It happens twice a year — the closure of Snake Road as numerous species of reptiles and amphibians migrate each spring and fall between the LaRue-Pine Hills’ towering limestone bluffs and the Big Muddy River’s swampy floodplain in southern Illinois.
Over the course of 200 pages and using over 350 illustrations, Joshua J. Vossler, an associate professor and academic librarian at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, helps unshed the mystery of the road’s namesake.
“Snake Road: A Field Guide to the Snakes of the LaRue-Pine Hills” has been released by Southern Illinois University Press, just in time for the spring migration, which ends May 15.
While the 2.5-mile-long stretch of road — between mile post 3.0 and mile post 5.8 — in the Shawnee National Forest is closed to vehicular traffic to help ensure safe crossing for these reptiles and amphibians to their summer home, foot traffic is welcome.
But visitors beware.
That’s where Vossler’s book comes in handy — the guide details what to expect and how to make the most of a visit down Snake Road.
Snakes, especially great numbers of cottonmouths, give the road that separates the distinct environments of the limestone bluffs and swampy floodplain its name. Among the many activities snakes can be observed doing are sunning themselves on rocks, lying in grasses, sheltering under or near fallen tree limbs or crossing the road.
Vossler catalogs 23 native snake species by both common and scientific names, lists identifying features and estimates the probability of spotting them.
Color photographs of each species’ distinctive physical characteristics enable identification by sight only, an important feature since Illinois law prohibits the handling, harming or removal of reptiles and other wildlife on and around the road.
Since snakes are visually variable — individual snakes of the same species can differ tremendously in size, color and pattern — photographs of as many variations as possible are included. To aid in identification, 11 sets of photographs contrast the features of similar species and point out how and why these snakes may be easily confused.
Visitors can keep track of the snakes they have identified by using the checklist in the back of the book. A list of recommended reading provides sources of additional information about snakes in southern Illinois and beyond.
Snake Road is located south and west of Murphysboro and east of Illinois 3. Along with snakes, the area also features a variety of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, birds, turtles, lizards and skinks.
Vossler is the co-author of “Humor and Information Literacy: Practical Techniques for Library Instruction.” He specializes in making instructional videos about research skills. He is a lifelong snake watcher and herpetological enthusiast.
“Snake Road: A Field Guide to the Snakes of the LaRue-Pine Hills” is available in paperback and E-book at www.siupress.com/books/978-0-8093-3805-4.
For more information about the snake migration and/or the LaRue-Pine Hills Ecological Area, visit fs.usda.gov/shawnee.