Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge

Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)

I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday weekend. Alejandro and I enjoyed ours, despite the fact that we were rained out of our camping trip. We were able to make a quick trip to Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge, which is small nearby refuge that breaks up the vast urbanized area that is Denver metro. There isn’t a lot of space on the refuge, but it provides a little slice of habitat for some native wildlife. I was especially pleased with the abundant native milkweed throughout the refuge.

We didn’t see a whole lot of wildlife other than tons of Red-Winged Blackbirds, American Robins, and Bunnies. The Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) and Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) I’ve posted pictures of were definitely the highlight of the trip. The bullsnake in particular provided a good time and put on quite a show of hissing, making “rattling” noises, and vibrating its tail. In fact, we would’t have even had an encounter with him if it weren’t for the hikers that told us to be careful of the “rattlesnake” down the trail. The lady seemed alarmed by how excited I was at mention of a snake, and followed me as I went to take a look. I wasn’t too surprised to see the snake wasn’t, in fact, a rattlesnake, but a bullsnake, as the two are often confused. I educated the couple on ways to tell the species apart, as they were genuinely surprised to hear it wasn’t a rattlesnake (I’ve summarized a few of the most obvious ways to tell them apart below).

The couple didn’t stick around long, and after they left I quickly grabbed the bullsnake as it was trying to sneak away so I could take a few pictures. As is common with bullsnakes, the little guy was very feisty. As usual, Alejandro kept his distance (far, far away) for the duration of the encounter.

Overall we had a nice time at the refuge, and will definitely return since it is so close and convenient.

Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi)Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi)Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi)

Bullsnake vs. Rattlesnake

  1. Bullsnakes have no rattle and usually keep their tail flat on the ground to vibrate it. Rattlesnakes have noticeable rattles, and they usually hold their rattle up in the air to make it obvious they are there.
  2. Bullsnakes have heads that are about the same width as their body. Though they can puff it up somewhat to imitate a venomous snake, rattlesnakes have a much more obvious triangular head that is clearly wider than their body. This difference is the first I look for when I see a snake, and it is the most obvious differentiating factor for me.
  3. Bullsnakes have a thinner body, while rattlesnakes are much thicker in circumference.
  4. Bullsnakes have a circular pupil, while rattlesnakes have a vertical elliptical pupil. I put this difference last because most people find this one unhelpful, saying they never get close enough to see what the eye looks like.

Finally, if you are ever in any doubt as to what the species is, please just leave the snake alone. Snakes are never out to get people (STILL trying to impart this idea to Alejandro), and their first mode of defense is usually a quick getaway. They present a strike posture if you get too close, but are only playing defense. They would much rather not get in a tussle with a human, which they perceive as a predator.




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