Despite it’s common name, the Eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum subrubrum) is a particularly pretty and adorable turtle species. With a carapace length averaging between three to five inches or so, this is a fairly small and reclusive species. I don’t see them trekking about on open, dry land very often. That being said, every now and then I do come across them open ground — perhaps looking for a nesting spot or a more lucrative spot of water to hunt within. You can find Eastern mud turtles in a variety of freshwater habitats, though they do seem to prefer fairly calm bodies of water with an abundance of aquatic vegetation. This little one was photographed in Lowndes county, Georgia, a dozen miles or so north of the Florida/Georgia border.
It’s been far too long since I’ve seen a wild Rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus). In fact, this individual was the last one — and that was back in May of 2013. Though I haven’t seen any since 2013, I’m sure more than a few have seen me… Rough green snakes are pretty damn good at hiding right in front of you, wrapping and slinking through tangles of bright, green foliage. It’s a bit of a miracle I saw this one; I just happened to spot a slice of the snake’s mid-body through a thicket of greenery.
A non-venomous species, the Rough green snake is an excellent climber and swimmer. Active mostly during the day, they hunt for arthropods, namely insects, to snack upon. They don’t pose any danger to people whatsoever. Rough greens most certainly are not, as some people like to say on social media, “danger noodles” (unless your a meaty arthropod, that is).
The Ailanthus webworm moth is fairly easy to walk by at night, but if you do manage to spot it, and if you do choose to lean in and peer closer, you’ll be treated by a fantastically patterned little moth. Ranging throughout much of the American southeast, the wingspan of the Ailanthus webworm moth measures up to a whopping two to three centimeters — a little over an inch across on the bigger end of the wingspan. They appear much smaller, however, when they’re folded up and chilling out on a glass window at night (as this one was).
The Striped crayfish snake, Liodytes alleni (previously and alternatively classified as Regina alleni), is a slick and reclusive little serpent. Averaging around a foot and a half in length as adults, this species spends the vast majority of its time in water, lurking among the tangled tapestries of aquatic vegetation where it hunts for its preferred prey, the crayfish (hence the clever common name).
Though quite water-bound, Striped crayfish snakes can and often do hit open land after heavy rains. Like many other mostly-aquatic snake species in Florida, a good, heavy thunderstorm seems to lure them out onto open ground and, unfortunately, upon open roads. I found this Striped crayfish snake lurking near a canal shoreline and vast wet prairie in Brevard county — not too far from Kennedy Space Center.
Ranging across North America from the Atlantic west to the Pacific, Thamnophis sirtalis is one durable and adaptable species. In Florida, our recognized subspecies is Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, the Eastern garter snake (makes sense, right?). In fact, the “Eastern” subspecies ranges throughout much of the eastern portion of the United States. Whether you’re in Florida or New York, Minnesota or Louisiana, or anywhere in-between, there’s a decent chance you’ll come across an Eastern garter snake at some point. In my stretch of eastern-central Florida, our garters tend to sport a rather lovely blue-green color schema. Though common, our Eastern garter snakes are uncommonly gorgeous — and always a delight to photograph. I could get lost in those colors and textures.
The African redhead agama (Agama picticauda, arguably) is, as its common name might suggest, a non-native lizard species now scratching out a living along the Atlantic coast of southern Florida. The furthest north I’ve personally observed them is in the Stuart area (Martin county), though I’ve heard reports of agama showing up here and there as far north of Brevard county. It’s a species I wouldn’t be surprised to find in Volusia county in the next decade or two.
In my experiences, agamas are very fast, agile, large, and durable lizards. Catching them isn’t easy — whether your intention is to kill them or photograph them. Of course, I lean towards the latter: catch, photograph, and release.
Some folks will argue that non-native species must be dispatched upon sight, but when it comes to our lizards, it seems we’ve already missed the window of that making much of any difference. Simply put, our successful non-native lizards are successful for a reason. They’re quick, wary, and tend to reproduce faster than people can kill them. At this point, it’s up to native wildlife to compete and adapt against the ecological pressure exerted by our non-native lizards. Short of some disease or climatological disaster, it’s unlikely the agamas are going to go away.
NOTE: There’s a bit of continued debate about exactly which species of agamas have been introduced into Florida. On top of that, there’s also persistent debate by some regarding the general taxonomy of agamas across the world. In other words, though I’m calling these Agama picticauda, others may disagree. I’ll leave that actual debate to those more in the know when it comes to genetics and cladistics.
Watersnake populations tend to come and go with time. An area thick with them can dry up rather suddenly because of any number of environmental factors: pollution, water level, loss of prey, over-zealous collectors, and so on. On the flip-side, an area not known for having watersnakes can suddenly host tons of them — again because of any number of environmental factors. Things change in Florida, and change is not always driven by the introduction to non-native species.
With this in mind, we were delighted to find this gorgeous youngster. The baby banded was found in an manicured-park area that used to host heaps of colorful bandeds and cottonmouths a little over a decade ago — but had long since dried up. According to some local friends of mine in Alachua county, the loss of water-prone snakes was perhaps due to intensive grounds maintenance in this area (which, itself, was likely driven/impacted by hurricane and tropical storm damage). All the watersnakes and cottonmouths essentially disappeared, likely moving to a nearby area that offered a more protected and hospitable habitat system. Thus, finding this kid (along with the adult in our previous post) was a sign that they may be moving back into this immediate area. Finding a youngster was a very good sign that they’re repopulating this particular area.
This tickles me because this little corner of Alachua county used to be home to a decent number of what I call “caramello” banded watersnakes, a nickname I have for a particular banded watersnake pattern. The Banded watersnake is extremely variable in coloring and patterning throughout the Florida peninsula. My favorites are a swirled mix of bright oranges, reds, and tans. I call these “caramellos.” I’ve only seen caramellos in a few Alachua county spots and two Lake county spots. The individual featured here looks like it may be a juvenile caramello. As it grows, those light tans and oranges may end up dominating the facial and dorsal patterns. Maybe. It could just be an awesomely patterned “standard” banded, as I call them, but still… maybe.
I guess I’ll just have to return to this spot repeatedly to look for more in the years to come! Whatever the case, I’m thrilled we found three bandeds (two of which we were able to catch, photograph, and release, and one of which that escaped the gaze of our camera lenses). What an adorable little kid this one was. More please!
As the title might suggest (especially in the wake of the prior ribbon snake posts), my little herping group also managed to find a couple of Florida banded watersnakes (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris) in Alachua county last weekend. It’s been awhile since I’ve managed to get my hands on a banded watersnake —far and away my favorite native snake species–, so it was certainly delightful encounter.
The individual featured here was a small(ish) adult, one that had already seen some action. His tail had been bitten off at some point or removed by some other unfortunate means. Fortunately, it seems to have healed up nicely, and the snake was otherwise quite healthy.
I suppose the title of the last post (“The First Peninsula Ribbon Snake on 17 September 2018“) hinted that there might, in fact, be a second one coming up. Indeed, there was, and here it is — another lovely little ribbon.
At the time, I thought we might’ve simply caught that first ribbon once again, which does happen sometimes, but checking out the facial profile more closely, it was clearly a second individual. This isn’t really all that surprising. Whenever I find a ribbon, there’s usually more slinking about in the area. They aren’t necessarily communal, but they do seem to cluster a bit around profitable habitat. Sort of like college students hanging out near a bar that doesn’t i.d., right?
This past weekend, I jaunted up to Gainesville for a quick romp around the swamp. I wanted to pick up some Swamp Head Brewery goodness, visit with some old friends, and, of course, try to find a few snakes to photograph. As is often the case, Alachua county did not disappoint. The day’s reptilian offerings may not have been the most dramatic or rare, but, hey, a snake’s a snake — and they all make me happy.
Featured here is the first of two Peninsula ribbon snakes (Thamnophis sauritus sackenii) we found and photographed on Saturday. Slim, elegant, and a bit wiry, the Peninsula ribbon snake is commonly found near the edges of ponds, lakes, and even creeks — especially when there’s decent foliage clustered alongside the shoreline.
If you’re unsure how to differentiate the Peninsula ribbon snake from its close relative, the Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis), look for a well-defined white bar in front of each eye. If you see a vertical, white bar just in front of each eye, odds are you’re looking at a Peninsula ribbon snake. Garters can have white (or lighter) tones in front of each eye too, but they’re usually not as well defined. With ribbons, that bar is usually pretty sharp — as you can see in these photographs.
Continuing with our little run of furry caterpillars, here’s another tussock moth species in caterpillar form. This is the White-marked tussock moth caterpillar, Orgyia leucostigma, photographed in Alachua county on 15 September 2018.
Ranging across most of eastern North America (throughout Canada and the United States), the White-marked tussock moth is another mildly irritable species in that its caterpillar-stage hairs can cause an adverse reaction with some people. Again, I seem to not be one of those people — at least not when they’re crawling on me. Perhaps if I was foolish enough to pet the caterpillar like an awesome little ferret I might snag that itchy reaction?
Though not considered to be a “stinging” caterpillar, contact with the Fir Tussock caterpillar’s (Orgyia detrita) hairs can cause measurable irritation for some people. Fortunately, I’m don’t seem to be one of those people. I’ve had a bit of contact with two hairy tussock species, and neither resulted in any kind of irritation whatsoever. At the same time, I wasn’t exactly petting either caterpillar along the backside. They were crawling on me, and I assume the longer, needle-like “hairs” along the back are what you want to avoid contact with.
This species ranges throughout much of the American southeast — from Texas east to Florida and then north to New Jersey along the Atlantic coastline. In Florida, I can’t recall ever seeing there in Volusia county, but I have seen plenty of tussocks in north-central Florida (specifically in Alachua and Gilchrist counties).