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The story of Old Red

June 2, 2013
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

My friends, Barb and Dennis, care for several cemeteries in the area. I received a text from Barb on May 1st alerting me to a strange red snake she had seen. "It was very red," I was told. I was skeptical. There are not really red snakes in Iowa. There is a small snake called the red bellied snake, but not red all over like their report. I replied back to them that the closest thing to their description was a rainbow snake found in Florida. The possibility of that being the snake was slim to none!

Finally, we decided that it had to have been an unfortunate garter snake caught by a mower blade and bloodied a bit causing the bright red color. Logical conclusion, but wrong.

About a week ago, I received a text from Dennis. He had seen a bright red snake again. He had seen it more than once. Always in front of the same stone. He had even attempted to sneak up and capture the snake but it would quickly slip down a hole only inches away. I told him I would swing by the cemetery on the way home that evening and take a look. My daughter, Shannon, and I turned into the cemetery drive about 5 PM that evening. We slowly approached the stone. There, right where Dennis said it would be was a RED snake. I carefully slipped back to the truck to find something with which to transport it. I wanted that snake.

Article Photos

Old Red is now a resident at the Grundy County Heritage Museum snake displays.
Photo by Kevin Williams

That was a mistake. When I approached the second time, the snake had moved closer to the stone and disappeared down the hole. We left but I vowed to return.

I was patrolling parks that evening and as I neared the cemetery, I pulled in on the chance that it might be out again. No such luck. But the woman that was nearby sure gave this uniformed officer a strange look. I walked over and explained why I was there and what I was looking for.

The next morning was Saturday. I let the sun get up and start generating some heat before I headed back. The snake would surely be basking by then and I'd have my chance. My heart dropped as I looked over to see someone working on some reseeding 50 feet from the stone. Surely, judging from how skittish this snake had been earlier there was no hope of there being that snake there now. But I grabbed the pillowcase I was planning to use for holding it and slowly headed for the stone.

It was there and six feet or more from the hole! I moved between it and the hole. It moved in the opposite direction going behind the stone. I dashed around the stone and grabbed the red snake.

My daughter was driving past the cemetery as this was all going down. She pulled in to see if I had been successful. In her words, "I drove by just as you were pouncing on it." I don't think I was pouncing, but whatever.

The snake is a garter snake, but a red phase garter snake. These I have since found in my research are not as rare as an albino, but pretty strange and pretty cool. It currently has a home in the Grundy County Heritage museum alongside a normal-colored garter snake for comparison. Stop by and have a look sometime.



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