I have spent more time and money than I care to discuss on finding some species. Not that I regret the time spent on the road with friends or audiobooks to keep me company, but nevertheless, searching for that one animal can be dismaying at times. Mole Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis calligaster) were, until recently, one such species for me. Admittedly, I spent most of my time searching for the rarer South Florida variety (L. c. occipitolineata) – but even the ‘common’ Mole King (L. c. rhombomaculata) gave me a hard time after over a year of living in their range. I have the benefit of living right on the edge of the Piedmont (foothills) and Mountain region of North Carolina, which gives me quick herping-access to both a plethora of salamanders, as well as many interesting snake species. One road I found soon after moving looked like good Mole King habitat: mixed vegetation, sandy and loamy soils, and little traffic. I hit it hard the first year and found a single DOR (dead on road) specimen. While a DOR is never fun to find, it did tell an important tale: this road did indeed have Mole Kingsnakes.
Mole Kingsnakes are primarily fossorial in nature, that is, they spend much of their life underground, mostly nosing around for their varied food sources: rodents, lizards and other snakes. Living in a place such as N.C. that has some pretty wide temperature variation, they must bask at some point, but I couldn’t yet guess when or how this happens. So, the best way that I’ve so-far come up with to find them is to road cruise them in the evenings. As I said, up until recently this method was fruitless – I turned up plenty of corns (never documented in this county), copperheads (the omnipresent venomous), and a few other species (quite a few, actually) here and there. But no Mole Kings. It should be a surprise to no one, though, that species go through cycles. Booms and busts. Years of high population, years of low population. Years of high activity, and years of low activity.
Short of some very robust and extensive study, it can be difficult or impossible to figure out what, exactly, is occurring – were Mole Kingsnakes not showing up because the population was down? Because the population was up so there was less need to move to find mates? Might the population be the same as ever, but the snakes had plenty of food or water nearby and didn’t need to migrate (cross roads) to find it? There were several dozen possibilities I could think of, but they all expressed themselves in the same symptoms: in 2015, Mole Kingsnakes were nowhere to be found in McDowell County (at least by me and my herping bud for the county, Steve.)
Then summer 2016 hit. It had been dry – really dry – and we got a brief spit of rain, just enough to give the road that mottled wet-and-dry patchwork. I was frustrated enough with the lack of snake productivity that I wasn’t really looking for snakes that night – I was just testing out a couple of review lights I’d been sent (reviews coming soon!) But, sure enough, as I drove with peals of lightning in the distance my long-awaited goal was revealed: a small Mole King! Ten or fifteen minutes later – another, larger Mole King! ‘Well,’ I thought to myself, ‘No need to get greedy – time to get home anyway.’ Within a month and a half, I had seen two more Mole Kings, one a large adult.
Strangely enough, I don’t think I’ve road cruised too much more than I did last year… So what gives? Who knows, but it is my hope to know eventually. The first stage with any herp species is to find the species for yourself – if you recognize the awesomeness that has been put into them, and you have the ‘herper maturity,’ you might just find yourself moving on to the second stage: knowing the species. That’s where I’m at with the Mole King. I’ve found a few – great, they’re beautiful – but, now it’s time to know them. Over the coming months (and years) I intend to lay out artificial cover for them. To figure out when they’re under cover, when they’re on the crawl, their movements and how those relate to weather, climate and habitat. The first stage is where the adrenaline lay; the second stage is where the joy lay.