The Garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis, is one of the most wide-ranging snake species on the North American continent. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the southern border to beyond the north, Garter snakes are remarkably adaptable organisms. There are currently a dozen or so recognized subspecies of Garter snakes — by some measures, at least. In Florida, we have the nominate subspecies: Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, known regionally and commonly as the Eastern garter snake.
In east and northeast Florida, especially within the coastal counties, our Eastern garter snakes often carry a bluish-green tone to their patterning. Eastern garters further north and even to the south don’t necessarily have such a bluish-green shine to their coat, but I have seen this design elsewhere from time to time. It’s simply more common here, it seems. This provides an exceptional example of “Ordinary but Extraordinary.” Seriously, as common as garters may be, I’m always thrilled to see a wild one in Florida. You’d be hard pressed to find a more attractive snake in Florida (at least if you like blue-green tones).
This individual was photographed in Flagler county, Florida. A splendid serpent.
NOTE: This is not the same as Thamnophis sirtalis similis, the so-called Blue-striped garter snake; that sub-species technically ranges along Florida’s west coast within the big bend region. Personally, I don’t put too much stock in subspecies divisions. With no natural barrier between subspecies, phenotypic drift, so to speak, is to be expected. In other words, I think of ours as Garter snakes with some awesome blue-green tones in their genetic makeup.
Ranging across much of North America (including portions of Canada and Mexico), the Six-spotted fishing spider, Dolomedes triton, is an elegant and agile little arachnid. This species is adapted to essentially living on calm bodies of water — namely lakes and ponds. Hunting aquatic-born insects, tadpoles, and small fish, the Six-spotted fishing spider can actually stand on open water, gazing down and waiting for a meal to approach. They are also able to dive into the water — sometimes as a retreat from an would-be predator from above. In Florida, this species can be ridiculously abundant, but they’re often overlooked due to their diminutive status in the Big Scheme of Things.
When you’re in the Florida Keys, you may stumble across a Great blue heron that, though still great, ain’t quite that blue. That’s because many Great blue herons ranging in the Florida Keys are actually a white-morph form: The “Great white heron.” Some folks consider these Great white herons to be an entirely separate subspecies: Ardea herodias occidentalis. Personally, I don’t put too much stock in subspecies differentiations at this point. Even if I did, I’m not exactly up to speed on the data about this particular species and its respective subspecies classifications. Finally, the individual featured here was a half-n-half, if you will… Though it lacked the blue head plumage typical on Great blue herons further to the north in my home territory of central Florida, it still had a bit of a faded blue dorsal tone. Given its size, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a kid. Anyhow, issues of subspeciation aside, I found this particular heron to be an absolute visual delight. A lovely and understated beauty backdropped by that fantastic Keysian water. Not a bad way to scratch out a living on this raging marble we call Earth, right?
This is a fairly typical Great blue heron, Ardea herodias, a common avian staple throughout the entirety of Florida and much of North and Central America. Fairly large and somewhat regal, the Great blue heron knows how to chillax with style. If you get too close, however, you may be treated with the Great blue heron’s obnoxiously humorous fly-away-call. When they fly away from being disturbed, this species sometimes makes the most godawful racket. In a sense, they remind me of fourteen year children who have no problem letting you know exactly what a pain in the ass you are to them. Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-WAH! Still, a lovely bird to look at… in silence.
Since I’m in a Keysian state of mind, let’s skip back a few years, shall we? Featured here are a number of Key deer, Odocoileus virginianus clavium, a miniaturized (but not weaponized) subspecies of the white-tailed deer. This tiny deer, carrying an average weight of only 45 to 75 pounds or so, scratches out a living in the Florida Keys, feeding primarily on red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle). They’re most focused in the Big Pine Key area, much of which is designated the National Key Deer Refuge.
A federally protected subspecies, there aren’t heaps and heaps of Key deer remaining. I’m not sure what the official estimate is today, but it’s probably still between 700 and 800. That being said, we damn near lost the subspecies altogether in the 1950s, and, all things considered, they’re made a fairly impressive recovery. It’s not uncommon to find them lounging about along the mangrove shorelines and neighborhoods of the Big Pine Key area — where they frequently encounter humans. As you might gather from these photographs, they’re also fairly comfortable around humans.
During my lightning-fast, solo-romp through the Florida Keys in search of lizards and adventure, I stopped at a few places to try my iPhone’s camera in some open water. The iPhone X is waterproof, but I’ve largely been a coward about getting it wet and trying to use the camera. I decided to finally try it out in some relatively calm water. The results? Not what I’d call spectacular photography, but good heavens… my freakin’ phone took these?
Check out a few results below (including):
A brand spanking new species of Anolis/Chamaeleolis? Yes, please.
Check it out:
Zahradníčková, Veronika Holáňová. (5 Aug. 2018). Discovery of new dimorphic Anolis/Chamaeleolis from Cuba. Anole Annals, http://www.anoleannals.org/2018/08/05/discovery-of-new-dimorphic-anolis-chamaeleolis-from-cuba/.
In my experience, you can generally divide snakes into two camps from a photographic perspective: the sort-of-cooperative snakes and the not-cooperative-in-the-gotdamn-slightest snakes. For example, Southern black racers are generally less than uncooperative while Yellow rat snakes often are fairly cooperative. It’s not a hard-line rule on either end, however. There are always exceptions to the standard. I’ve encountered a few fairly placid Southern black racers in my time, and sometimes I come across a Yellow rat snake with hellfire and madness in its veins. Still, some species are generally more cooperative than others when you’re trying to snag photographs.
Interestingly, and despite their reputation, Florida cottonmouths more often than not also fall into the soft-of-cooperative side of the equation. Personally, I find Florida cottonmouths to be generally patient and cooperative when I’m trying to photograph them. Despite popular opinion, they’re not really aggressive at all. That being said, this little cottonmouth was the stark exception to the standard. Though still not aggressive, this little viper was not cooperative in the gotdam slightest. Heh.
I came across the snake crossing a south Florida road fairly late at night and after a nice round of thunderstorms. Once it spotted me (headlamp and camera and all) coming, this little Cottonmouth decided to get the hell out of dodge. Nothing I did eased its desire to get the hell out of the road. It never stopped moving — even when I was in front of it. No matter what I did, how I moved, or where I positioned myself, this little fellow just wouldn’t simmer down. No defensive posturing from this one. Just MUST-GO! MUST-GO!
Rather than meddling with the determined Cottonmouth extensively, I was content to snag a few quick shots as we danced/slithered back and forth across the pavement. With other cars soon to come, I soon let the snake go about its way and, yes, get the hell out of dodge. This was definitely one of the rowdier Florida cottonmouths I’ve encountered, and good for it. When it comes to people, Florida cottonmouths should get the hell out of dodge. Unlike Cottonmouths and snakes more generally, people are more than eager to go out of their way to aggress upon wild animals and slaughter them needlessly.
Happy trails, uncooperative-Cottonmouth. My the road rise up to meet your scales for many more days to come!
South Florida’s not just about snakes and lizards, of course. Every now and then I’m able to pry my eyes out of the foliage and look down at the ground beneath my feet. This was certainly a good time to do so. I stumbled across a few dozen Caribbean land hermit crabs slowly racing their way across the the ground of one of Florida’s Lower Keys.
Fairly abundant throughout parts of the Florida Keys, the Caribbean land hermit crab, Coenobita clypeatus, is a fairly lovely, variable, and curious species. They take advantage of gastropod shells and trek around the ground in their adopted mobile homes, scavenging from fallen fruit and deceased plant and animal matter. Cute, right? A-dorable, if you ask me!
Is there anything as adorable as a juvenile Florida banded watersnake (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris) just starting to wind and slink its way through life? As noted before on Floridensis (a few dozen times), the Florida banded watersnake is a non-venomous species. Unfortunately, it’s often misidentified as the Florida cottonmouth and consequently slaughtered by people. But not this time. Not on this night. This night, this little kid survived to see another day.
I never stumble upon a Nerodia watersnake that I don’t adore. They’re just terrific, beautiful, and fascinating organisms. They’re also amazingly and consistently misunderstood and feared unnecessarily by the better part of humanity. Far too many people see the non-venomous watersnakes of Genus Nerodia and immediately think four things: AGGRESSIVE! COTTONMOUTH! VENOMOUS! MUST DESTROY! All four counts are, as Stuart Smalley might say, stinkin’ thinkin’.
Featured here is a decently-sized-yet-slim Florida green watersnake, Nerodia floridana, photographed during my post-storm romp around much of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties last week. Of Florida’s non-venomous Nerodia watersnakes, in my experience Florida green watersnakes tend to be the beefiest (though Brown watersnakes can certainly pack some mass, too). Though not aggressive in the slightest, I don’t mind describing Florida green watersnakes as “assertively defensive.” What I mean by this is that even though this species simply won’t chase you under any circumstances, if you do pick one up, it can pack quite the punch in its self defense. Florida greens can bite, and they can bite pretty hard — though they don’t always put up the effort.
As for this individual, it was a bit of an Owen Wilson caliber Florida green watersnake. If it had anything to say, it was Wow, man, wow. Not an overly reactive individual. It definitely wasn’t a Nick Cage Florida green.