often mistaken as a copperhead and often spells the end of that snake. The belly is yellow and checkered with black. The scales are weakly keeled. The young look distinctively different. The dark spots are rich brown usually edged with black or dark brown. The head has a dark transverse line anterior to eyes and a dark line from eye to angle of jaw. The lines on the head fade away with age. Western fox snakes have an average of 41 blotches. (Conant and Collins, 1998)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range length
    91 to 179 cm
    35.83 to 70.47 in

Reproduction

Western fox snakes mate from April to July. The female lays her eggs anywhere from late June to early August. She usually lays from 6 to 29 firm leathery eggs that are from 3.8 to 5 cm long. The young hatch from late August to October and are 25.5 to 33 cm long. (Rigg, 1998)

  • Breeding interval
    Western fox snakes breed once each year.
  • Breeding season
    Western fox snakes mate from April to July.
  • Range number of offspring
    6 to 29

Lifespan/Longevity

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    17 years
    AnAge

Behavior

Western fox snakes have good climbing skills but are usually seen on the ground in fields or marshes. When annoyed, irritated or scared these fox snakes vibrate their tail. Although most people associate this behavior with rattlesnakes, fox snakes only bite if provoked. Unfortunately these snakes are fairly large and, with the vibrating of the tail, are mistaken as a possible threat and is often killed. (Rigg, 1998)

Food Habits

Western fox snakes eat small mammals and occasional birds. They eat meadow voles, deer mice, eggs, fledgling birds, and newborn rabbits. Western fox snakes kill their prey by constriction. (Rigg, 1998)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Western fox snakes help keep pest populations down. They often inhabit agricultural lands and prey on rabbits and rodents.

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Western fox snakes are harmless snakes, there are no negative effects of this species on humans.

Conservation Status

Western fox snakes are often mistaken for rattlesnakes. As a result they are often indiscriminately killed. In fact, they are harmless and beneficial. Western fox snake populations also suffer from habitat destruction, illegal collecting, and being hit by cars. Currently populations of western fox snakes are considered stable.

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Andrew Brinker (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

hibernation

the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

References

Collins, J. 1997. Standard Common and Current Scientific names For North American Amphibians and Reptiles. Lawrence, Kansas: Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.

Conant, R., J. Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians Eastern/Central North America. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Johnson, T. 2002. "Snakes of Missouri" (On-line). Accessed 1 August 2002 at http://www.conservation.state.mo.us/nathis/herpetol/snake/snake4.htm.

Michigan Natural Features Inventory, 2004. "Eastern fox snake" (On-line). Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Accessed November 03, 2006 at web4.msue.msu.edu/mnfi/abstracts/zoology/Elaphe_vulpina_gloydi.pdf.

Rigg, D. 1998. Accessed November 13, 1999; now obsolete at http://birch.palni.edu/~drigg/wfox.htm.