Reptiles do not receive the attention afforded the cute, furry mammals or harmonic birds but they are equally important in the web of life. They assist humans by eating insects, rodents, and other pest species. Throughout the Midwest, reptile numbers are declining, primarily due to loss of habitat.
The limestone bluffs unique to the Upper Mississippi River Valley and the "Driftless Area." The brown, northern redbelly, eastern garter, and prairie ringneck snakes are common but due to their small size they are difficult to find.
The black rat snake is the largest and most commonly seen snake within the monument. This snake is a constrictor and nonpoisonous but can inflict a painful bite if threatened.
Historically, the timber rattlesnake has been found in the region, although documented sightings have not taken place for many years. With the recent acquisition of the Heritage Addition, the protection of suitable habitat for the timber rattlesnake is more likely. This combined with the monument's use of prescribed fire increases the likelihood of rattlesnakes once again colonizing the secluded blufftops.
Closely related to the snakes are the skinks, which are members of the lizard family. The five-lined skink is an elusive creature. It is usually seen in hill prairie remnants along rock outcrops near Fire Point and Hanging Rock. It is the only lizard common to the monument.
Several species of turtles inhabit the lowlands and marshy areas of the monument. The easily recognizable painted turtle is one of the most frequently observed reptiles. Other turtles such as the map turtle, Blanding's turtle, and soft-shell turtles are seen with less frequency. The impressive snapping turtle can reach lengths of larger than 15 inches and weigh 40 pounds or more. These aquatic turtles inhabit the Mississippi River though they do often take short forays inland. Their name is well suited to their ornery disposition.
Did You Know?
An important figure in the documentation of Iowa's effigy mounds was Ellison Orr. Born in 1857, Orr worked other jobs while pursuing research in archeology. After retiring at the age of 73, Orr began a career as an archeologist spending the next 20 years conducting surveys and excavations.