Massive Snake Migration Shuts Down Illinois Road

by Craig Garrett

Every year, Illinois’s Department of Natural Resources has to close off a two-mile section of roadway due to migrating snakes. The period for the road closure typically lasts from late September until early late October, reports Newsweek. Starting September 1st and lasting through October 30th, Forest Road #345 in the Shawnee National Forest, also known as “Snake Road,” is closed to automobiles. It’s also closed every year for a week or two in the spring due to snake migration.

The snakes migrate from LaRue Swamp to the limestone bluffs located nearby, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Some of the snakes and amphibians are endangered and vulnerable in the Prairie State, and closing the road helps them cross safely. While motor vehicles are not permitted on the route, the road will stay open to pedestrians. However, there’s no telling how many people visit this time of year to see the snake migration.

The United States Department of Agriculture says that Snake Road is home to 23 species of snakes, some of which are venomous, including rattlers and copperheads. This makes it one of the few places in North America where so many can be seen in one geographical location.

Snakes rarely travel hundreds of miles in the wild, although they do travel during certain times of the year. However, the snake migration in Illinois is unlike anything seen in North America. The cottonmouth is a very poisonous semi-aquatic snake that is the most prevalent snake seen throughout the event. Copperheads, deadly pit vipers, and timber rattlesnakes are among other venomous snakes that migrate to Illinois, but not all of them are toxic.

An expert weighs in on the Snake Migration

Mark Vukovich, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Forest Service told visitors to stick to main roads during animal migration periods. “It’s a great way to get people over that feeling that snakes are bad and they’re nasty creatures. They’re not. They’re not at all,” Vukovich explained. During the snake migration seasons, numerous out-of-towners descend on the city. “You’ll see a surprising number of out-of-state license plates,” Vukovich said. “Everybody knows it as Snake Road. It’s just a great place to come watch snakes.”

The area experiences an influx of photographers during the times of the year when the snake migration is most active. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, former US Forest Service wildlife biologist John Widowski said that years ago, the paths “looked like a heaving mass of spaghetti.” Sadly, people often steal snakes from their natural habitat to add to personal collections. Additionally, many snakes are killed by cars on the roads.

To safeguard the snakes, new rules have been implemented. It is strictly forbidden to handle the serpents in any way, according to the Post-Dispatch. Vukovich stated that people have the best chance of seeing snakes in October. He claims that’s when the snake migration is at its peak.