- Associated Press - Saturday, August 30, 2014

KELLOGG, Minn. (AP) - A herpetologist for the Minnesota Biological Survey is leading an effort to catalog Minnesota’s snake species and figure out how different populations are faring.

Jeff LeClere is tracking a half-dozen species in southeastern Minnesota, a region that has 15 of the state’s 17 snake species, Minnesota Public Radio News reported (http://bit.ly/VXYKiI ). As part of the effort, researchers have surgically implanted transmitters into snakes to track them.

LeClere was recently tracking bullsnakes in a sandy tract of grassland where the Zumbro River empties into the Mississippi. He said bullsnakes are on the decline, but because they are stealthy, it’s hard to know how much the population has decreased.

LeClere said a decreased snake population could be due to Minnesota’s changing prairie, and the disappearance of snakes can have wider ecological consequences. Snakes are typically considered top predators and consume insects and small mammals such as rats and mice.

With the help of a three-pronged antenna and a radio receiver, LeClere searched for a bullsnake named Porchy.

After following the sound of Porchy’s transmitter for nearly 20 minutes, LeClere found the animal near a gopher mound on the ground. He grabbed the 5-foot-long snake and evaluated it, noticing its glistening skin.

“She shed recently,” he said. “She’s got good weight. She’s nice and thick, means she’s been eating well. This is good news because it means she’s behaving normally.”

After a few minutes, LeClere put Porchy on the ground and the snake slithered off into the prairie.

LeClere pulled out a clipboard and noted information about Porchy and the snake’s behavior and environment.

When the project ends this fall, he hopes to provide information that will show where snakes like Porchy feed, where they nest, and how they move, to help wildlife managers and landowners preserve the snake population.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

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