One of Iowa’s most misunderstood creatures, snakes are a vital part of our ecosystem. Undeserving of a reputation as one of Iowa’s scariest critters, snakes serve an important role in nature. A few things you may not know about Iowa’s snakes:
Snakes always win a staring contest.
While it looks like snakes never blink, they do in fact have eyelids – they’re just transparent, and permanently attached, so they’re always open.
They smell with their tongues.
Snakes don’t repeatedly flick their tongues out to frighten you. Instead, they’re making sense of the environment around them. When a snake sticks its tongue out, it collects tiny particles. Then, when the tongue goes back inside the mouth, the particles are placed on the Jacobson’s organ on the roof of the snake’s mouth. The Jacobson’s organ then identifies the particles for the snake, alerting them to nearby food, mates or danger.
Snakes come in all sizes.
From the small snakes less than a foot long to large, 6-foot-long black rat snakes, Iowa’s snakes vary in size to serve the needs of the ecosystem. Smaller snakes eat worms, slugs and insects, while larger snakes eat small mammals like mice and ground squirrels.
They’re not all harmful.
Iowa has only four venomous snakes, and their bites are rarely fatal if treated. The massasauga and timber rattlesnakes are rare, but found in eastern and southern Iowa. The prairie rattlesnake and copperhead are even rarer in our state.
Snakes are good eaters.
Helping keep rodent and small mammal populations in check, a snake can swallow animals and eggs bigger than its head. That’s like a person swallowing a watermelon whole.
Snakes can be tasty.
While some people eat snakes, they’re a common treat for bullfrogs, snapping turtles, badgers, skunks, foxes, owls and hawks.
Learn more about Iowa’s wildlife on our Iowa Wildlife board on Pinterest.