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Reptiles of Clark Park

a special report from our neighbor and aspiring herpetologist, Elias

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The Plains garter snake is the most common snake species at Clark Park. Garter snakes are medium-sized non-venomous snakes seen throughout the forested areas of the park. This snake eats all sorts of things from worms to fish and even rodents. Plains garter snakes can be seen from late March to mid-October, but changes in weather can affect these time frames.

Plains garter snakes are very fast and skittish and will usually dart into the bushes if found. It's very important that these snakes have deep holes for the cold winter of Chicago. If the snakes are not able to get under the frost line, they will likely die. They also need cover like rocks, logs, boards, and bushes. If you encounter one of these snakes, it’s important to know these snakes are very important to the ecosystem and should be left unharmed. These snakes play an important role in the ecosystem as a predator and as prey, and it's important we don't interfere.

The Northern or DeKays brown snake is a common snake in Illinois. They are rare in Clark Park; however, I have seen multiple individuals there. This is a small snake, usually not getting over 15 inches. They feed on insects primarily but will also take down worms, slugs, fish, and sometimes small amphibians. If you see this snake at Clark Park, consider yourself lucky. I didn't see them consistently until this year. This snake is very secretive and likes to stay out of sight. If you do see one, there's a good chance it will sit still, trying to stay camouflaged, but if they think they have been found, they will run away very quickly. This snake is also non-venomous, and like all snakes venomous or not, they will always try to get away. Like the garter snake, they need deep holes to get under the frost line. They are important to the ecosystem because they help keep insect populations in check. They are also a prey item to animals like birds and coyotes.

The Red-eared slider gets its name from the red stripe behind the eye. This is not really an ear, but it looks like it. This invasive turtle from Asia is found in most waterways in America. It can commonly be seen basking on logs on sunny days in the river. This turtle eats fish primarily but will also snack on plant matter. This turtle can get to the size of a dinner plate and sometimes a little bigger. A lot of people buy them as cute little babies and release them when they get too big. This is really bad because they are not indigenous to Illinois. Unfortunately, the population is so large we can't do anything about it at this point. If they think you are trying to get to them, they will quickly slip off their log into the water. This is where they get the name slider. If you have one you no longer want, it's important that you donate it to animal sanctuaries. Do not release them into the wild. They help by keeping aquatic plants from being overgrown.

Those are the 3 reptiles I can confirm have a breeding population at Clark Park, but I am discovering new species there all the time, so it's not impossible to see other reptiles.

Other wildlife I’ve seen at Clark Park include coyotes, red-tail hawks, gray squirrels, Asian carp, robins, cardinals, and bats. All these serve as important organisms in the ecosystem.

Plains garter snake_edited.jpg

Plains garter snake

photo by Reptile Magazine

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Northern or DeKays brown snake

photo by Reptile Magazine

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Red-eared slider turtle

photo by Reptile Magazine

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