Shawnee National Forest’s Snake Road closed Friday, March 15, so that snakes and amphibians, some of them considered threatened and endangered in Illinois and the United States, can migrate from the limestone bluffs where they hibernate during the winter to nearby LaRue Swamp, which they make their home in the summer.
Closing the 2.5-mile-long road, also known as LaRue Road and Forest Service Road No. 345, helps ensure safe crossing for these rare species.
The gradual, two-month migration attracts people from across the country eager to witness the rich diversity of reptile and amphibian species along this single stretch of road. About 66 percent of the amphibians and 59 percent of the reptiles known to occur in Illinois are found here.
Here's what you might see if you visit Snake Road during the migration:
According to a news release from the Shawnee National Forest, the migration happens as these species are coming out of winter hibernation. Cottonmouths are the most common snake that can be seen during this migration.
Snake Road will be closed between mile post 3.0 and mile post 5.8. It will remain closed until May 15. Though the road is closed to vehicles, it is open to people traveling on foot.
Although foot traffic is welcome, be aware that LaRue-Pine Hills/Otter Pond is a federally designated Research Natural Area and unauthorized collecting and handling of any of these species is prohibited under federal and state law.
Common names of reptiles and amphibians occurring at this site: American toad, bird-voiced tree frog, black racer, black rat snake, broadhead skink, brown snake, bullfrog, green frog, cave salamander, central newt, common kingsnake, common snapping turtle, copperhead, cottonmouth, cricket frog, diamondback water snake, eastern box turtle, eastern garter snake, eastern hognose snake, fence lizard, five-lined skink, flathead snake, Fowler's toad, gray tree frog, green tree frog, ground skink, lesser siren, long tail salamander, marbled salamander, midland water snake, Mississippi green water snake, mud snake, musk turtle, painted turtle, red milksnake, red-bellied snake, red-eared slider, ringneck snake, rough green snake, slimy salamander, smooth earth snake, southern leopard frog, Spotted salamander, spring peeper, timber rattlesnake, upland chorus frog, western ribbon snake, wood frog and worm snake.
Snake Road is located south and west of Murphysboro and east of Illinois 3.
For more information about the snake migration and/or the LaRue-Pine Hills Ecological Area, please contact the Shawnee National Forest office in Jonesboro, Illinois at 618-833-8576, or visit fs.usda.gov/shawnee.