SNAKES! Love ’em or hate ’em, they are a part of life out in the country, but there are ways to keep them at a minimum. We have almost always had several outdoor cats and they were excellent at keeping snakes away. They’d kill a lot of them, and by keeping the mice population down they cut down on the snake’s food source. Some years back, we lost our last cat and went for several years without any. The snakes came back. For three or four years there were tons. So many that I’d walk outside and see one or two sunning on the patio. I didn’t like being “surprised” when weeding the flower bed. I was surprised several times a day, so I began shooting them. I felt awful about it, and for the last ten years or so, since the snake population was under control, I stopped shooting them and starting removing them to the field down below the house or across the road.
There was one snake in particular that was so numerous in the yard that you seriously couldn’t walk anywhere without a close encounter…. the hog-nosed snake.
EASTERN HOGNOSE SNAKE – Heterodon platirhinos
These reptiles feed almost exclusively on toads, with frogs and salamanders filling the bill if they can’t find any toads. They can reach about 46″ in length, and are very thick-bodied and heavy.
Hognosed snakes have a lot of different nicknames, but in this area they are called “puff adders.” They have behavior unlike any other snake! When you come upon one, it will raise its head, flatten its neck, hiss, and then “strike” out at you, mimicking the behavior of a cobra. However, although it “strikes” it doesn’t attempt to bite. It will actually bump you with its mouth, but it doesn’t bite. If this behavior is not enough to frighten a person or animal off, it will immediately flip over onto its back, and lay belly-up, pretending to be dead. If that doesn’t work, they will immediately start burrowing into the ground as quickly as possible.
The years when we didn’t have any cats around were a boon to the hognosed. They were everywhere around here! That was a few decades ago. I feel badly about it now, but I was shooting them left and right because I couldn’t stand it any more. After we got a bunch of outdoor cats again, I’ve only seen one or two of them.
EASTERN MILK SNAKE – Lampropeltis triangulum
Their major food source is mice, but they will eat other snakes, lizards, earthworms, and frogs. They are usually fairly secretive, and will hide under brush or boards or logs. However, it is one of the snakes we most commonly find on the premises. They are feisty things, reaching a mature length of about 40″. When confronted, they will immediately strike out, but unlike the hognosed snake which gives a rapid head-butt without a bite, these snakes will bite! The other very curious thing they do is vibrate their tail the same way a rattlesnake will, but it is absent of rattles.
I mentioned earlier that these snakes will “rattle” their tails when threatened. The video below shows that behavior. We found this snake just below the house when we were planting a tree. It was one of the bigger ones we’ve found…. about three-and-a-half feet. It’s often difficult pinning these large ones down so they can be picked up, but I was able to get him moved down into the field way below the house.
BULLSNAKE – Pituophis catenifer sayi
These snakes will huff and hiss to frighten you away, but they are not considered dangerous. They grow to about six feet in length and are very heavy-bodied. They eat rodents and are considered very beneficial. Unfortunately, in the last few decades they have been disappearing in Wisconsin due to loss of habitat. They used to be very common on our property, but I haven’t seen one in over 8 years.
They have a flattened, triangular head, similar to a rattlesnake. The photo below is the only pic I have of one. I found it in the yard about 15 years ago, and put it into a five gallon pail to relocate it across the road, and it was in the bucket when this picture was taken. It was a fairly young snake.
A few decades ago, we’d planted a few hundred white oaks in a field that had been a pasture. It was about 150′ below the house. The second summer after planting, I went down there with a weed wacker to clear out the base of the trees. As I was walking along I came upon a big bull snake, all coiled up and laying in the sun. It never took off when I came upon it. I began backing away and turned, and then spotted another one laying coiled up. I turned in another direction, and there was another snake, and then another one! I got out of the field and came up to the house to get my husband to show him. We counted about three dozen of those big bull snakes all coiled up in an area probably no more than 50′ by 50′. I decided to skip weed whacking down there! But now, most of the bullsnakes are gone. In fact, the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources has put them on the protected species lists, and believes there are only two areas in the state where they can currently be found. They ask anyone with a positive sighting of one to electronically register it on their website.
EASTERN RIBBON SNAKE – Thamnophis sauritus sauritus
I think my video below is labeled “garter snake,” but it is actually the eastern ribbon snake. There are only subtle differences between the two, including color (or lack) on the upper “lip,” a white spot in front of the eye, and tail length. Like, who can tell how long a snake’s tail is? These snakes usually like to stay near water and will even eat fish. Unlike the numerous milk snakes, they are not too common in our yard. I usually only see one or two a year.
My husband was mowing the yard when he called out that there was a snake laying there. He probably wanted me to carry it out to the field, as he won’t touch a snake. My two grandchildren were here at the time. When I got up to the snake, I could see it had just eaten something, so I ran into the house for the camera. There is blood on the dry leaf below its head. It’s interesting watching the snake force it’s food down the length of its body, and also interesing that the snake didn’t move away from me, and I was right in its face, until the food got to where it was supposed to be in its belly, at which time it took off. I couldn’t figure out how to get the two videos stitched together, so had to upload them separately. I should have just kept the camera going instead of stopping it.
BLACK RAT SNAKE – Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta
This is one of the largest snakes in Wisconsin, and they can reach 70 inches in length. They are arboreal, and for this reason they are a big threat to birds and their eggs. They are constrictors, and will occasionally be found near homes. We found one in our barn about 12 years ago. We had some hale bales stacked in a corner, and when I lifted the top bale off, a 5 or 6 foot specimen came out, but thankfully, we were right next to the open door and he took off. The snake in the picture below was in the yard at our neighbor’s house. He shot it and wrapped it around this fence post. This snake was close to six feet long.
There are two poisonous snakes in Wisconsin; the timber rattler and the massasagua rattler. The timber rattler resides in our county but we’ve never seen one. I’m sure there will be a “first time” for that at some point, although they do seem to be concentrated in certain areas. They’ve been found within a mile of our house.
The other poisonous snake is the Eastern Massasauga rattler. It’s much smaller than the timber rattler, and supposedly not in our county, but in those bordering us. However, many years ago a friend of ours was in an area about 7 miles north of us. He was walking in a swampy area and one of them bit him. Luckily, he had high leather boots on. The snake’s fang was “stuck” in the boot, though, and by the time it finally managed to get loose, it left its tooth behind in the boot.
The pic below is of a rattle snake that was on the road during a South Dakota vacation.
Thankfully, we never get spiders in the house. If we did I’d have to kill them. We have plenty of them outside, though, and that way I get to enjoy them. I’m fascinated by spiders. I don’t really know that much about them, though. My interest in them started about 18 years ago. We had a greenhouse with a long shelf against one wall, and as I was cleaning off the shelf I saw a big spider and a big group of baby spiders. As soon as they felt a vibration on the shelf, the babies scrambled onto their mother’s back, and she scampered away. I later learned it was a wolf spider.
WOLF SPIDER – Lycosidae Hogna species
If you include a wolf spider’s legs, it can reach 4″ across! While most spiders spin a silken sac around their eggs, hanging it on a twig or on the ground, the wolf spider attaches its egg sac to the spinnerets at the end of its abdomen and carries it around with her. Wolfies are the only spiders in the world that carry their egg sacks like this! When the spiderlings are born, she carries them on her back to protect them. Most spiders will protect their egg sac, but not too many hang around after the babies are born. Wolf spiders’ favorite food is crickets, but they will eat all insects. Wolf spiders don’t spin webs, but actively hunt or lie in wait for prey.
My wolf spider pictures aren’t very good. They were taken before I had a decent camera. If you’d like to see some really incredible pics of them, visit this page: WOLF SPIDER PICS They were done by a professional photographer and the pics are incredible!
This wolf spider was in the back box of my 4 wheeler. I had thrown some brush in there and when I dumped it out I found her. She must have been in the brush. That grey ball under her abdomen is her egg sack. Other spiders deposit their egg sacks in a branch or on the ground, but the mama wolfie carries hers everywhere!
She couldn’t climb up the steel walls of the box to get out. I kept cupping my hands around her to try and lift her out but she wouldn’t get into my hands for nothing! I finally got her onto a shovel, and lifted her out, but when she was about 3′ from the ground she fell off. When she hit the ground, her egg sack became disconnected from her abdomen! I picked it up and set it down right in front of her and she grabbed it with her front legs and scurried off. I wonder if she found a way to reattach it to her abdomen?
LANCEOLATE WOLF SPIDER – Lycosidae Schizocosa
This is another species of wolf spider which is very common. This one was extremely small… about the same diameter of a pencil eraser. It was a young male. Found in early June on the patio.
PURSE-WEB SPIDER – Sphodros niger
This spider is related to the funnel-web spiders. The purse-web has a funnel, or tube, in the center of its web. It hides down below and when it feels an insect’s vibration on its web, it shoots out and nabs it. The only time the spiders leave their webbed homes is when the males venture out in search of a mate.
The spider pictured below was found on a wall in my living room. I was very surprised to see it, because the house is regularly sprayed for insects, and there are none of any kind in the house. However, the week I found it was a week of heavy remodeling at our home. Old windows were being taken out and replaced, patio door was removed and replaced, and the raised deck was removed and an attached garage put on the house. I have no idea if all this somehow scared this spider out of his habitat and he came inside when the windows were down or what. I submitted the photo to bugguide.net, as they didn’t have a single photo of a purse-web found in Wisconsin!
My spider pic now resides on bugguide.net and has the distinction of being the only submitted specimen from Wisconsin! MY SPIDER ON BUGGUIDE
BROAD-FACED SAC SPIDER – Trachelas tranquillus
This spider was resting on a piece of vinyl siding left over when the house was sided. This is a hunting spider. It doesn’t use a web to trap its prey, although it does use silk to make egg sacs, safety lines, and retreats.
FUNNEL-WEB SPIDER – Agelenidae species
If you Googled “funnel-web spider,” you’d come up with a lot of pages referring to the funnel-web spider in Australia, whose bite can be fatal. Those in the US are not dangerous at all, though. They are interesting spiders related to the wolf spiders, but where wolfies don’t spin webs, the funnel-web spiders’ webs are very interesting. There is a mesh of silk anchored to the ground or a shrub, and in the center of the web is a deep funnel. The spider crawls down inside the funnel and when the web is disturbed it rushes outside to see if there is any prey it can snag. Some species of these spiders have webs that are sticky, and others don’t.
The female lays her eggs in the fall, creating an egg case with up to 200 eggs inside. She puts the case in a crevice and then promptly dies, often with the egg case still in her grasp.
This funnel-web spider was living right next to the stairs leading down from my patio. The web was built on a short barberry shrub.
When funnel-web spiders build their nests on the ground, they are sometimes called “grass spiders.”
CRAB SPIDER – Thomisidae family
There are over 2,000 species of crab spiders. They are most likely named because they resemble crabs in the way they hold their two front pairs of legs, and they also move sideways as crabs do. These spiders don’t spin webs to catch their prey. Instead, they go out in search of food. Some will sit on flower blossoms waiting for prey to drop in. Others will just sit on the ground and mimic bird droppings.
The crab spider below was inside a large Rubbermaid container I had on the patio one year. One day I flipped open the top to get a shovel out, and right away saw this little lady, who had placed her egg sac on top of an old towel I’d thrown in the container. In the first pic, the eggs were about a day and a half from hatching out into spiderlings. I kept checking on it every few hours during that time. The mother never left her egg sac.
I was lucky to check the nest when I did because I got to see the first babies. At times I was “shaking” the towel, to see if the mother would be frightened and run away but she never abandoned her post! When you see that kind of devotion in a spider, an insect reviled and hated by people everywhere, it makes you wonder why some human mothers can’t match this kind of motherly attention.
CRAB SPIDER – Xysticus punctata (Thomisiday family)
GROUND SPIDER – Titanoeca nigrella
BROWN RECLUSE SPIDER – Loxosceles reclusa
While I don’t have a picture of this particular spider, I do have some pictures of what a bite from one can do. On June 19, 2013 I was working alongside a trail where we had some firewood stacked. I was weed whacking and moving logs out of my way. I most likely disrupted the spider from wherever it was, and it fell onto my back and bit me. However, I never felt a bite at all. On the evening of June 21 I felt something annoying me on my back. It felt more like itching than anything. This went on for a few nights, until June 25, four days later, when it was starting to feel more painful than itchy. Two nights later it was very painful so I asked my husband to look at see what was there. He said it looked like a little pimple. I had him put some anti-itch cream on it, but two nights later, on June 29, the pain was making me think there was something a bit more serious going on. I had him take this picture, on June 29, with a comb held there for size comparison. (It’s one of those big, wide-tooth combs).
I waited about three more days, but when my husband saw it he said I needed to get to the doctor right away, as there was now a “hole” in my back. I went in and the doctor said it was most likely a brown recluse bite. By this time the hole in my back was extremely painful. The doctor cleaned it and squirted some antibiotic into it, but there wasn’t much he could do. The hole was very deep as the spider’s venim was eating the flesh. In the photo below the whitish area around the outside of the hole is dying flesh. It was the same inside.
The pic below was two days after the pic above. You can see that the white flesh has already died and peeled away and there is pus forming.
From July 8 thru July 11 we didn’t take any photos. The doctor said he felt it was beginning to heal.
While this was a horrible and painful experience, I feel that I got off easy. After this bite occurred I began surfing the web for information on recluse spider bites, and some of the photos I saw where pretty grim. I will say, though, that the pain was almost unendurable at times. I remember that on July 4 it was the worse. My husband went to a family get-together in Walworth, WI, and I stayed home. I remember that day as being one of the worst of the entire ordeal as far as pain went. I’ve experienced my rotator cuff torn in half, several broken ribs, and a torn minuscus, and I think the pain from this bite was one of the most painful things I’ve had. It was not until about July 31, almost 7 weeks later, that the hole was almost closed and I was no longer in pain.
Please check out FLYING SQUIRRELS, LIZARDS, and CREEPY CRAWLIES!