Featured here is a rather haggard, weathered, and worn Brown watersnake, Nerodia taxispilota, just about to shed its scales through the process of ecdysis. See that blue film over the eye in the top photograph? Snakes, as you may already know, don’t have flexible eyelids. Instead, each eye is covered by a transparent ocular plate, a modified scale designed to protect each eye. When the snake goes through ecdysis and sheds all of its scales, it also sheds each ocular scale.
As beaten up as this Brown watersnake may appear in these photographs, it likely looked much fresher, healthier, and “newer” a few days later — just after ecdysis. The pre-shedding phase can be a bit difficult for some species because their vision can be somewhat limited and mobility can be less than optimal. Still, I can only imagine how awesome it must be for the snake just after shedding its scales. I like to think of this snake a few days later eating an over-abundance of fish with its new, shiny coat on.
Most of my snake photographs are not in situ, that is of snakes posing naturally in their natural habitats. More often than not, whenever possible at least, I catch the snake, slap on my 60mm lens, and shoot very tight macro shots with the snake in one hand and my camera in the other. My main goal is to shoot close-up, tight facial profiles and to document the mid-range ventral and dorsal patterns. Every now and then, however, I do manage to remember to snag a naturally-posed shot (usually when I don’t think I can get my hands on the subject…)
Featured here is a Brown watersnake, Nerodia taxispilota, basking above a small canal line. The tight shot is up top, and the wider shot is down below. This is a classic basking position for this non-venomous species. Brown watersnakes prefer to bask in foliage hanging directly over water. When threatened, they just plop down into the water for a hasty retreat. Some folks even refer to this species as the “most arboreal” of Florida’s watersnake species. I certainly agree. In fact, if and when you hear stories about snakes falling into canoes and kayaks in Florida, odds are it was a Brown watersnake. They’re fairly predictable in this manner!
Can you spot the Brown basking below?
I’ll be the first to admit that the Florida softshell (Apalone ferox) is by no means conventionally “beautiful” or “pretty,” yet I still find them to be extraordinarily attractive and awesome organisms at first sight. Unfortunately, that “first sight” is often in the middle of a heavily travelled road. Unlike other aquatic turtle species, softshells spend the vast majority of their time in the water; they don’t really lay out on land or on perches to bask for extended periods of time. If and when you see a Florida softshell on land, it’s most likely trying to move from one body of water to another or looking for a place to lay a clutch of eggs.
We came across this young adult tuckered out on an open, busy road in the Big Cypress area. Water to the left, and water to the right, but the turtle was, for some reason, tuckered down defensively in harm’s way. Though best practice is arguably to let the turtle figure it out for itself, we decided to help this one get off the road. There was a stream of cars coming in the turtle’s lane, and I don’t think it would’ve turned out well for the wee anapsid (if you still consider turtles to be an Anapsid). Once the turtle was near the waterline, it shot off like a rocket, as they often do, and disappeared into the deep, adjacent canal-line.
Featured here is one of many Brown watersnakes (Nerodia taxispilota) I photographed during our Spring Break 2018 romp throughout south Florida. This was far and away the most abundant snake species we encountered over the trip. Tons of them.
This particular individual was getting close to ecdysis — the shedding of its scales. When you see a snake with a bluish sheen on its eye, that signifies ecdysis is near. Snakes don’t actually have eyelids. Instead, they have an ocular scale (known as a brille) covering each eye. When the snake sheds its “skin” (meaning “scales”), it will also shed each brille — thus giving the snake a brand new set of ocular scales through which to see the world in all of its dangerous glory.
Below, I added a bonus shot of another Brown watersnake photographed in situ to represent how this species prefers to bask (typically on foliage directly over water).
In South Florida, the Florida banded watersnake, Nerodia fasciata pictiventris, tends to be quite dark in coloration and patterning. Indeed, the species can be quite variable in coloration and patterning throughout the entirety of the Florida peninsula, but in South Florida, black seems to be the name of the game. This, of course, often further encourages people to misidentify Florida bandeds as being venomous Florida cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti/Agkistrodon conanti). Such was the case of this Florida banded observed from overhead on an elevated boardwalk trail. A couple of cats in front of us were pointing at the snake and marveling at the “cottonmouth” sitting right there… Of course, this is not a cottonmouth (and, alas, never will be). Still, when people see beefy, dark snakes damn near anywhere near water, they tend to believe they’re seeing cottonmouths. Florida banded watersnakes such as this one are entirely non-venomous and entirely unrelated to Florida cottonmouths.
Native to Cuba, the Western bearded anole is a heap of awesome, bumpy anole action. These photographs are of a few specimens on display during the 2018 Anolis Symposium in Coral Gables, Florida. To the best of my knowledge, we don’t have any publicly-noted established-populations of these massive anoles in Florida… yet. Give it time, though. Heh. Florida loves to pick up the strays. I personally wouldn’t mind stumbling across one of these tankers on some random Tuesday. Incredible textures.
Growing up in Volusia county, Florida, anoles, those funky little lizards, were a daily happening in my childhood. When I think back to my early years in Florida, I remember four things above all else (people excluded): anything and everything Devo, my beloved Atari 2600 game console, my collection of well-used and weathered Star Wars action figures, and, of course, tons and tons of Carolina green anoles (Anolis carolinensis). Sometimes the anoles would even serve as confused participants in my Star Wars action figure role-playing scenes in the backyard, but they were always there on the house — on our walls and on our screens. Good god, how I adored them.
I remember building a wood-framed screen terrarium with my father, complete with a swinging hatch, to keep anoles in. When we finished building it, I ran around the house and collected as many anoles as I could and threw them in the terrarium. Maybe a little over a dozen or so? That’s when I started to figure out that the males didn’t always play so well together. That’s when I started noticing their stress patterns. These weren’t just “things” that hung out on our home like little emerald ornaments; these were living organisms that responded directly and sometimes dramatically to the world around them — much like myself.
That’s about the time my passive curiosity of reptiles and my fondness of wearing anoles (biting my earlobes) as jewelry became something… more. I started paying more attention to how they acted around one another, to how they behaved in different locations, to how they responded to different environmental factors. Yeah, that’s about the time a “lizard” ceased being a mere thing I’d find outside. Instead, I started seeing each individual as a living creature driven by its own instincts and motivations, trying desperately to scratch out a living in an otherwise harsh and difficult world. Once these lizards stopped being things and once I began to see them as organisms with agency, my fascination with them exploded.
Though I was ultimately drawn into the world Humanities, Rhetoric, and Communication, I’ve continued to carry with me an intense curiosity and fascination of the natural world around us — of ecology, of evolution, of biodiversity. I can safely and honestly put the lizards of Genus Anolis square center in the grid of factors that continues to drive my intellectual curiosity forward through the years. You’d be hard pressed to find another vertebrate taxon more impressive than the anoles when it comes to adaptation and diversity. As they were when I was a child, the anoles that surround me today, along with our native Nerodia watersnakes, feed my imagination with questions and wonder. They make me want to ask questions and, even better, find answers. Curiosity is truly one of the most beautiful aspects of being alive, and I’m extremely grateful to have such engagement with these fascinating lizards.
Thus, with that in mind, here’s the long-overdue slideshow of photographs from the second day of the 2018 Anolis Symposium held at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida — an event I’d long looked forward to attending and one I hope to again attend next time it swings around. It’s truly something special to be surrounded by such focused curiosity — all these human souls bound together by the Genus Anolis — a mix of youthful enthusiasm balanced with the discipline and rigor of scientific methodology. The best of the best, balanced.
As always, if you’d like to learn more about anoles, be sure to check out Anole Annals!