Monday, October 6, 2008

Happy Herp Day!

No, you didn't miss another made-up Hallmark holiday. (But, I would love to see the cards for it!) Herp Day, for me and seven friends, was Sat. Oct 4th. "Herps" is a common contraction for herpetofauna, better known as amphibians and reptiles. We were seeking toads, frogs, salamanders, lizards, turtles and snakes. And what a day it was...

If you want to have your own herp day, this is how you do it. First, get a few good friends together that love creepy crawlies. Then go out and look for 'em leaving no stone unturned. It is a great way to get exercise, enjoy the fall weather and most of all, have fun! And special thanks to John Howard for setting up this awesome day! Plus kudos to his wife, Tina, and Mom for preparing a most wonderful feast! (No, we did not eat anything we found that day; no herps were harmed during our foray.)

The first herp we found was a gorgeous five-lined skink. Quick and agile little booger. The young of this species have a brilliant blue tail.

Our next herp was very cranky garter snake. He did not like being a participant in herp day one bit and wanted no part of it. Poor Scott, the finder, was bitten a few times and musked. (Garter snakes have glands that produce a pretty raunchy odor, which they use as a defense.) Luckily, garter snakes have very small teeth. (Photo by John Howard.)

At this site Laura found a Marbled Salamander(which I will show another a bit later). We also found an American Toad, and a Fence Lizard. Pretty good start to the day.

My favorite stop was the next one, yielding lots of good plants, bugs and, of course, herps. Our best finds were three Green Salamanders, Aneides aeneus. A real rarity here in Indiana and Ohio, Green Salamanders are state endangered for both states. Normally, during the day they stay within the rock crevices, only to venture out at night. This one came out with some gentle coaxing. Green Salamanders have a fascinating life cycle, which I will blog about tomorrow.
Sarah found a couple of Fence Lizards, Sceloporus undulatus, hanging out near a shelter, where we had stopped for lunch. I was able to catch this microlizard, whose body is only about 2 and a half inches long. It was quite cooperative. I thought this shot didn't turn out because he was quick to dart away, but somehow it did.

At the same stop, in a nearby creek we found all kinds of salamanders. Dusky Salamander, Southern Two-lined Salamander and this critter. This Red Spotted Newt was marching right along, unafraid of anyone. And with good reason. I covered this species in a previous post. The skin of this adult newt is so toxic it can kill the equivalent of 250 mice. The juvenile stage, or red eft, is much more toxic, with the ability to kill 2,500 mice. You do NOT want to kiss this critter, no matter how cute it is!

Another stop later in the day yielded some other great finds. My first look at a Northern Red-bellied Snake, Storeria occipitomaculata . What a beaut! For you word nerds, occiput means "back of the head" and macula means "spot". If you notice, it has a small spot on its neck, right near the back of the head. John Howard is my lovely hand model.

Even though this is not a herp I was still excited to see it. I hadn't seen a Black Widow Spider for over 20 years. We had a few juveniles earlier in the day, but under a rock was this nice adult specimen. I like to pick up spiders, but this one I stayed clear of. A bite from the Black Widow can land one in the hospital.

John got a fantastic shot of these Longtailed Salamanders. What fantastic animals! Unfortunately, it looks like something snacked on the larger one's tail. These were found along a rocky area by the side of the road.

Our last stop of the day yielded a Marbled Salamander, Ambystoma opacum, on eggs. The brown roly-poly objects are the eggs. Marbled Salamanders breed and lay eggs in the fall. The female will stay close to guard the eggs. Sometimes, if there is plenty of rain, the eggs will hatch in the fall. In times of drought, they will wait until spring to hatch. Breeding in the fall and hatching in autumn or early spring give the larvae a head start. Since they will be bigger than all the other salamander larvae swimming in the vernal pools in the spring, the marbleds can eat larger prey and will even eat other salamander babies. It's a "salamander eat salamander" world in the vernal pool!
We had a total of seventeen species for the day. Not bad for it being a little late in the season and the dry conditions. Thanks to all for an awesome day in the field!


Anonymous said...

The spider isn't a black widow. Black widows have a red violin shaped marking ventrally on its abdomen not dorsally.

Janet Creamer said...

Black widows can also have red markings dorsally. Check out the black widows on Bugguide.

Anonymous said...

Black widows have a red hourglass on thier underside, not a violin. that's a brown recluse who has a violin on the top of their bodies.

Anonymous said...

Buddy that's a beautiful Lactrodectus Varolius I truty wish there were more around