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City Snakes

In Missouri, the lined snake Tropidoclonion lineatum has a larger distribution in the western part of the state than in the east.  On the eastern side of the state it only occurs in the extreme northeastern county of Clark, further south in St. Louis County, and immediately south in Jefferson County.  What makes this snake unusual is that it’s found a niche in urban St. Louis and appears to do quite well there.

 

I had, on numerous occasions, found this species in two different locations in Jefferson County but I was interested in seeing one in an urban environment.  While living about an hour south of St. Louis in Farmington, my home town, I made a couple trips to the city’s central park, Forest Park, in hopes of finding one of these little snakes.  Neither of these trips produced my target and afterwards I just kind of let it go.

 

A couple of years later I moved to St. Louis to be closer to the studio I worked for and, in doing so, ended up living in a typical urban apartment.  A few months later my roommate brought me a shed snake skin she found outside the apartment.  It looked similar to an eastern garter snake, a common snake with a very similar dorsal pattern as a lined snake, and so I mistakenly wrote it off as being so.  Still, months later, on the way to my car, I was surprised to look down and see very smashed and dried out lined snake in the parking lot.  I immediately took a walk around the apartment, turned some landscaping blocks, and uncovered a hand full of the little snakes.

 

Through the spring and summer months, when trips further from home were not feasible, I would occasionally go outside and turn up a couple of these snakes to try and get my nature fix.  One day, while doing this, I was distraught to find a dozen or so snakes dead for no apparent reason.  That evening it occurred to me that an exterminator had sprayed around the building for pests a day prior and that could be the only logical explanation for the dead snakes.  At first, I was very concerned for the well being of the neighborhood lined snake population but, over time, live snakes began appearing in good numbers again.  It occurred to me that exterminator’s chemicals, along with who knows what ells, are threats that these snakes have probably been dealing with for many years in the city. 

 

In the end, I have to wonder how an animal that has evolved over millions of years to fit a particular niche in nature, ends up making a suitable living in the city of St Louis.

My apartment and lined snake habitat

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The landscaping blocks that the lined snakes use as refuge

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An in situ lined snake

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A field guide style shot that I tried to make look urbanish

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