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Snakes have to make a living too  

July 2, 2011
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

SNAKES are part of our wildlife legacy. They have ecological niches to fill in the predator/prey game of life. When people get to know these animals and understand the role they play in nature, one can hope that old paranoid misconceptions and kill-on-contact reactions can be overcome. Like everything else in nature, it takes time to cultivate an understanding of relationships of all wildlife species to each other and the land. Do take time to learn more about these interesting creatures.

Today's fox snake is a great example. Elpahe is the genus for the rat snakes. The fox snake and the black rat snake are the two species from this genus found in the Hawkeye state. It is moderately large, adults being anywhere from 36 inches up to 54 inches long. It has large brown spots in a single row along its back, as well as two small alternating spot rows along each side. The color pattern between the splotches is gray to brown.

Found in woodland edges throughout Iowa, the fox snake is a constrictor. This means it will coil its body around the prey to constrict the prey's breathing to kill it. Fox snakes are known to shake their tail in the grass and leaves to make a rattling noise to scare off threats. Their cousins the bull snake on the other hand like to make a loud "hissssss" to help get your attention to stay away.

Article Photos

This fox snake, Elpahe vulpina, one of Iowa’s most common non-venomous snakes, was just minding its own business the other day in the open area of a gravel road. Well, this scribe likes snakes a lot. So, it was time to brake for the snake when my vehicle approached what appeared from a distance as a 3 foot long stick laying on the road. It was not a stick. I swerved to miss it with my tires and then stopped to photograph this beautiful critter. Aldo Leopold stated in his book The Sand County Almanac, “That intelligent tinkering requires one to save all the pieces.” Iowa’s landscapes need snakes too.

Female fox snakes lays anywhere from 6 to a known record of 29 eggs. The leathery shelled eggs are 1.5 to 2 inches long. The eggs may be laid from late June to early August. Young hatch between late August and October and will be 10 to 13 inches long when they crawl out into the world. Considering that man-kind doesn't like mice very well, we should put an "atta boy" accolade signs in snake country for the good work these animals do. They are an important part of our wildlife legacy. Let's let them do their job.


Summer FISHING FEVER is catching many people again. Well, why not? It is a great family pastime to go to a stream, pond or lake and try to catch a bluegill, crappie, catfish or bass. But where would one go if your intent is to try for Iowa's Master Angler Award, to catch and record a big fish of every species on the list?

The Master Angler Award program is to promote getting outside for recreation. To catch a big fish and enter it into the awards program is the way to start. Then one must try for another species of finny critter to add to the list. This helps to celebrate the ones that did not get away. If 10 or more species are caught, the angler is eligible for the Gold medallion ranking.

Start with realistic expectations of where a particular species of fish lives. A paddlefish (40 inches or more) is best sought below dams in the big rivers of this state. The time of year is important too. Put this all together and an interesting fishing 'safari' in Iowa could keep you busy all summer. Yes, you will need some good luck and good timing. Go for it.

These examples are offered for you. White suckers hang out in the Upper Iowa River, fishing for them in late April early May is best time to catch this species. You will need to catch one 18 inches long or longer. Brown trout must also be 18 inches or more. In May, crappies of 15 inches or more will qualify. Look for them in farm ponds or at Lake Red Rock or Rathbun. Bluegills need to be 10 inches or more for the book. Largemouth bass of 22 inches or more qualify. White bass with a 17 inches minimum can be taken at Big Spirit Lake, East Okoboji, the Mississippi river, Red Rock or Saylorville.

Here are the other minimum length fishes for award status: smallmouth bass 20", northern pike 35", muskellunge 45", channel catfish 30 ", flathead catfish 35", dogfish 26", yellow bass 10", bullheads 15", pumkinseed sunfish 9", redear sunfish 11", yellow perch 12", walleye 28" and lastly, shovelnosed sturgeon at 26 inches minimum.

If fishing fever is in your blood, your ambitions toward the Master Angler gold medallion for Iowa is just what the doctor ordered. Go for it.


Last Monday's baby canada goose roundup at Green Castle was a lot of fun. Approximately 20 geese were directed toward the capture pen, where they made the day a memorable one for many of kids ... and parents ... and grandparents. Now all the geese sport aluminum leg bands with a unique number. However, the memories of little people holding a squirming goose while the band was attached will live forever. It was a great experience for all the volunteer public who made the trek to Green Castle. Thanks for helping start off the week on a great note. I'm glad you went for it.


Fall deer seasons will be here mid-September for Iowa urban hunts. Archers needing to get certified for city hunts have to plan ahead. First step, if you have not already done so, is take the online International Bow Hunter Course. Go to this website: and pass the test and print off your voucher. Step number two: the voucher is the admission ticket to a mandatory bow hunter field day. The first field day this scribe is aware of is coming up July 23 in Ames at the Izaak Walton League from 1 p.m. until about 4 p.m. To sign up for the field day on-line at: Step three: get your annual proficiency test for accuracy completed for the city you will be hunting. This goes along with step four: secure any necessary city permit to hunt. Go for it, bow hunters.


The Amateur Astronomers of Central Iowa invite the public for a telescope view of the night sky on July 8 at 8:30 p.m. For more information contact Jim Bonser at 641-751-8744. The Dean Memorial Observatory is located at Green Castle Recreational Area (1 mile south of Ferguson).

The Grimes Farm Run will be held next July 9 at 8 a.m. at the GrimesFarm & Conservation Center. This event is something for the whole family! 5k trail run/walk, 1.6 mi. trail run/walk & kids' races. Check in: 7 a.m. For more information contact Carrie Barr at 641-752-9778 or Trails are open year round for anyone to walk or run.


Advice from a Bass: Find a new angle; Know when to keep your mouth shut; Don't take the bait; Prize clean water; Be lively and swift; Don't give up without a fight; Be a good catch.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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