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home : outdoors : outdoors   April 29, 2016

6/12/2014 5:48:00 AM
Snakes capture kids' attention at Starved Rock (video)
Jeff Winner teaches children about snakes during a program at Starved Rock Lodge.
NewsTribune photo/Scott AndersonReptile and amphibian expert Jeff Winner of Mendota holds up a yellow rat snake during a natura program Wednesday at Starved Rock Lodge. Winner brought live snakes as well as a salamander, turtles and frogs. Wilderness Wednesday events continue all summer long at the lodge, although not all of the events are about the plants and animals of the park.
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NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
Reptile and amphibian expert Jeff Winner of Mendota holds up a yellow rat snake during a natura program Wednesday at Starved Rock Lodge. Winner brought live snakes as well as a salamander, turtles and frogs. Wilderness Wednesday events continue all summer long at the lodge, although not all of the events are about the plants and animals of the park.
Jeff Dankert
NewsTribune Reporter



The snakes had no stage fright but the audience had mixed reviews of the serpents being dangled in front of them.

Most of the 35 people were children and many of them delighted in handling the snakes brought by reptile expert Jeff Winner during a Wilderness Wednesday program at Starved Rock Lodge.

The snakes are pets that Winner keeps in his Mendota home. There were big ones like a yellow rat snake and California kingsnake and small ones like a brown snake and garter snake. Some lay eggs and some give live birth.

“Anyone know why a newborn snake has spots?” Winner said.

“Maybe because it needs camouflage,” said Hailey Ashby of Hinsdale.

Hailey was correct. Winner explained that for most of their lives, snakes are vulnerable to many threats.

“There’s a lot of predators out there that will eat snakes,” Winner said. “Snakes might look kind of scary; they’re kind of defenseless.”

Their first line of defense is camouflage. If that doesn’t work, they flee. Only when cornered or caught do they bite, he said.

Illinois is home to 39 species. The copperhead, cottonmouth, timber rattlesnake and eastern massasauga are venomous but rare. Snakes are threatened by habitat loss and alteration; exploitation by the pet trade; misinformation or lack of information; and fear, according to Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The albino corn snake proved the most crowd-friendly although Winner also passed the kingsnake around to be fondled and hung around the necks of children. Winner feeds rats to the kingsnake, but in the wild, it will eat other snakes, he said.

A woman asked if the snakes recognize Winner as their keeper.

“No,” he said. “They get to where they tolerate you.”

Jeff Dankert can be reached at (815) 220-6977 or perureporter@newstrib.com.








Related Stories:
• Wilderness Wednesdays continue at Starved Rock



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