What Minnesotan animal walks on its ribs, smells with its tongue, and can go six months without eating?
Amazingly, our snakes can do all of those things. That’s partly why Sammie Peterson will be featuring them for guests who slither in to the "Critter Sunday" presentation at Quarry Hill Nature Center this weekend.
The "Goodness Snakes" program is offered to a limited number of registered participants to help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
“Because our capacity is so limited right now, and these programs are popular, we will begin adding more sessions per Sunday in December and January as conditions allow,” said Lori Forstie, of Quarry Hill public relations.
Typically, Critter Sunday sessions meet outside for a presentation, then allow time for 30-minute self-guided explorations of the nature center. No matter how it's done, the Critter Sunday series helps the Quarry Hill Nature Center meet its educational goals.
“We work to help people become comfortable in the outdoors and feel empowered to care for the environment we are part of through learning about the animals we coexist with in the natural world,” Forstie said.
If things that hiss or creep aren’t your style, Quarry Hill is offering other educational opportunities, including wreath-making workshops, bird-banding activities and hikes with naturalists.
For all the snake-lovers unable to coil up for the “Critter Sundays: Goodness Snakes” presentation, Quarry Hill Nature Center naturalist Kirk Payne answered some serpent-centered questions.
What species of Minnesotan snakes do you care for at the nature center?
Quarry Hill has a timber rattlesnake, a bull snake, a fox snake, a milk snake, a common garter snake, a black rat snake and a red-bellied snake.
What are some of the snakes' names and unusual characteristics?
None of the snakes have names. The majority of our animals are unnamed to discourage viewing them as more pet-like. The rat snake is an excellent climber. The rattlesnake has vertical pupils.
Which snake has been at the nature center the longest, and how did it get there?
I believe the bull snake has been with us the longest. Former director Greg Munson found this snake in Wabasha County, where they are fairly common. We had a black rat snake that lived at the nature center into its mid-20s. I believe that is the oldest snake we’ve had.
What do you feed your snakes?
Most of the snakes eat mice and an occasional house sparrow. The garter snakes eat a lot of minnows. The red-bellied snake is fed worms and slugs mostly.
Why are snakes important for our environment?
As predators, snakes’ role in nature is to help keep the populations of their prey species, like mice, in balance.
How many different varieties of snakes have been spotted at Quarry Hill park?
I know of four snake species that have been seen in the park. Garter, fox, milk and red-bellied.
How can people make their yards friendly places for snakes?
A snake-friendly yard is one friendly to wildlife in general. Pesticide-free, minimal lawn, and a variety of native flowers, shrubs and trees instead. A sunny location with some rocks for basking and something to crawl beneath, like a log or even a few flat boards.
To learn more about Quarry Hill Nature Center's programs, including Critter Sunday, visit www.qhnc.org.