An unfortunate and sadly unavoidable byproduct of spending so much time looking for snakes while trolling Florida’s roadways after the sun sets is that you inevitably come across snake after snake that’s suffered at the hands (or wheels) of humanity. Such was the case with the beautiful Red rat snake, Pantherophis guttatus, also known commonly as the Corn snake.
I found this young corn resting cluelessly at the edge of a roadway a few hours after sunset. It had clearly suffered some sort of trauma to the head, but it was still alive and still somewhat alert. It’s jaw structure was quite brutalized, however, so I’m not sure if it recovered. Perhaps. Snakes can be remarkably resilient, but this one seemed rather out of it. Further, while its right eye was intact, its left eye had also been damaged quite a bit and was clearly no longer functional (I skipped that photograph). If I had to hazard a guess, perhaps it was clipped by the edge of a car or smacked by a motorcycle; I saw many roadkills on this same road (and others) throughout the evening.
I usually don’t photograph injured or maimed snakes —at least not when they were likely tanked out by a vehicle–, but it’s good to note and remember that our roadways are shared by more than other drivers. It’s good to remember to slow down and share the roadway — especially after the sun sets to the west of Florida, when so many organisms are drawn to our darkened roadways.
This past weekend, I slipped down to south Florida for a romp through the tangles and flats of the Everglades system — working my way through Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, and a slew of fairly undeveloped areas adjacent to the formal parks. I’d also planned on doing a day in Coral Gables and South Miami for non-native lizard action, but an intense wave of storms thwarted my final act. No worries, though… The trip was still quite awesome. Consider this snake, for example: The Everglades rat snake!
The Everglades rat snake is simply the southern variant of the Eastern rat snake, Pantherophis alleghaniensis. There’s been much fuss about the taxonomy and classification of North American rat snakes in recent years. I covered the basics back in the 50 Shades of Rat Snake post last March, but here’s the quick summary: In the eastern portion of the United States, Pantherophis alleghaniensis features a range of base colors from north to south. We used to think of these as different subspecies (and in some cases as distinct species), but we now know that genetically they’re simply four variants of the same species (Pantherophis alleghaniensis).
In reality, however, these are simply four color variants of the same species from region to region, the Eastern rat snake — Pantherophis alleghaniensis. What confuses people is that the Central rat snake (Pantherophis spiloides) can also feature the same gray and black patterns, almost identically, in their respective ranges. Some folks still cling to a few of the older taxonomies, but I hold with the current Pantherophis alleghaniensis schema.
Anyhow, despite how you may want to classify them, this was my first “Everglades” rat snake. As amazing as it may be given all the time I’ve spent in the Everglades system, I had simply never encountered an Everglades rat snake in south Florida before this past weekend. It was a delightful discovery late at night on a quiet south Florida road.
From a distance, the snake looked quite similar to the Yellow rat snakes I’m used to in central Florida, but when I got closer, those yellows revealed themselves to be extremely dark and bold — with splashes of orange throughout. This was one hell of a beautiful serpent. Frisky and reactive, too. In central Florida, most of our Yellow rat snakes are fairly sedate, calm serpents (most, but not all). This individual, on the other hand, was quite ready and eager to react and defend itself. It puffed its neck a bit (a behavior I’ve never seen before in a rat snake) and even struck a number of times. It put on a hell of a good show.
I snagged a quick burst of photographs and left the rat snake to continue its evening hunt. As I’d soon find out, there was much more out and about in south Florida that particular night. Our next stream of posts will feature a variety of snakes observed in south Florida, as well as a range of localities and environments I sojourned through. We’ll check out Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, the edge of Lake Okeechobee, and much in between.
Though I still have heaps of cicada photographs waiting in the wings (see what I did there?), we’ll wrap up this little run of cicada posts with one of my favorite individuals. This is a remarkably bold and brilliantly beautiful Coastal lyric cicada, Neotibicen lyricen virescens, photographed in my Valdosta, Georgia, backyard back during July of 2013.
I wish I’d taken better pictures of this cicada’s dorsal patterns and coloring. The figure-ground contrast of its greens, browns, and blacks were truly breathtaking. Whereas some annual cicada species in the American southeast can be somewhat drab in their adult coloration, the Coastal lyric cicada can most certainly an exception. This one was certainly a winner. I could get lost in the brilliance of those contrasting colors and patterns!
Continuing our little run of cicada posts, featured here is a Similar dog-day cicada (Neotibicen similaris) photographed on my back patio in Volusia county, Florida. I’ve divided the photographs into two sets.
This first set of photographs below features a Similar dog-day cicada photographed at night. I found the cicada bunkered down and stretched out on the edge of my back patio; it had likely undergone ecdysis three or four hours before I came across it:
The next morning (well before sunrise), I was pleasantly surprised to find the same cicada still hanging out on my back patio. By now, however, it had darkened up a bit (as they do after ecdysis):
Located about a hundred miles east/northeast of Anchorage, Alaska, in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Matanuska Glacier is a remarkably beautiful and other-worldly area to explore, especially from the perspective of a Floridian swamprat such as myself. Approximately 27 miles long and, in parts, four miles wide, Matanuska truly is an impressive and dynamic glacial system. These photographs were taken atop the glacial system near its terminus in the Matanuska Valley, just on the edge of Matanuska River.
Glaciers such as Matanuska are not stable, static things. They are consistently heaving and buckling beneath the force of gravity — moving, shifting, fracturing, squeezing, and crushing. In fact, one of my favorite sounds in the world is the deep, directionless sound of glacial ice cracking; it’s a sound you feel more than you hear, and there’s nothing else like it in the world.
Most of these photographs were taken atop Matanuska Glacier. In the lead image and a few images below, you can see what looks like a pond and a creek system slinking through the glacial ice. These bodies of water are actually situated on top of the glacial system. That’s how deep the glacial ice goes. Matanuska has its own water system, so to speak, on top of it. I find it difficult to describe the scale and magnitude of such a glacial system.
Hiking atop something like Matanuska Glacier is not an easy affair or anything to be taken lightly. The ice can be slippery, yes, but the real risk are crevasses — deep slits, holes, and crevices within the ice. Glacial systems aren’t composed of single blocks of compacted ice. The glacial ice is consistently fragmented and shattered, squeezed and rubbed. These units of glacial ice rub against one another, and, at times, spread apart to create such crevasses. You would not want to slip and fall into such a crevasse. That would be, as George Orwell might say, double-plus ungood. For the most part, I stayed well away from the larger crevasses, but I did photograph a few of the smaller, less dangerous ones, a few of them filled with crystal-blue liquid water.
Though I spent the vast majority of my four years in Alaska around the Anchorage, Chugach, and Kenai regions, Matanuska Glacier and Hatcher Pass (not too far from each other) were definite bonuses. When I eventually return to Alaska (and I will return to Alaska — for a visit), the Mat-Su Valley will undoubtedly be on my itinerary. I miss the deep, penetrating sound of glacial ice fragmenting and cracking.
Following the annotated photo montage from yesterday’s post, here’s another video I wrassled up during the summer of 2013. This video is actually a time-lapsed recording of another Northern dusk singing cicada undergoing its own process of ecdysis.
I shot this using my iPhone 5 propped up on a chair with some stacked books. For light, I propped up a flashlight nearby. This isn’t exactly the most graceful of recording set-ups, but it was still pretty fun on my end (perhaps less so for the cicada). I edited out some motionless passages, but you can see the time stamps at the bottom left throughout the duration of the recording. The video begins at 11:08 pm and ends at 12:19am — just over an hour later.
During the summers from 2011 through 2013, I was graced with an over-abundance of cicadas (of varying species) in my Valdosta, Georgia, backyard. Our backyard was also a goldmine for emerging cicada nymphs breaking out into their winged adult forms, especially Northern dusk singing cicadas (Megatibicen auletes).
Featured below is an annotated photographic montage video I slapped together back in June of 2013 — a video tracking the process of ecdysis late one summer night for one, single emerging Northern dusk singing cicada:
Featured below is a sample of the source images in still-form. In our next post, we’ll check out an actual time-lapse video of another Northern dusk singing cicada undergoing its own process of ecdysis — in all its heaving, bulging glory. These little tanks are endlessly fascinating.
In our last post, we checked out a rather frosty Northern dusk singing cicada, a big chunk of bug coasted with waxy pruinosity. In this post, we’re checking out a slightly younger cicada — one seeming to glow bright neon green, a youngster not yet pruinose. Indeed, what you see here is a freshly teneral Lyric cicada, Neotibicen lyricen, emerging on the flip-side of ecdysis from its larval to adult form. This neonic green newcomer to our world was photographed in my Valdosta backyard in June of 2013.
Another annual species, the Lyric cicada was rather abundant in this part of south Georgia, but it wasn’t quite as abundant as the slightly larger Northern dusk singing cicadas. At least not in my backyard. Further, this cream-green teneral cicada (a coloring that only lasts a few hours) tended to be brighter and more neonic than the Northern dusk singing cicadas. It was truly a gorgeous creature to observe.
Next week on Floridensis, we’ll focus a bit more on various cicadas of southern Georgia and central Florida and check out a variety of photographs (and videos) I composed of cicadas at varying stages in their life cycle.
One significant benefit of living in Valdosta, Georgia, for two years was being able to see (and hear) a great number of noisy Northern dusk singing cicadas (Megatibicen auletes) in my backyard each summer. This large, hefty, annual cicada species was far and away the most common in my neighborhood, and I delighted in being able to observe them throughout their life span — from their emergent teneral phase through adulthood. Each summer, we had these little behemoths doing their thing in our backyard, young and old alike.
The white “frost” you see on this individual is actually a kind of wax buildup. Once cicadas pass through their teneral phase and emerge in their winged adult form, they develop a level of pruinosity somewhat obscuring their base coloring. This frosty “dust” (so to speak) may eventually fade away as the cicada grows older — if it lives long enough. Of the annual species, the Northern dusk singing cicada can be particularly impressive in its pruinosity. This one certainly was. A true frosted flake.
While Floridensis is primarily focused on Floridian wildlife and environments, I’ve had the benefit and luxury of living and visiting some pretty spectacular regions across North America. I’ve decided to dedicate Wednesdays on Floridensis to “Elsewhere” locations across North America. Launching us off on our embedded “Elsewhere Wednesday” series is a set of photographs taken on 04 May 2010 along the edge of Resurrection Bay in southcentral Alaska.
From 2007 to 2011, I lived and worked in Anchorage, Alaska. Locals will often chuckle that if you live in Anchorage, you’re only fifteen minutes from “the real” Alaska. What they mean to say is that Alaska is, at its best, entirely wild and somewhat off the grid. This was indeed the case (though I still considered Anchorage to be a part of “real” Alaska, heh). Truly, it didn’t take long to lose cell signal as you sojourned outward from Anchorage and into the rocky climbs surrounding it.
The Kenai Peninsula lays just south of the Anchorage/Turnagain Arm region of southcentral Alaska. If you ever have the chance to visit Alaska, the Kenai is where I’d point you toward. From its lush, moss-laden (though not tropical) rain forests to its salmon engorged streams, from its towering mountains to its rocky coastlines, the Kenai is absolutely jammed to the gill with texture, grit, and beauty. The shorelines of Resurrection Bay, near the edge of the Pacific Ocean, was one such location that consistently took my breath away.
These photographs were taken along the Resurrection Bay coastline portion of the Tonsina and Lowell Point trail systems. Situated a bit south of Seward, Alaska, a tiny town nestled along the northern rim of Resurrection Bay, the trail sojourns the rocky edge of the deep, blue oceanic waters. Towering mountains hold sentry along the opposite eastern shore while innumerable gulls, puffins, and other seabirds flay about just above the deep blue waters.
Of note, the tidal range this far north is quite dramatic. Indeed, to hike this portion of the trail, you have to keep tab of when high tide will hit. Large portions of the coastline trail are only accessible during lower tidal ranges. When the tide comes in, the water will push against the rocky bluffs along the west side of the trail. That’s not something I was used to from growing up in Florida. You had to time your hikes to avoid getting cut off by the Pacific tidal surge.
Another difference: the beach itself. Rather than the white, powdery sands I grew up with, the beaches of Resurrection Bay are defined by dark rocks and dark “sand” — igneous in nature. “Ghost trees” stand unmolested along the edges of the shorelines — trees that once thrived but were choked out by encroaching salt water intrusion due to changing elevations spurred by earthquake activity. In the shallow water, you’ll also find vibrant strands and mattes of algae and aquatic vegetation. The bright, colorful reds and yellows of these alga provide a stark contrast to the iron-black tone of the “sand” itself.
It’s easy to lose your sense of space and time in an area like this. In Florida, time may feel wide at times, but in Alaska time always feels deep. Everything around you is an echo and reminder of just how deep time truly is, how fleeting and temporary our existence truly is. Resurrection Bay, like much of “real” Alaska, is truly sublime in this regard.
The American green treefrog, Hyla cinerea, is truly the Kermit of the American southeast. Fairly large (by North American Frogger standards) and quite abundant in certain areas, this is a true sweetheart of a treefrog. Unfortunately, it’s also a species that’s a bit harder to find nowadays in central Florida — likely because of the introduction of the Cuban treefrog, Osteopilus septentrionalis, an even bigger species that hunts and consumes our native treefrog species. Fortunately for me, I regularly came across American green treefrogs when I lived in south Georgia from 2011 through 2013. The impact of the Cuban treefrog had not quite reached that far north.
I photographed this little daysleeper passing the day on a small branch overhanging the Grand Bay wetlands just northeast of Valdosta, Georgia. Not a care in the world. Nice.
The Eastern glass lizard, Ophisaurus ventralis, is one of several “legless” lizards ranging throughout much of the American southeast. Often confused as being snakes due to their body shape and leglessness, “glass” lizards are so named due to their ability of shattering off their tails as a defensive measure.
In texture and density, the Eastern glass lizard is less agile and loose (as in “bendable”) than their serpentine cousins. They also sport external ear openings and flexible eyelids — two biological features not shared by snakes. I tend to find Eastern glass lizards out and about early in the morning, just as the day begins. By midday, they’re usually fairly well hidden, buried a bit beneath top-surface and debris.
As you might suspect, Eastern glass lizards are entirely non-venomous and pose no threat to people — though these reptiles may startle the occasional child who hazards to pick one up only to find a writhing, bleeding tail in his or her hands. Heh. In my experience, glass lizards aren’t too quick to shatter off their tales, however — if you don’t grab or hold them by their tales.