| Story and photos by Chad Merda |
The Kirtland's snake is shy and secretive, and, as a result, not a lot is known about it. A group of researchers is working hard to change that. They're developing a better understanding of this small but beautiful snake that is widely scattered in small enough numbers to put it on Illinois' threatened species list.
These non-venomous snakes that primarily feed on earthworms and slugs are notoriously hard to find, but one preserve in Will County is a hotbed of activity for Kirtland's. That preserve — which we're not disclosing in order to protect this rare species — is serving as a summer laboratory for folks from the Illinois Natural History Survey.
A recent petition to place this species on the endangered species list was denied by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of insufficient data.
"There wasn't enough data to say what's really going on," said Michael Dreslik, an assistant research scientist at the Illinois Natural History Survey.
The goal right now is to spend two years tracking Kirtland's snakes to learn as much about them as possible.
"We’re hoping to gain more demographic data on them," said Jaclyn Adams, a herpetology technician at the Illinois Natural History Survey. "We can look and make sure they’re reproducing, if the females are gravid, so we can see if this population is reproducing and can sustain itself."