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Opinion

Snakes invade UW-River Falls campus

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October 11, 2012

In my four years at UW-River Falls I have never seen a snake on campus grounds. Until now. And it wasn’t just a tiny snake that you could expect to find at a pet store. These were long, thick creatures with a black foundation and gold stripes down the side.

A garter snake spotted on the trail behind Hathorn Hall.
This garter snake was spotted on the trail behind Hathorn Hall. (Photo courtesy of Lily Buckley)

Over the last week or so, I have seen two of these slithering creatures cross my path by the South Forks Suites. I heard a rustling in the leaves as I was walking to class, and then only a step away, the snake comes darting out about a step away from me. Another was reported being spotted on the trail behind Hathorn.

My original thought was that this campus is being invaded (but this was probably due to my unfounded fear of snakes). However these snakes are not anything out of the ordinary.

They were garter snakes, which, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is the most common snake in the state. However, as it turns out, this resurgence of snakes being spotted is a natural occurrence associated with the drought.

UWRF Biology Professor John Wheeler said that because of the recent weather patterns, the sightings of snakes is not surprising to him. “Because of the drought, snakes might need to travel farther just to find liquid water and food and, if so, they are more likely to encounter people,” said Wheeler, who specializes in ecology. Ecology is the study of how living organisms interact with each other their natural habitats.

These garter snakes are found in every county of the state and in nearly every habitat type, although they have a preference for forest and woodlot edges and rely heavily on open canopy wetlands for overwintering, according to the DNR. They range in length from 17-26 inches long.

Wheeler added that at this time of year the younger snakes are preparing for the winter months.

“During the warm summer months, many kinds of snakes prefer the cover of darkness and are more active at night. But this time of year, snakes (especially “young of the year” snakes) are trying to accumulate body fat for hibernation; they are forced to forage during the day when it is warmer,” said Wheeler.

Nevertheless, seeing a snake on campus is still a rare occurance. Joe McIntosh has been employed on campus for 13 years. He is currently in charge of ground maintenance and has yet to see a snake on campus.

So while venturing out around campus, beware of these slithering creatures, and don’t be afraid, for soon these creatures will be hibernating and will no longer cross our path.

Ashley Goettl is an alumna of UW-River Falls. She was editor of the Student Voice from fall semester 2011 to spring semester 2013.