Magazine article American Forests

Commuters Slither Home

Magazine article American Forests

Commuters Slither Home

Article excerpt

They call it Snake Road, a gravel lane through southern Illinois' Shawnee National Forest, where each spring and fall automobile traffic is prohibited to ensure the safe passage of timber rattlers, water moccasins, and copperheads. The two-and-a-half mile road in Union County is the only road in the country closed by the Forest Service to protect migrating snakes.

Most snakes hibernate underground in the winter and live off stored body fat. But the snakes along this road come from limestone bluffs 300 feet above LaRue Swamps, a 700-acre wetland that was created when the Big Muddy River cut a new channel about 12,000 years ago. Because snakes cannot go underground here, they head to the bluffs each winter and return each spring, using Snake Road as a migratory path.

The bluffs above the swamp are the only known home of the carinate pill snail, a species once thought extinct. Local Forest Service experts believe the snail's survival depends on the protection of snakes and other wildlife in the area, which provide greater balance to predators that would otherwise feed heavily on the snails. …

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