Herpetological Field Methods: Road Cruising Part I, Night Cruising for snakes

01 Dec

It’s true: there’s more than one way to find a herp. Whether you’re in the vast frozen north seeking salamanders, chasing rattlesnakes in Arizona, or shining for treefrogs deep in the Peruvian Amazon; it’s important to know not only what herps are in your area; but how to find them. In this series we’ll explore some of the tried-and-true methods for finding herps, beginning with the workhorse of field herpers in many parts of the world: road cruising.

Now; before I go any farther I must emphatically state: road cruising is an acquired skill! This might be hard to grasp, however; visual acuity, speed, and a variety of other variables are all involved and all must be fine-tuned for road cruising to be as productive as possible. An experienced road cruiser can astound friends by IDing snake species and spying small invertebrates on the road at various high speeds. In this installment, we’re just dealing with road cruising in the evening for snakes, and will discuss other road cruising methods later.

                For evening cruising, one would want to start at an hour or more before sunset: this allows for possible sightings of nocturnal snakes beginning their movement early, diurnal species making their last push to their night time roosts, as well as crepuscular (dawn/dusk active) species. Every person must ‘feel out’ their own speed for road cruising: some people sputter along at slow sub-25 MPH speeds, and some rocket along lonely roads at upwards of 50 (I’m looking in your direction, California 😉 .)

Like any field method, road cruising has its benefits and its setbacks: It is, without doubt, one of the most productive sampling methods in many areas for a good abundance and diversity of species. This productivity also makes it an ideal method for bringing new herpers or curious friends and relatives; and also provides for a comfortable situation for lazy herpers. That said, however, road cruising leaves one most certainly less connected to nature and lacking in exercise.

When selecting a road for cruising, typically the best places are areas with good and varied habitat appropriate for the species you are looking for. Typically, at least in my neck of the woods, it is best undertaken as a warm weather occurrence. In southern Florida nights any cooler than 65 degrees or so are usually unproductive: usually one or two snakes can be found right at dusk in colder conditions, but nothing more. I prefer to road cruise on evenings in which the daytime temperature is at least 81-83 degrees F. Moonphase and moonrise/set can also have an effect in some areas; and its best to be aware and notice trends in your own area as to what phase is best. In many areas, full moons allow increased visibility for snake’s nocturnal predators such as owls and nights of full moons typically are unproductive once the moon is high in the sky.
Another variable for experimentation is roadcruising during the rain. Almost anywhere this is good for amphibians, but results can be mixed when searching for snakes. In some areas (especially deserts and other dry habitats) a rainstorm can lead for an excellent evening; in other areas though, it can be a kiss of death for snake activity – the latter is often the case in southern Florida.

Road cruising is a great tool and can lead to very many good finds and great times with friends. It is, however one of a plethora of methods: stay tuned to Field Ventures and Herp Nation for more to come in this series. You tell me: what’s YOUR favorite herping method?

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Posted by on 01/12/2011 in Field Methods


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