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Name: Rita 
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We live in Central Illinois. Our home is by some wooded acres and a pond and a creek. We see several snakes but don't know what they are called or if they are venomous. What are the names of the snakes we should avoid and what are their colorings? Wasn't there a rhyme to help people know what snakes to avoid? Black and yellow bad for fellow, red and black good for Jack? Is this accurate?

NO EASY ANSWER! There are no coral snakes native to Illinois, those are the ones the rhyme is about. The Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians is a good identification guide easily available, and includes range maps that will tell you which ones are likely to be found in your area. For much more detail the Illinois Natural History Survey publishes an excellent detailed book on Illinois herps. You can get a great deal of information on their publications and much else from their web site.

J. Elliott

our rhyme isn't bad as far as it goes. It will let you know the difference between a coral snake (very venomous) and a king snake (a non-venomous snake known for eating other snakes, including venomous ones. However, your rhyme doesn't identify all poisonous snakes. Fortunately for identification, all venomous snakes in North America other than the coral snake are pit vipers, which have some characteristics in common. All have shallow pits on the sides of their heads which are heat-sensing organs, and all have vertically-oriented slitlike pupils. The poisonous snakes you would be most likely to encounter where you are are copperheads and cottonmouths (water moccasins), though rattlesnakes are found in all fifty states.

You can find informationon snakes in North America at A site of snakes on Indiana (there's no difference between Illinois and Indiana once you leave Chicago, right?) is at

Richard Barrans Jr., Ph.D.

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