Description: The Western Foxsnake is a large, robust snake, with adults ranging from 36–50 inches (91–127 cm) in length. The background coloration is gray, tan, or light brown, and pronounced dark brown or reddish-brown blotches run down the length of the body. In addition to the large dorsal blotches, there are interspersed smaller dark brown blotches running along the sides of the body. As adults, the head is often rust or copper in coloration with reduced or faded markings. Juveniles lack this head coloration, have more pronounced head markings, and are light gray with dark blotches running the length of the body. The underside is off-white or light yellow and covered in black checkerboard markings. Scales on this species are slightly keeled, and individuals have a divided anal scale. Western Foxsnakes can be easily differentiated from Gophersnakes by having a divided anal scale, a uniform patterning running the length of the body, and the absence of large vertical black bars on the upper lip (Gophersnakes have an undivided anal scale, a variable pattern from head to tail, and vertical black bars on the upper lip).
Habitat: Western Foxsnakes can be found in many different habitats across its range, including agricultural fields, farms, grasslands, and riparian woodlands. This species is often found in barns or other agricultural areas where there are abundant cover objects and numerous prey items.
Natural History: Western Foxsnakes feed primarily on rodents, birds, and eggs. Large prey items are often constricted, but smaller prey usually is not. Western Foxsnakes are frequently encountered on farms where they primarily consume rodents that are damaging crops and equipment, and as such, are a beneficial species to have present. When disturbed, Western Foxsnakes will often rattle their tail. This process does not produce sound, but if the tail is near dry leaves, sticks, or other items, it can produce a sound like that of a rattlesnake. Like many snakes, this species is likely to bite if handled and will release a foul-smelling musk if captured, but Western Foxsnakes are not harmful to people. Western Foxsnakes overwinter beneath the frost line in underground burrows. Mating often takes place in late April after individuals have emerged from hibernation. Males will pursue a female until she becomes receptive to mating. Once receptive, they will wrap their tails together and copulation occurs. Females then lay up to 20 eggs in nests in decaying organic material. Eggs typically hatch two or three months later, and hatchlings are 8–12 inches (20–30 cm) in length.
Species Distribution: This species can be found across much of the upper Midwestern states, including northern Illinois and Indiana, west to northeastern Nebraska, and north through southern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
South Dakota Distribution: Western Foxsnakes are restricted to the southeastern corner of South Dakota, from North Sioux City to Sioux Falls, west through Yankton and Springfield to Fort Randall Dam. Recent observations reported in Gregory County suggest that individuals may occur farther west than previously expected.
South Dakota Status: This species is monitored by the South Dakota Natural Heritage Program. Any observations of this species should be reported to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (report observation).
Remarks: Western Foxsnakes are not venomous and do not pose a threat to people. Many people often incorrectly refer to this species as a Bullsnake (see Gophersnake). While these two species do overlap in their range in South Dakota, Western Foxsnakes appear to be more abundant than Gophersnakes in southeastern South Dakota.