I am not used to tripping on really big snakes in Minnesota. Despite the 3rd of July crowds along the Cannon River Bike Trail in Goodhue Co., this Western Fox Snake slithered across the bike trail in front of us. Despite their size, these serpents are harmless to people. They range from 3 to 5 feet in length--ours was somewhere between those extremes. We identified it by its relatively plain-colored head.
Fox Snakes inhabit southern Minnesota (and also in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa) in moist woodlands, prairies, meadows and rocky outcroppings near rivers. They are often nocturnal during the summer. When handled, they are usually passive, though often release a musky smell from scent glands at the base of the tail. This odor smells like a Red Fox, hence the snake's name. If cornered and unable to flee, Fox Snakes can vibrate their tails and also strike at their attackers. Unfortunately, this behavior leads to misidentifications that often result in the snakes' being killed by humans. These snakes usually consume rodents, often killing them by constriction. Fox Snakes are active between April and October. In winter they hibernate in rocky crevices.