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Rainy summer leads to more snake sightings in Naperville

Garter snakes are common in DuPage County forest preserves and are harmless to humans. | Courtesy of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

The recent deluge of rain may have kept lawns and vegetation thriving far better than it should this far into summer, but it’s also brought out scores of creatures many people in Naperville can’t stand: snakes.

The often camouflaged, skinny, slithering reptiles that most of us never see have been appearing more often throughout the area in backyards, forest preserves and even along Naperville’s Riverwalk area. Experts say there is no reason to panic.

“Because of the rains we’ve had, these reptiles are being washed out of their homes and dens, and rather than drown, they are coming up looking for dry land,” said Christine Maybach, animal control officer for the city of Naperville. “Really, the influx of calls we’ve had this year is next to nothing. Last year we had nine complaints, and so far this year, there have only been two.”

Mayback said the most common species found in the area are the brown water, garter, and fox snake species and that none of them pose any threat to people.

“These snakes aren’t poisonous, but they will bite if you try to pick them up,” she said. “Another reason not to handle them is if they defecate on you, it’s as bad or worse than being sprayed by a skunk. Despite the public feeling like this is something strange, the snakes are doing what they are supposed to be doing. It’s completely normal.”

Jack MacRae, a naturalist at the DuPage Forest Preserve District’s Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn, likewise confirms that the recent snake sightings pose no real threat.

“Despite recent reports, there’s almost zero chance to encounter a venomous snake in DuPage County,” MacRae said. “To set the record straight, the eastern massasauga is the only such species native to DuPage County, and there have been no confirmed sightings in the wild here in more than 30 years.”

Dan Peifer, a service manager who works for AMPEST, a Chicagoland wildlife and pest control company, said the number of calls this year regarding “snake problems” is definitely up, and that snake anxiety has been raised “as a result of the long, cold winter, and the amount of rain we’ve had.”

“These snakes are hungry as well and will feed on fish, frogs, rodents, and even birds, and some people are getting freaked out if they see just one in their backyard,” Peifer said. “A lot of them have been flushed out from their normal habitat, and we’ve been getting calls pretty much from throughout the entire area, not just Naperville.”

Peifer said Illinois is home to 39 species of snakes and only four of them are venomous. None of the poisonous variety has been reported in the area.

“The best thing to do is just leave them alone,” he said. “In no time, they’ll move on in most cases. If they persist, people can always calls us and we’ll come out and identity them and remove them if we have to.”

MacRae believes DuPage residents should take the opportunity to experience something in nature that doesn’t occur very often.

“We have only about a dozen species native to DuPage County, most of which people will never encounter,” he said. “They are fascinating creatures, and everyone should be able to appreciate their place in the environment. Snakes can be a frightening sight for many people, but no one has been harmed by just walking past one. Conflicts only arise when people try to handle or harass the animals.”

For those walking trails or visiting forest preserves, MacRae said that snakes are likely to be moving across paths looking for food. As fall approaches, the reptiles spend more time on rocks hoping to stay warm in the sun. He also cautions that the midland brown snake is easy to miss, as it often resembles a stick on the ground and trail users may easily step or run over them.

Maybach stresses that despite the videos that have been shot and other reports that have surfaced, some may be overreacting to a perfectly normal cycle in nature.

“We’ve gone down to the Riverwalk after getting reports of people seeing snakes there and have not seen a single one,” she said. “People don’t have to worry – this isn’t ‘snakemageddon’ we’re seeing.”

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