Plants and Animals

Pantherophis gloydi Eastern fox snake

species photo
Jim H. Harding
species photo
Craig A. Weatherby
species photo
Craig A. Weatherby

Key Characteristics

The Eastern Fox Snake is large (adult length 3 - 5.5 feet/0.9-1.7 m), boldly patterned snake with large dark brown or black blotches down the middle of the back and smaller, alternating blotches along the sides of a yellowish to light brown body. The underside is yellowish checkered with dark squarish spots. The head can be yellow, light brown to reddish brown and is generally unmarked except for a dark band between the eyes on the top of the head and a few dark bands extending from the eye down to the mouth. Juvenile Eastern Fox Snakes are paler in color than the adults and have gray or brown blotches bordered in black on the back and more distinctive head markings.

Status and Rank

US Status:
State Status: T - Threatened (legally protected)
Global Rank: G3 - Vulnerable
State Rank: S2 - Imperiled

Occurrences

CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Huron21936
Iosco11997
Livingston12014
Macomb21991
Monroe122018
Saginaw122006
St. Clair52017
Wayne122018

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.

Habitat

The Eastern Fox Snake inhabits emergent wetlands along Great Lakes shorelines and associated large rivers and impoundments. They prefer habitats with herbaceous vegetation such as cattails (Typha spp.). Although primarily an open wetland species, Eastern Fox Snakes also occupy drier habitats such as vegetated dunes and beaches, old fields, and open woodlands. They also are able to utilize disturbed areas such as farm fields, pastures, woodlots, vacant urban lots, rock riprap, ditches, dikes, and residential properties. Eastern Fox Snakes are usually found near water, and are capable of swimming long distances over open offshore waters and between islands. This species deposits its eggs in or under the soil, woody debris, sawdust piles, decaying vegetation and mammal burrows, and hibernates in abandoned mammal burrows, muskrat lodges or other suitable shelters.

Specific Habitat Needs

Downed woody debris needed in: Emergent marshGreat Lakes marshLakeplain oak openingsLakeplain wet prairieLakeplain wet-mesic prairieMesic sand prairieMesic southern forestOpen dunesSand and gravel beach.

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Protection and management of remaining populations and habitat are crucial for conservation of this species in Michigan. Maintaining or restoring large, suitable wetland complexes and minimizing habitat fragmentation (e.g., due to roads or development) would greatly benefit this species. Management of wetland habitats should include maintaining open conditions, providing adequate nesting sites as well as refugia for young snakes by maintaining and/or providing adequate cover (e.g., downed woody debris) and maintaining suitable hibernacula. Management activities such as prescribed burning and mowing should be conducted during the inactive season (i.e., November through March or early April) or on days when the snakes are unlikely to be basking or above ground (e.g., on cloudy/overcast days with air temperatures below 55oF) to minimize the potential for take of fox snakes. In addition to habitat protection, public education is needed to help facilitate proper identification of this snake, raise public awareness, and discourage illegal persecution, harassment, and collection. Any suspected illegal take of Eastern Fox Snakes should be reported to local authorities.

Active Period

Active from third week of April to fourth week of October

Breeding from first week of June to second week of July

Nesting from fourth week of June to fourth week of July

Survey Methods

The best way to survey for this species is to conduct visual encounter surveys in May and June when the snakes are most active and most visible. Visual surveys should consist ideally of multiple surveyors walking through suitable habitat looking for individuals on the surface or under cover. Eastern Fox Snakes are often found basking on artificially created dikes, muskrat houses, roads or other elevated sites. Cover board surveys also can be conducted in conjunction with visual surveys. These would consist of placing cover boards in areas with suitable habitat and turning over the boards during the day and looking for snakes under the boards.

Visual encounter survey

Survey Period: From first week of May to fourth week of June

Time of Day: Daytime
Air Temperature: Above 60 degrees
Wind: Light Breeze

Cover board survey

Survey Period: From first week of May to fourth week of June

Time of Day: Daytime
Air Temperature: Above 60 degrees
Wind: Light Breeze

References

Survey References

  • Karns, D.R. 1986. Field Herpetology: Methods for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles in Minnesota. Occ. Pap. No. 18. J.F. Bell Museum of Natural History, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Technical References

  • Ernst, C. H. and R. W. Barbour. 1989. Snakes of eastern North America. George Mason Univ. Press, Fairfax, VA. 282 pp.
  • Evers, D.C. 1994. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife of Michigan. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 412pp.
  • Harding, J.H. 1997.Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 378pp.
  • Kraus, F. and G. W. Schuett. 1982. A herpetofaunal survey of the coastal zone of northwest Ohio. Kirtlandia 1982(36):21-54.
  • Lee, Y. 2000. Special animal abstract for Elaphe vulpina gloydi (eastern fox snake). Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Lansing, MI. 4 pp.
  • Rivard, D. H. 1976. The biology and conservation of eastern fox snakes (Elaphe vulpina gloydi). M.S. thesis, Carlton Univ., Ottawa.
  • Weatherby, C. A. 1986. Michigan Nature Conservancy Elaphe vulpina gloydi and Clonophis kirtlandii 1986 contracted survey. Mich. Nat. Conserv., Unpubl. rep. 25 pp.