Fox snake

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Fox snakes
Western Fox Snake 04.jpg
Western fox snake, Pantherophis vulpinus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Subfamily: Colubrinae
Tribe: Lampropeltini
Genus: see Pantherophis
Fitzinger, 1843

Fox snake or Foxsnake is the common name given to two species of North American rat snakes: the western fox snake (Pantherophis vulpinus) and the eastern fox snake (Pantherophis gloydi). Neither poses a threat to humans, but is killed by many people who mistake it for the venomous massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus), which shares parts of its geographic range with both species of fox snakes.

Geographic range[edit]

The eastern fox snake (Pantherophis gloydi) is uncommon throughout its restricted range in Ontario, Michigan, and Ohio, where it is found only near Lakes Huron and Erie.

The western fox snake (Pantherophis vulpinus) occurs in the open forests, prairies, and farmlands of western Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and South Dakota.

Their ranges do not overlap.


Until recently the eastern and western fox snakes were considered to be subspecies of Elaphe vulpina, with the western fox snake being Elaphe vulpina vulpina and the eastern fox snake Elaphe vulpina gloydi.[1]

Utiger et al. (2002) argued that North American rat snakes of the genus Elaphe are a monophyletic group and thus separate from Old World members of the genus. They therefore resurrected the available name Pantherophis Fitzinger for all North American taxa (north of Mexico).[2]

However, much controversy over the taxonomic suggestion surfaced and the International Committee for Zoological Nomenclature has not supported the change. In 2008, Crother et al. retained the taxonomic change to Pantherophis "until further data are collected".[3]


Western fox snake, Pantherophis vulpinus, found in situ on jack pine near the Eau Claire river in Eau Claire county, Wisconsin. 30 May 2011

Fox snakes are primarily diurnal and terrestrial, rodent feeding snakes. The western fox snake takes a range of suitably sized mammals including mice, rats and even small rabbits while the eastern fox snake specializes in meadow voles and takes other prey much less frequently. Birds and other animals are also occasional prey. Both kill their prey by constriction, though small prey may be eaten without constriction.

Fox snakes, like many other harmless snakes, sometimes mimic rattlesnakes by vibrating their tails. This defensive strategy backfired when humans began persecuting rattlesnakes and, with them, fox snakes. They are generally docile animals but may bite when molested. Their bite feels like very small needle punctures, but does not do any lasting damage. The bite is primarily used for holding purposes.

In the winter months fox snakes will hibernate, often congregating with other snakes, even those of other species, in suitable den sites.

When handled, the fox snake will produce a musky odor similar to that of the red fox; this is the origin of the common name "fox snake".[4]


Mating occurs in the late spring and early summer months. A clutch averaging 15–20 eggs is laid in mid summer and normally hatches in early fall.

Conservation status[edit]

The state of Michigan lists the eastern fox snake as threatened, largely due to habitat loss. In Ontario the eastern fox snake is listed as threatened and protected by the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The extent of their decline is currently the subject of study by biologists at Queen's University. The western fox snake is listed by the state of Missouri as endangered due to prairie loss and wetland drainage.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Conant R. 1975. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Second Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. xviii + 429 pp. + Plates 1-48. ISBN 0-395-19979-4 (hardcover), ISBN 0-395-19977-8 (paperback). (Elaphe vulpina vulpina and Elaphe vulpina gloydi, pp. 192-193 + Plate 28 + map 148).
  2. ^ Scotophis obsoleta at The Center for North American Herpetology. Accessed 20 June 2008.
  3. ^ Crother BI, Boundy J, Burbrink FT, Campbell JA, de Quieroz K, Frost D, Highton R, Iverson JB, Kraus F, McDiarmid RW, Mendelson JR III, Meylan PA, Reeder TW, Seidel ME, Tilley SG, Wake DB. 2008. Scientific and Standard English Names of Amphibians and Reptiles of North America North of Mexico with Comments Regarding Confidence in Our Understanding. Sixth Edition. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles Herpetological Circular No. 37 Edition 6.1, Accessed 1 Apr 2013.
  4. ^ "Western Fox Snake: Minnesota DNR".