The Striped crayfish snake, Liodytes alleni, is a small, reclusive, non-venomous, and mostly-aquatic species. I don’t see them all that often in central Florida, though they’re certainly common enough. Unlike their larger cousins, the Nerodia watersnakes, crayfish snakes tend to stick closer to the water. They come out more frequently in spring to mate and warm up in the sun, but in the cooler months you can also find them snagging warmth from Florida’s roadways at night — an unfortunate behavior given its meager competition against the wheels of a vehicle.
I found several wounded Striped crayfish snakes on this particular nocturnal November jaunt. This individual looked like it was clipped by something, but it seemed in mostly-okay shape. I suspect it recovered and survived. The snake was quite active and alert. A few of its brethren, on the other hand, most certainly did not recover. Hopefully this one learned to stay the hell off the roads at night!
With Thanksgiving about to land upon us, and with November starting to give way to the impending crush of December, let’s skip back to April of 2009 in southcentral Alaska. These are photographs of Portage Valley within the Chugach National Forest region near the edge of the Kenai Peninsula. Looking back, it still blows my mind that these photographs were taken in April. Spring comes a bit late in Alaska.
Portage Valley terminals at Portage Lake and Portage Glacier. In the bottom photograph, you can see Bard Peak standing guard over the frozen sheet of Portage Lake — my favorite lake to photograph in Alaska. Portage Glacier is not actually visible in any of these photographs; I’ll save that post for another time.
During my four years in Alaska, I noticed a bit of a pattern. I called it “April is the Cruellest Month.” By mid-April, southcentral Alaska often thawed out quite a bit —to the point of even kicking in some new spring growth— only to be hit again by a massive April snowfall. Seriously, this mid-April snowfall would be epic. It wouldn’t last for too long, but my god it would snow. Fresh white powder on everything. One final parting shot from the receding winter.
Though the Florida Swamprat in my soul may have liked to piss and moan about this mid-April snowfall, I always found it remarkably beautiful and exciting. Mid-winter snow in Alaska can be a bit icky. Grey stuff. Worn, weathered. Gross even… Then, by April, most of that grey stuff would melt away, and Alaska would then drop a thick coat of shimmering white stuff on damn near everything — a final coat of glistening white to remember the past winter by. Try as I might, I couldn’t complain. It was so damned beautiful. And deep!
When it comes to peninsula Florida’s three most-dominant inland watersnake species, I was three-for-three on this one particular night in Miami-Dade county. In addition to the Florida banded watersnakes (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris) and Florida green watersnakes (Nerodia floridana) we’ve already seen in this series, I also came across a couple of healthy Brown watersnakes (Nerodia taxispilota). I’m always happy to see a Brown watersnake.
Entirely non-venomous, the Brown watersnake is sadly often confused as being a venomous Florida cottonmouth (Agkistrodon conanti). It is also prone to basking in foliage hanging over bodies of water (which cottonmouths don’t generally do), so when you hear stories of snakes falling into canoes and kayaks, there’s a decent chance it was a Brown watersnake. Though this has yet to happen to me personally, I hold on to hope. I can think of nothing better than being rained on by half a dozen Brown watersnakes.
As for this little skipper, it was another nocturnal road-cruiser basking in the relative warmth of the mid-November roadway. After a few quick shots, this sub-adult Brown watersnake quickly retreated back into the adjacent brush — a little farther away from the threat of automative impact.
Following up on our last post, here’s the second of two sub-adult Florida green watersnakes I found adjacent to one another on a lonely south Florida roadway well after the sun had set.
If you spend some time checking out photographs of various watersnakes throughout the Floridian peninsula, you might recognize that the Florida green watersnake is the least variable of our local species when it comes to coloration and patterning. Florida greens tend to look just like, well, Florida greens.
While Banded watersnakes and Salt marsh snakes can sport a variety of colors and patterns and Brown watersnakes can appear rather dark or light, Florida greens are eerily similar to one another. Occasionally you’ll come across a reddish/orangish variant, but most of the time Florida green watersnakes are olive brownish/greenish watersnakes. The only other variation I see (beyond general wear-and-tear) is “beefiness,” so to speak. Youngsters are usually slimmer, and older snakes are usually rather robust. This is true of watersnakes generally. Sometimes, however, you’ll find a surprisingly slim adult or an unusually robust youngster. In this case, we have an appropriately slim sub-adult sporting a fairly impressive meathead noggin’ — partially because it’s defensively posturing against the lumbering hominid with the magic Nikon box.
This youngster was one of two sub-adult Florida green watersnakes I came across laying next to each other on the side of a road in south Florida. Both appeared quite healthy. Both seemed rather content with the cool thickness of the November evening air. Photographing them separately, however, was tricky. It can be a bit difficult to quick-shoot one writhing snake at a time. Once engaged, they tend to want to get away (as is natural, of course). In our next post, we’ll check out the other (slightly-larger) sub adult.
Not all snakes you find on Florida’s nighttime roads have fallen victim to vehicular mayhem. Thankfully. I came across this young (non-venomous) Florida banded watersnake (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris) chilling near the edge of a road — free, for the time being, from harm’s way. I was happy to watch it slink into the grassy stretch alongside the road, back to safer terrain, but I’m sure it’ll eventually be drawn back out into harm’s way. Rolling the dice.
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.