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IL Press: Are there rattlesnakes in area?

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Posted by W von Papinešu on September 18, 2002 at 18:37:11:

DAILY JOURNAL (Kankakee Illinois) 18 September 02 Are there rattlesnakes in area?
Bonfield: Are there dangerous rattlesnakes slithering through the brush and tall grasses near Bonfield?
Over the past few weeks, two horses in the area have become sick after being bitten by snakes.
"We came home last week and something was going on with our horse," said Dawn Cordes, whose husband Loren is a well-known farrier in the Bonfield area.
The 7-year-old mare had been out in the pasture overnight and was apparently bitten in the shoulder while lying down, Loren Cordes said.
Veterinarian Mike Kollar of Frankfort believes the bite was that of a rare eastern massasauga rattler, based upon his earlier practice with horses in western states.
Another horse in the same area was bitten several weeks earlier at a nearby standardbred farm.
"That horse got pretty sick but did not die. We've heard that two Labrador-size dogs there died of snakebites," Cordes said.
Cordes' mare is showing signs of recovery but the question remains whether or not the massasauga -- known as the swamp rattler -- has surfaced in Kankakee County.
Despite the bites and the symptoms, no snake has been found at either location, Cordes said.
Bob Massey, regional wildlife biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, offered to check the area where the first horse was bitten but was told there "was too much debris around to find anything."
"Massasauga have been reported historically from Kankakee," Massey said. "But the nearest reports come from a small area of northern Will County and infrequently from DuPage and Cook counties.
According to DNR, the only known viable population of the swamp rattler in Illinois is from Carlyle Lake in south central Clinton County.
Eastern massasaugas vary in color from gray, gray-brown to brown with a row of dark brown, black-edged blotches running down the back. The blotches may be outlined with thin white or yellow margins.
When approached, the massasauga will often freeze. If cornered it will flee or stand its ground, according to a report for the Illinois Natural History Survey. Its rattle sounds like a high-pitched hiss. "Generally the massasauga is shy and non-aggressive but there are nervous individuals that may strike immediately,'' the report adds.
"It all seems very odd to me," says Glen Kruse who manages DNR's endangered species program. "A massasauga doing any serious harm to a horse seems unlikely. The snake is one of the smaller rattlers, generally 2 to 2 1/2 feet in length," Kruse said.
Because of its rarity, the massasauga is listed as an endangered species in the state. It is one of only four poisonous snakes native to Illinois, with the copperhead, cottonmouth or water moccasin and the timber rattler.
"I get a lot of calls about rattlesnakes that turn out to be the eastern hognose, a non-venomous snake," Massey said. "They mimic a rattler. They can puff out their head and even make a rattlesnake sound."
Still, Massey says he wouldn't be surprised to find a poisonous snake in the area.
"Nothing surprises me any more. People seem attracted to having all kinds of exotic animals and snakes and then often end up releasing them into the wild."

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