It’s one of the most unique places in the world and can be found right here in southern Illinois. It is a place where snakes and other reptiles and amphibians migrate across a country road. It is a road so famous by this mass movement that we had to invent a whole new name for it. It is the “Snake Road.” Managed by the Shawnee National Forest, the Snake Road lies at the base of the LaRue-Pine Hills bluffs and is closed to vehicular traffic every spring and fall to help protect thousands of reptiles and amphibians during their migration between their summer and winter habitats.
On one side of the Snake Road are the sheer Pine Hills Bluffs and on the other side are the vast LaRue Swamps. Every spring reptiles and amphibians come out of hibernation in the cliffs and bluffs and must move across the Snake Road to the swamp to feed and fatten up during the summer months. Then in the fall the migration is reversed and once again they return to the bluff areas for winter hibernation. It’s fascinating to see the migration and witness Mother Nature in action
Herpetologists, biologists that specialize in the study of snakes, have determined that the main factor in triggering the seasonal migration is ground temperature. In 1972, the Forest Service began to close a 2.5-mile segment of the road during the seasonal migration to protect the reptiles and amphibians as they moved between their summer and winter homes. The road is now being closed for two months each spring and fall to further ensure the protection of both early and late migrating species.
This area is teeming with wildlife, although you might not see them all. Nearly 66 percent of the amphibians and 59 percent of the reptiles known to occur in Illinois are found here, including at least 35 species of snakes. In addition to the creepy crawly critters, nearly 90 percent of the Illinois mammal species and 173 bird species can be found in the Pine Hills. It is an important resting area for migratory birds and waterfowl. Some unusual animals and birds that make LaRue-Pine Hills their home include the bobcat, bald eagle, spring cavefish, eastern woodrat, golden mouse, Mississippi kite and indigo bunting. Because of the exceptional amount of diversity of plant and animal life recorded in the Pine Hills, it was designated our nation’s 250th Research Natural Area (RNA) in 1991. RNA’s are permanently protected to maintain biological diversity and to provide places for research and monitoring of undisturbed natural areas.