RSS

Clarkii By County: Miami-Dade

In anticipation of an upcoming article on the Salt Marsh Snake (Nerodia clarkii) in Herp Nation Magazine, and the (hopefully) near completion of the data-gathering phase of my research on clarkii in southern Florida, I’m going to review some of my experiences with the species. Instead of a smattering of stream-of-conscious ideas and such, I’ve decided it would be interesting to systematically review what I know of the species in every Florida County I’ve come across them in. For my readership, I think the interest will be in the fact that a.) the foraging and movement ecology of clarkii seems to be different on a local level, in other words they simply act different in nearly every county; and also the pattern and coloration is extremely variable across their range (more elaboration in future postings, and of course the upcoming Herp Nation Magazine article.) So sit back, relax, enjoy.

8735951007_cef982fd7c_z 8737020874_7da550f14e_z

 

Let us begin from the familiar: Dade County – Everglades National Park. Yes, there are other sites in Dade from which to view clarkii, but ENP is rife with them and many herpers have seen the species there. For this reason, I’m sorry to inform you that if you’ve seen clarkii in ENP, you may not have seen clarkii. From our work so far, we’ve encountered 19 Nerodia clarkii-like animals there, of which sixteen have been hybrids between N. clarkii and the Florida Watersnake, N. fasciata, and only three have been pure clarkii. This is one of the interesting things about the species: they readily hybridize with Florida Watersnakes, especially in large-scale mixing zones such as the Everglades. Our work initially began in ENP where we were testing the use of traps for detecting clarkii. Without giving away the data, the interesting tidbit about clarkii at this population is that road cruising seems to be the best way to come across them, and it also seems to be one of the only productive ways to turn them up. Of course I’m not saying it’s impossible to hike them up in ENP, they certainly forage, eat and live outside of the roadways. However, perhaps because of the dense mangroves with extremely deep mud that makes the habitat difficult to search, or perhaps because they forage at different times or in different manners from other populations, we found only a single clarkii by hiking, despite much time spent looking. (And full disclosure: the clarkii we hiked was on a right-of-way, meaning it would’ve been road cruised in seconds had we not already been out of the car.)

Dr. Chesnes checking a trap for clarkii

Dr. Chesnes checking a trap for clarkii

 

Now on to the variation. Holding with their hybrid nature, most of the clarkii encountered in ENP are banded in some way:

Pure clarkii:

15263277375_149118d244_z clarkii x fasciata:

8737089472_6c2c5caeb1_zPure clarkii:

8736243603_d4e8ce1bde_z

clarkii x fasciata:  8737101614_ea45180a5e_z

However, occasionally one will look a little more classic clarkii (not that I know what that is, and I can’t seem to find a great picture of one.) And it seems that the red trait is not a recessive one even when fasciata is in the mix, and hybrids will still often turn up with a clarkii bloodred coloration: this individual was a clarkii x fasciata:

15263274395_82fb525b36_z

 

 

That’s all for this segment, in the weeks ahead we’ll take a gander at Indian River, St. Lucie, northern and southern Monroe, Collier and Lee Counties – and maybe, just maybe a new county record or two.

 

 

NOTE: This research on Nerodia clarkii was partially funded by a Palm Beach Atlantic University Quality Initiative Grant, so many thanks to them. To help us continue our last few months of research, please consider making a small donation to Field Ventures

Donate

 
2 Comments

Posted by on 17/09/2014 in Uncategorized

 

New Section: Field Ventures Photography

Hello all;

 

Field Ventures now has a new section with some of the photography seen here for sale – the proceeds from the sales go towards reptile and amphibian research (currently, Mangrove Salt Marsh Snake research) – check the page out here: http://fieldventures.wordpress.com/field-ventures-photography/ or on the tab at the top of the page.

 

-JDH

 
2 Comments

Posted by on 22/08/2014 in Uncategorized

 

Welcome To Florida

It had been a long, exciting night in Everglades National Park. Road cruising had been good to us that evening – nearly every afternoon for the past two months had been mired in rain, which is oftentimes a kiss-of-death for roadcruising in southern Florida. This night, however, was dry, warm and of overcast skies to obscure a big moon. I surmised that it should be a great night, and it was: so far we were at 22 snakes, including one hatchling Python – fresh out of the egg caught down near Flamingo. Tom, Dermot, Eric and I were crammed into my car and neither Dermot nor Eric had the pleasure of cruising up and laying hands on a wild python, so it was a fun and exciting night already.

 

So we were continuing on, noticing a set of taillights up ahead. Typical etiquette in ENP in the depths of a summer night is to stop and talk to any other herpers you see (and trust me, if someone’s there braving the mosquitoes between July and September it’s probably a herper.) Well, consequently the taillights turned into break lights, so we drove up to say hello and see if they’d turned up something interesting. As we rolled up, I noticed there were two vehicles off to the side, and a small gaggle of people in the road. One of them appeared to have a snake in his hand, but I couldn’t yet see what species it was as the scene was bathed in headlights from vehicles and my eyes hadn’t adjusted. Naturally though I assumed it was a python since that is the only snake species that a lot of people have Letters of Authorization to search for in the Everglades. True, one can obtain a permit to study any other species occurring in the park if they have a legitimate study need and do the proper paperwork, but I know most of the other folks who have permits for that kind of stuff, and these folks were certainly not any of them. So, the gentleman with the snake walked closer to the window, and as my eyes finally adjusted I saw that he did not have a python in his hands. Not even close: his fingers were wrapped around the neck and head of a two foot Florida Cottonmouth.

 

In my mind, I was running through a mental checklist of everything that was wrong with this situation:

 

Handling wildlife in the park: Illegal without a permit…

 

Possessing a venomous snake in Florida: Illegal without a permit…

 

Handling a venomous snake by pinning the head: Irresponsible, both in terms of the likelihood that he’ll get bitten and the fact that the cottonmouth looks like its head might pop off at any minute.

 

But, fortunately, I’ve been blessed with the ability to carry on a conversation while completely distracted.

 

“How’s it going?” I asked.

 

“Oh doing ok, are you guys out looking for snakes?”

 

“Yeah…”

 

“Nice, any luck?”

 

“A little bit, 22 snakes so far.”

 

A dismayed look came over his face, “Really? Man, we’ve only found three Cottonmouths tonight, no non-venomous at all.”

 

A wave of incredulous bewilderment came over me. If this was their third Moccasin of the night and this fellow was squeezing its head like the last bit of toothpaste in the tube; what horrors had the first two been subject to?

 

Oh well, the matter at hand: “Well, if you didn’t pick up every Cottonmouth you saw, you might get a chance to see some of those non-venomous snakes on the road.”

 

Snickers from girls with him. I try my best not to be a jerk to people, but in the current situation my comment was really the least of the options running through my head.

 

“No, no,” he pleaded, “I’ve been doing this all my life, I have a lot of experience working with venomous snakes.” He looked about 25 or 30.

 

“You don’t say.”

 

“Yeah… Have you guys seen any pythons tonight?”

 

“Yeah, one hatchling.”

 

I know the frustration of being out in the Everglades and not turning up the target python, so I offered to show it to the group, despite my misgivings about the ringleader.

 

We threw on our caution flashers, got out of the car and walked to the back, where I grabbed the bagged up python and got it out.

 

“Yeah,” said the one with the Cottonmouth, “my friend and I are out here showing ‘the Adventure Girls’ some of the Everglades’ snakes, we’re hoping to see some nonvenomous.”

 

It was only then that I noticed the assortment of folk that were standing in the road. Initially there were only 3 or 4 of them, but now they emerged from the two vehicles that had evidently been crammed full as clown cars: ten, twelve people now stood around us in a clumped gaggle. The group, I noticed, looked like they’d just emerged from an 80s rock music video: the Cottonmouth wrangler had acid wash jeans, a beater shirt with armholes going down to his waist and forearm tattoos that the fog of war has since scoured from my memory. The “Adventure Girls” had a diverse wardrobe – many wore tights: some pink, some giraffe print; and at least one wore a rag of an open-sided Whitesnake t-shirt (appropriate, I guess?), and a bikini underneath. The clouds of mosquitoes around us had me thinking that either they were all doused in enough DEET to kill a man, or the huge quantities of exposed skin among the group was going to be red and welted ere long.

 

Master Moccasin told his group how Pythons were an invasive species, etc., and all while the Cottonmouth was in his clutches, and we were about ready to depart. But before we did, he had some more questions for us:

 

“Hey, do you know Cobra Carl?”

Inaudible groan from me.

 

“No, ‘fraid not: I know Boomslang Bobby and Rattlesnake Rachel though.” Ok, maybe I shouldn’t have said that…

 

“No, he’s a legitimate herpetologist.”

 

Ok, joking aside, “ahh, no sorry, I usually don’t hang out with people with snake names in front of their names.”

 

By this time, the poor Adventure Girls even saw the danger both the snake and the guy were in because of his irresponsible handling, so we decided that was a good opportunity to mosey.

 

“Anyways, good luck, have a good evening.”

 

The group thanked us for the close-ups of the python and we hopped in the car. We slid away, and were silent for 3 or 4 seconds of deep contemplation… and then an eruption of laughter.

 

“Did that really just happen?” someone said. I wasn’t quite certain myself, it was a surreal moment. I considered calling the Park Service, but I was pretty sure they weren’t collecting anything, so there’d be no evidence of his lawbreaking. We slid down the lonely road, finally exiting the park where a lone, big Cottonmouth was crossing. I looked back and saw familiar headlights coming fast. I jumped out of the car, snake hook in hand, and flung the snake as far as I could off the road: somewhat crude methodology, and I’d have chastised myself in any other situation for such flippancy with a snake. But those headlights were coming on quick. If the snake knew, he would have thanked me.

 

 

This hatchling Burmese python was the least strange sight of the night.

This hatchling Burmese python was the least strange sight of the night.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on 12/08/2014 in Tales From the Field

 

Exotic South Florida: Farming For Chameleons?

 

Hello all, I’ve finished up my Master’s Degree and finally have some free time on my hands that isn’t spent working on theses and whatnot – so a little thought I’ve been musing on for some time… But first, an anecdote:

 

 


I walked through the lonely rows of twisted avocado trees, intently scanning for something off… Something that would betray my saurian quarry, something – there it was! A flash of light green, almost lime in color, a telltale sign that I had not only found my target species the Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti), but that I’d turned up a female at that. I got a little closer, waiting for the color to make itself manifest as a curly-tailed shape. But it didn’t: I got close and examined the light patch in the illumination of my headlamp, and sure enough: t’was a caterpillar.

 

Such has been a typical scene from searching for Oustalet’s Chameleons in Dade County from the past year-or-so. Chameleons are becoming ever-harder to find because of constant nightly pressure from collectors of every sort, and their roommates in the agricultural lands they call home – caterpillars, other insects and Anoles of various species – seem to be abundant. Of particular note are the caterpillars, which the grove workers have complained of late have a tendency to eat the leaves on the avocado trees, which in turn affects the overall fitness of the plant, and in turn fruit production. What’s interesting is, when I first started looking for Oustalet’s in years past, these chameleons were plentiful: a dozen or more in a night was little problem oftentimes. During this time one of the only living things found in the grove were the chameleons themselves: seldom if ever was a caterpillar or insect of any kind detected.

So, given the concerns in southern Florida about overuse of pesticides, might we not turn to herpetofaunal biocontrol? These chameleons have the potential to limit prey species, which coincidentally are often agricultural pests species – in fact, a study done by UF found that most of their diet consisted of insects (http://www.conference.ifas.ufl.edu/intecol/presentations/Posters/Vinci_Chameleon_Final.pdf). Obviously, the big question here is whether Oustalets (or Veileds, or any other species for that matter) have the potential to become invasive. This is a question that has received little research (and understandably so: there are bigger exotic fish to fry!) but as of now it does seem that they are largely dependent on agricultural areas as a source population, though they have been found in far lesser densities outside such areas. Let’s hear from some of the Field Ventures readers: what do you think about Oustalet’s Chameleons (or other species) as pest control in Florida?

 

 

 
 

Freshwater Ecology lab field work, 2014

Well, I just finished what (might) be the last draft of my thesis before my defense and also just finished my last teaching assistantship of my Master’s career. In between searching for jobs (anyone need a good ecologist?) I’ve had some time to look through some of the pictures my students took in the Florida Atlantic University Freshwater Ecology class I was TA’ing this summer semester. It was a great class, and we got to do and see some very interesting stuff – although as I was helping teach the class I didn’t photograph quite as much as I would’ve liked. But, fortunately I had a couple, and also one of the students in the class, Jen, graciously let me use her photos – so most of them in this post belong to her.

 

So, after finishing up my thesis field work and delving into the deep dark corners of my house to write for months on end, I got to get back into the field and some of my former haunts with this class and Dr. Dorn (the prof. for the class, and my graduate advisor) got to show them some of the wonders of a world present right among them (though seldom considered).

 

To initially introduce the class of some quantitative ecology field methods, we brought them to a retention pond behind the Davie campus.

Seineing:

Passive aquatic traps:

Plankton netting:

Fyke nets (I’d love to give these a shot for Rainbow Snakes!)

 

 

Some of the bounty:

Jaguar Cichlid (I think):

Tilapia:

 

Next we got to take a look in two of my former study wetlands in Jonathan Dickinson State Park. This was a lot of fun, we picked two of my sites that were right next to each other – sandhill lakes of similar size – and looked at the invertebrates in the two in terms of species assemblage (generally) and size structure.

 

The Florida Park service (via park biologist Rob Rossmanith) was gracious enough to help us with site access deep in the scrub:

 

 

 

Site 20: lot’s of fish.

 

Largemouth bass:

Lake Chubsucker:

Physid snails:

 

Long story short, some low activity invertebrates, but mostly fish.

 

Site 19: fishless. Mmmm.

As seen from the ridge above it.

Some of the catch; Buenoa sp., Damselfly larvae, Procambarus fallax and Anax junius larvae (and I think another species of dragonfly too):

Tadpoles:

Barkin’ Treefrog (Hyla gratiosa)

This one I’m not 100% on, as I didn’t catch this size class during my field work. I think a barking treefrog young of the year, but I’m not too sure.

Damselfly:

A leopard frog, showing the telltale “soul patch”

The particularly impressive Pinewoods Treefrog, Hyla femoralis:

Cricket frog larva and adult:

We found only 4 tadpole species total in the pond; though I know of at least 6 species that breed there. From left to right: Barking Treefrog, Pinewoods Treefrog, Cricket Frog, Leopard Frog.

 

We also visited some other wetlands of interest in the area;

 

A seepage bog filled with sphagnum: a rare site in Florida.

And a cypress strand which hadn’t filled up for the wet season yet. in the high, dry strand itself we found this Lethocerus sp. under a board:

 

And nearby in a ditch was the last water in the immediate area:

But even in this primordial soup was life – seminole killifish, mosquitofish, black acara and one watersnake (not captured for obvious reasons). Dr. Dorn was brave enough to sample the puddle with a bar seine – you can see the contents in the background and one of the seminole killifish in the foreground.

and a Black Acara:

And in the sand nearby were plenty of Oak Toads living it up in their post-metamorphic life.

And one last site to briefly dip-net for the day; the fish-filled site 5. Not much going on here besides fish, unfortunately.

 

Finally, the last week of field work involved going to the Loxahatchee River via the Riverbend Park put-in. It was some people’s first time in Kayaks; so an interesting time for sure.

Turtles were aplenty:

I even outfoxed a couple with the dipnet.

Hazards were many:

 

 

We did some dipnetting, including a couple in the group trying to net some big fish at one of the dams.

…and crabs among the snail beds:

I wanted to dip this Vallisneria (Tapegrass), but the flow was a little too quick:

And on our lunch break I took to looking for snakes:

And was rewarded soon thereafter with a Brown Watersnake, Nerodia taxispilota:

We also turned up some water lettuce at one of the dams, which provides excellent habitat for a wide range of herps and invertebrates:

more dragonfly naiads:

And the ever-abundant P. fallax

And also the invasive Insular Apple Snail

Then something amazing happened. I took a dip into the water lettuce and thought I’d gotten an amphiuma. On closer inspection it proved to be an American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) elver! I’d spent hours (and days) looking for these (and their predators) in Fisheating Creek; now to have one turn up haphazardly in a dip – wow.

We got two in one dip, this one and an even smaller elver – and then one of our group saw a larger (~2ft) one down by the second dam – it singlehandedly made an already-excellent class that much more worth it – need any more be said?

 

Thanks for viewing all, hope you enjoyed.

 

-Josh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple publications

Ones I neglected to post last year – dietary notes from the Florida Green Watersnake.

 

Holbrook, J. D., C. A. Young, D. P. Young and N. Greenwald. 2013. Nerodia floridana (Florida Green Watersnake). Diet. Herpetological Review 44(3):525.

 

Vogrinc, P., J. D. Willson, A. M. Durso, L. A. Bryan, Z. Ross, J. Holbrook and D. Filipiak. 2013. Nerodia floridana (Florida Green Watersnake). Diet. Herpetological Review 44(4):695.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on 30/04/2014 in Uncategorized

 

Herping Paraguay, Part III

Well, we were back in Filadelfia after a night in Defensores Del Chaco and were starting up with the reason for the herping: we had some specimens to use as educational animals for some classes we were teaching at the New Tribes Mission Ed Camp. We got to work teaching about the wonderful, beautiful wildlife literally just outside our door. Some shots of teaching – I gave them a clue in this first picture as to what the specimen was – see if you can see it.

 

 

 

The herps I brought to show them were a hit – as was the gushing wound the Boa gave me when I wasn’t paying attention. The kids from the camp were quick to show me their herping skills – bringing me a few species they’d found around the mission house:

 

 

It was all fun and games until they proudly showed this guy off to me:

 

 

And of course, some relaxation time was in order – Paraguayan style: Terere and a copy of Gerald Durrel’s “The Drunken Forest” (If you’re a herper/animal type and haven’t read this book, you need to).

 

While in Fili I capitalized on the evenings to get out and search for more specimens for the class – the moonrise was getting later now and making herping a little more productive. The first night of the Ed Camp I got out and found this guy, a Mussarana (Bioruna maculata). Unfortunately it had recently been hit – I thought it might pull through though, so I bagged it and brought it out the next morning for the K-4th grade class. Unfortunately, my hopes for it surviving came to naught, and I quickly emptied the building with the smell of putrifying Mussarana.But not to be dismayed by one night’s sparse finds, we headed out the following night: this time it was cloudy and was beginning to look like rain, and that’s all it took for the best night of roadcruising on the trip.

 

You see, we had been driving aimlessly along dusty lanes through Mennonite farmland without a single find; until I began to see the little liquid drops of rain on my windshield. In Florida, rain is typically a kiss of death for snakes; but I explained to Beka that I’d heard in drier climates that it actually brought snakes out to play. As I was explaining this, I turned a corner and there before me was another Mussarana; this one much more alive than the last:

 

 

And things just got better from there, mere feet down the road I spied a tricolor banner slide in front of me. Tricolor it was, though only later that night did I confirm that it was a Oxyrhopus rhombifer.

 

Another corner, another snake! This time it was a a Chaco Miner Snake (Phimophis vittatus):

Its rostrum was similar to hognoses back in Florida:

 

 

The beginnings of a great night – but it was soon hit with a twinge of disappointment. We found a DOR Tricolored Hognose (Xenodon pulcher) one of my top targets for the trip. Even so, he stilled looked alive, so I photographed the DOR:

 

By now it seemed everything had stopped moving, so Beka and I started back for Fili. On our way, we spied a mammal and stopped to take pictures of this Azara’s Fox (Lycalopex gymnocercus).

 

To our surprise, the rain which has tapered off began to build again, and we managed one last find for the night, a snake the locals call the Jarará, Bothrops diporus:

What a beautiful snake! I was particularly captivated by its eyes.

 

Anyway, with the Education Camp over, Beka and I were going to hang out at Shaun and Melanie’s property in the more western part of the Chaco. On the way we saw several species of Liophis and Racer, but only managed decent shots of one – most of the Racers in Paraguay are rear fanged, and I didn’t want to experiment with their bite toxicity on this occasion:

 

Around that time, we had some car trouble, and finally hobbled into Shawn’s driveway some hours later, at which point he took a look at the car: the prognosis was not good and we were to herp on foot for the rest of the trip. Oh well, lo que será, será.

 

But nevertheless there were some more critters found. Among them a live Tricolored Hog. As found:

 

Posed:

 

 

This is what some of the typical Chacoan thornscrub habitat looked like near the native village we were staying in:

Shaun and Melanie’s homestead:

 

 

 

That evening, we went in to help with a snakebite victim in the village. We were hoping to identfy the species to tell whether they would need to go to the hospital. Unfortunately the identification was all too clear, it was a small Neotropical Rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus terrificus). Shaun took the woman to the hospital in the truck, and Beka, Melanie and I walked home. On our way back, we saw a larger Rattlesnake, but unfortunately I only had my long lens on me, so the pictures were not superb:

 

We also found a larger Chacoan Monkey Treefrog the next night. In situ:

 

 

Posed:

 

And behind  the house in the Swamp, a lone Broad Snouted Caiman, Caiman latirostris:

 

And the last snake before heading back to Fili to catch a bus was a juvenile Mussarana. This particular individual was found on one of those starry nights that are so vivid in the Chaco, where the stars are like a glowing cloud overhead.

 

We returned to Fili, had a nice meal out and readied for our bus trip home the next day. We managed a couple more snakes for the trip (and a couple of frogs) after a Mennonite man kindly showed us a well at the Fili airport that had been acting as a big pitfall trap. Ironically this was one of the few cases I’ve ever come across of misidentification of a venomous species for a nonvenomous one – the guy had said they were boas at the bottom of the well!

 

That was about it for our time in Paraguay, except for a couple of days to relax in the capital of Asuncion before returning stateside. I’ll leave everyone with a few miscellaneous shots that I forgot where they fit in with the narrative. Thanks for reading all.

 

-Josh

F2013-W2014V -021 F2013-W2014V -022 F2013-W2014V -023

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
4 Comments

Posted by on 30/04/2014 in Tales From the Field

 
 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31 other followers