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Dozens of Snakes Rescued From Iowa Well — Snake Hero Guest Post —

    A property owner reached out a couple weeks ago to find someone to help him with a problem. He is building on an old farmstead and when he opened the well pit he noticed a bunch of snakes inside. His problem was not with the snakes being there, rather that the well was about to be demolished and he didn’t want them to get killed in the process. I got in contact with him to find out when the well was being filled in and if there was any way to delay it until spring. 

    Unfortunately, the demolition could not be delayed.

    Iowa’s laws are a bit weird in places. As far as I know, there was nothing stopping the land owner from demolishing the well with all the snakes inside…
But, it would be illegal to remove them without permits. I contacted a few people with the Iowa DNR to find out what could be done. Normally, obtaining permits take some time and we did not have much to spare. Thankfully, it was decided that since my name is on Linn County Conservation permits I could be given permission to remove the snakes and keep them for the winter.
    I met the land owner on the property on the morning of November 9th. He told me a little about what was going on with the construction and then showed me to the well pit. 

    Three snakes were immediately visible.
    That didn’t seem so bad. He had mentioned seeing more though, and I suspected some others were hiding in the nooks. Sure enough, they were.

    One was even down the small vertical pipe in the floor.

    This still wasn’t too many and I was able to get them all out, even the one down in the floor. But… and there is always a but… when I was removing the ones from around a pipe, I saw another one up higher in a crevice, and it slipped away into the hollow part of the bricks. We found a heavy piece of metal and used it to break through the front of the brick and that is when things got interesting. There wasn’t just one more snake up in the hollow, there were three more. Then I noticed even more up in the corners. So, I started breaking open more bricks.
    It seemed like every time I broke open a new brick I would find another group of snakes.
    It is a good thing the well was being demolished, and this wasn’t just a case of a home owner wanting the snakes to be removed, because I feel like I got a good start on the demolition.
    Fortunately, most of the snakes were restricted to that wall. I did some checks on the other three sides, and did find a few snakes, but nowhere near as many.
    One of the snakes I found was a racer high up in the southern wall that looked to be in the process of crawling into the well through a hole that was drilled for a wire. I had broken into the brick below it, and reached up and felt it. Pretty much every other snake I had done that to would start to flee into another cavity. This racer didn’t move though. I very carefully broke out the brick around him, I got a better view, and he seemed pretty stuck.
    I left it there for a little bit, while I dug out other snakes, hoping it would wiggle its way out, but it hadn’t budged. When we felt we had found all the snakes we could out from the rest of the bricks, we talked about the options for the racer. Fortunately for the snake, it was in the top row of bricks, not far below the surface… but we didn’t have a shovel. The land owner managed to find a flat piece of metal though and it was enough to dig out along the outside of the wall. I dug down to a little above where I thought the snake was, then used my fingers to dig further and eventually found it. I hoped he could possibly pull back out through the hole, but he was definitely stuck. I dug down to find the wire that was in the hole with it, and we were able to cut it, and pull it out. That gave the snake enough room to slip the rest of the way through.
    In the end, we ended up pulling out 38 Western Fox Snakes (Pantherophis vulpinus), and 11 Racers (Coluber constrictor). I have no doubt we missed a few in the walls, but there was some places I just couldn’t safely break into. The snakes I was able to catch are currently being kept in a cold place in my house to keep them inactive for the winter. In the spring they will be released back on to the property where they came from.

About the Author

Don Becker is  a self-employed IT professional, that is fortunate to have free time to devote to activities he is passionate about (e.g., conservation, education). He is the Chief Technology Officer for the 501(c)(3) non-profit HerpMapper citizen science project, and volunteers with Linn County, Iowa Conservation Department doing educational programs, wildlife surveys, and habitat restoration.