Like many hunters and watchers of all stripes, one of my favorite things to do is to “figure out,” a species. Now, I put that in quotes because the notion that you can completely figure out a species is kind of silly – the world of any species is full of surprises and aberrancies, and most species don’t read field guides to tell them where and when they should be. That said, one can still get really good at finding a species, and be very knowledgeable of their habits.
There’s one I’ve been working on lately: the Eastern Mudsnake (Farancia abacura abacura.) Now, you would think that having written about these critters in a field guide would be in my favor: despite this however, they seem to show up whenever they feel like it without any rhyme, reason, nor preference in aquatic habitat.
A (supposedly) strict Siren and Ampihuma eater, Mudsnakes are probably relatively restricted to areas where these aquatic salamanders are common. Unfortunately, this doesn’t eliminate too much habitat to find them: marsh, canals, sloughs, ditches, lakes, and any variety of aquatic habitat my house them, though they likely stay away from deeper, quicker moving streams and rivers – it is here where their congener the Rainbow Snake takes over.
My first Mudsnake allowed me a glimpse into this animal’s foraging habits: like many aquatic snakes, they aren’t a sit-and-wait type predator, but are a browser. My first Mud was in a culvert stream in Everglades National Park, swimming through the aquatic vegetation, poking its nose into various nooks and crannies, probing for a meal. Because of their overwhelming aquatic tendencies, Mudsnakes can somewhat overcome gravity and grow to a monstrous size and girth – the record for Mudsnakes in Georgia is 81.5 inches – almost 7 feet! Such an individual would have a girth on par with some of the fattest Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes (Crotalus adamanteus), but would surely not match the attitude – Mudsnakes are typically very placid, at most jabbing at unsuspecting handlers with their barbed tail. This barb is, consequently, harmless and painless.
Once again though, this is a species that I’m trying to figure out, and so far unsuccessfully: aquatic trapping and targeting certain habitats these past few months have failed to turn up any. I do have some comrades in my confoundedness though: Durso, et al in a recent paper, “Needles in haystacks: Estimating detection probability and occupancy of rare and cryptic snakes” found Mudsnakes equally hard to figure out – while difficult to find snakes such as Rainbow Snakes and Swamp Snakes could be linked to certain variables; Mudsnakes showed up wherever they pleased, whenever they pleased. Perhaps that is the secret: perhaps a snake as beautiful and cryptic as a Mudsnake do as they wish – nothing more.