General Description: The Western Foxsnake is a large, robust snake, with adults ranging from 36–50 inches (91.4–127.0 cm) in length. The background coloration is gray, tan, or light brown with pronounced dark brown or reddish brown blotches running the length of the body. In addition to the large dorsal blotches running the length of the body, there are interspersed smaller dark brown blotches running along the sides of the body. As adults, the head is often orange, rust, or copper in coloration with reduced or faded markings, which is absent in juveniles. Juvenile coloration is light gray with dark blotches, running the length of the body. The belly is off-white or light yellow and covered in black checkerboard markings. Scales on this species are slightly keeled and the anal scale is divided. Many people often incorrectly refer to this species as a Bullsnake (aka Gophersnake). While these two species do overlap in their range in South Dakota, Western Foxsnakes appear to be markedly more abundant than Bullsnakes that are more abundant in the western half of the state. Western Foxsnakes can be easily differentiated from Bullsnakes by their uniform patterning running the length of the body (Bullsnakes have a pattern that varies from head to tail) and the absence of vertical black bars on the upper lip (Bullsnakes have these markings).
Behavior: Western Foxsnakes feed primarily on rodents, birds, and eggs. Large prey items will often be constricted, but smaller prey often is not. Western Foxsnakes are frequently encountered on farms where they are primarily consuming rodents that are damaging crops and equipment, and as such, are a beneficial species to have present. When disturbed, Western Foxsnakes will often rattle their tail. This process alone does not produce sound, but if the tail is next to dry leaves, sticks, or other items, it can produce a sound that to many sounds like a rattlesnake. Like many snakes, this species is likely to bite and release a foul-smelling musk if captured.
Reproduction: Mating often takes place in late April after individuals have emerged from hibernation. Females then lay up to 20 eggs in nests (often decaying organic material). Eggs typically hatch two months later to juveniles that are 8–12 inches (20.3–30.5 cm) in length.
Habitat: Western Foxsnakes can be found in many different habitats across its range, including agricultural fields and farms, grasslands, and riparian woodlands.
Species Range: This species can be found across much of the upper Midwestern states, including northern Illinois and Indiana, west to northeastern Nebraska, and north through southern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
South Dakota Range: Western Foxsnakes are restricted to the southeast corner of South Dakota, from North Sioux City to Sioux Falls, west to Yankton and Springfield.
South Dakota Status: This species is monitored by the South Dakota Natural Heritage Program. Any sightings of this species should be reported to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (report observation).
Account written by Drew R. Davis