Three of the four venomous snake species that are native to Illinois can be found at Pere Marquette State Park: the Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), and the Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus). These snakes have a pair of hollow fangs in their front, upper mouth which they use to strike their prey and inject venom. The venom is a toxin that destroys the red blood cells of their prey. After the prey dies the snakes will find and eat it.
All of these snakes are pit vipers, characterized by having a large opening, or "pit," on each side of the head between the eye and nostril. The snake uses this feature to detect the heat emitted by potential warm-blooded prey. In Illinois, the pupils of venomous snakes are elliptical (like a cat's eyes) and the pupils of non-venomous snakes are round. Hiking trails like the Rattlesnake Trail provide the type of habitat that Copperheads and Timber Rattlesnakes like. These snakes prefer upland forests, rock outcroppings and limestone bluffs. They can be found resting under logs, in cracks of foundations, and under rocks. The Eastern Massasauga prefers prairie wetlands and river floodplains.
These snakes are not aggressive toward humans and tend to bite only when disturbed or cornered. However a venomous snakebite, while usually not fatal, can be quite painful and can cause swelling, nausea, and the risk of infection. If you are bitten, seek medical treatment immediately.
The best ways to avoid a bite is to take precautionary measures. Stay on the hiking trails, wear heavy shoes, do not reach under or step over rocks and logs, and look before you sit down. If you encounter a snake, remember that they are more afraid of you and backing off should defuse the situation. A good rule of thumb when encountering a snake, or any other animals in the wilderness, is that you’re on their territory, not vice-versa. Respect their homes the way you would expect any guests to respect yours.
The Rattlesnake Trail connects with the Fern Hollow Trail.