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Herps As They Happen

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Hello, I'm ABronyAccount and I like herps.
"ABronyAccount," you ask, "what's herps?"
You mean, "what ARE herps?" I'm glad I pretended that you asked!

Herps are the wildlife studied by herpetologists, namely any reptile or amphibian. They're usually lumped together under the label "herptile," or herps for short!
In this thread, I'd like to share some of my experiences with these, nature's fascinating little monstrosities!

What I'd also love is for you to do likewise! Now that everybody is grafted to an Internet-connected monitoring device 24/7, there are plenty of chances for you to snap a quick photo of any herptiles you happen across during the day. You don't even need to go herping to spot a nice wall lizard, fence lizard, or top-of-the-toilet lizard. And, of course, any pic of a snek you can snap is fair game.

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Today I saw an Eastern garter snake nosing around the foundation. It was considerate enough to hold a pose while I went to get my phone for some snekpics!

This is one of the largest garters I've seen in the wild. Most of them are less than a third this size.




(View Image in a new tab to see them full-sized)


The smaller ones also seem to have a darker, more defined coloration. I guess their markings tend of fade a bit as they grow older, not uncommon among reptiles! Ask me about rat snakes sometime.



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The only decent pic I snapped of a Carolina anole on the porch railing. Taken about an hour ago.


The ash-colored stripe on the back means it's most likely a female.

They are skittish and don't like being approached by lumbering photo-giants. This was the last pic in a series that started with me walking down from the gate and catching it on the top railing, getting a few pics of it scurrying around to the back end of the post, peeking over the top, and then crawling down to the bottom level (above).

Last week I also saw another specimen on the porch of a customer's premises, but it was too quick and hopped away from post to post before I could get any decent shots. They've always reminded me of little velociraptors with their pointed snouts, stiff tails, and leaping habits.

For some reason I'm far more likely to see them perched on railings than anywhere else. Maybe it's just because they tend to stand out more on bare/painted wood than natural surfaces? Anyway, these things are everywhere around here; they're like the second most common lizard sighting for me. The first most common being, of course, the bright blue tail of a juvenile five-lined skink. They are, unfortunately, even more skittish than anoles and ten thousand times faster so I don't have any pics of one.

I actually kept a store-bought anole as a pet for a while when I was a wee ABA, but they're surprisingly delicate and I wasn't able to keep it for long. Back then I didn't realize they were abundant native fauna and it seemed like some kind of exotic micro-iguana. I mean, they are micro-iguanas but they're the furthest thing from exotic.

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Bonus Herp!



Pretty sure it's an American toad, though we have quite a few around here that look very similar, and the diagnostic identifying features aren't easy to make out from crappy cell phone pics.

I'm making that assessment based on the known range of the American toad versus the Southern toad (which shouldn't quite reach up into my neck of the woods), the lack of a Southern toad's pronounced crests, and the spacing of a Fowler's toad's post-orbital ridges and parotid glands (a.k.a. the big pouches where the toad makes its toxic chemical skin goo).


But to be honest it's kind of a hard call between Fowler's and American as far as I can tell.

Spotted between posting the lizard pics and leaving the house for dinner.


I actually did kind of seek out both this toad and the anole earlier. Ever since I was single-digit years old the patch of un-turfed dirt near the heat pumps has been prime toad-spotting territory, and over the last few years I've learned to keep an eye out for lizards on the porch railings because they like to sun themselves there. It's usually a good idea to keep track of where you spot herps, and remember to check on those places again over time.

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I have quite a lot of pictures of big fat speckled tadpoles. Here is merely one of them:


I want to say it's of a Green frog. But to be honest, all you tadpoles look alike. :pinkieshrug: These things are generally 3-4 inches long, and abundant in the park creek I tend to visit during lunch breaks.

A likely candidate for parental mode:


Spotted a little further downstream in a very shallow, slow area of the creek. This one likes to lurk amongst the sunken ruins of a wrecked park bench. What a Romantic! I was lucky to get a shot of it just before it darted under those old bench legs. In the frame of the same photo but not shown in the crop above was a floating froggy corpse, of lighter color and with tiny black speckles along the sides. ID indeterminate.

Those two pics were taken day before yesterday, but here's what I saw when I revisited that spot today:


I want to ID it as a juvenile Northern Water Snake. The different markings between adult and juvenile forms can throw many an amateur herpler for a loop, and I'm no exception!
This one was very shy, and I had to sneak this pic from a bank about seven feet above and ten feet away from it. As I approached on the opposite bank it retreated underwater and beneath a rock to hide. Hence the horrible resolution!

BONUS HERP! After uploading those, but just before settling in for dinner tonight, I saw one of these tiny toads (about 1" long) on the back patio by the downspout:




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Today's herptiles include another specimen of the previously-picced American Toad:





The previously-mentioned Five-lined Skink (with bonus toad!):




And a kyewt widdle Gween Twee Fwog Green Tree Frog:



(is most smol; those are the edges of standard 1x4 planks in the upper right.)


All spotted while doing the lightest of yard work. The tree frog was actually hanging out on the vinyl siding and leaped off as I passed by. Would have been great to have snapped a pic right there in the open, but unfortunately I had to hold back my dog to keep him from a meal of frog's legs so the little verdant fellow got a good head start to the hiding spot. The skink and toads were merely one each of several that I saw in an area of bare dirt near the heat pumps, and the only ones I was able to photograph up-close-ish before they dashed to their own hiding spots or crawled up into the siding. Like I said before, skinks are fast. Toads can be quick, but they can also freeze up between hops which lets me get these nice close-ups.


I'm also trying out the app for iNaturalist so I can log these sightings more easily. As long as I'm herping, might as well contribute some good ol' Citizen Science to the world, right?

So far it's pretty simple: take a live pic or use one you've already taken; write what it is, where you found it, etc. It actually has a pretty good automatic species identification algorithm if you need suggestions.

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In contrast to the teeny weeny Green Tree Frog from Sunday, which was tiny and shy, this big fat one was pretty chillaxed and didn't mind me crashing through the shrubbery for some super close-ups.





Easily two or three times larger than the previous one, you can clearly see the dark delineations separating the base color from the cream stripes that run from mouth to hip.
Found this one on the opposite side of my house, huddled up in a corner near our dryer exhaust.

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Alas and alack, vinyl is notable for its non-reactivity.

Double alas and triple alack, no herps of note today. I saw an Eastern Fence Lizard but did not get a usable photo. It shall remain forever as but a memory of mine, inextricably tying together the joy of "that's neat!" with the frustration of "dammit hold still!"

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More skink! This one managed to hold still-ish long enough for me to snap a couple of pics from the driver's seat of my work veeee-hickle. Not bad considering these were basically taken across the width of the truck onto the pavement to the right.




I'm thinking either Common or Southeastern flavor of five-lined skink, male (due to the orange throat and chin), mature (due to the lack of blue tail).

What's the visual difference between Southeastern or Common five-lined skinks? Mostly the scales on the underside of the tail, which you will never have the opportunity to check in the wild because these mofos are zippy. Other than that, good look ID'ing them apart. Their ranges overlap significantly (especially in this particular locale) and they live basically in the same niches. So unless you find a dead one and can check the shape of the scales on the bottom of the tail, you're left with yet another an unanswerable question to carry with you through life.

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Spotted some EXTREMELY SMALL toads while walking the dog this afternoon, so afterwards I resolved to return to the scene of the crime.
Armed with my trusty electric cellular telephone machine and a plastic sealable bowl with some graph paper in the bottom, I set out to capture the diminutive amphibians. IN IMAGES!

So the first of my two heroic deeds was performed on the way back to the site. While near passing a ditch with some standing water, I startled a frog which lept into the sheltering abyss. Mere inches from where it formerly resided, a thick-bodied brown water snake of some sort quickly low-tailed it away from me in the opposite direction. Clearly, I had just saved some poor herp's life. Or, to look at it another and less flattering way, I had just ruined some poor herp's meal. I prefer to be the hero of this story so that's what we're going with.

I didn't get any pics of that little sequence.

Upon arriving at The Spot, I looked down. Yes, this is what I came here for. Below my towering frame were small, dark-brown dots panicking this way and that. You think they're some kind of clumsy little beetle at first, but the gait gives away the game. Short bursts, not a frantic scurry. Hopping. Toads.
I'm by the shore of a "lake," actually a glorified creek-turned-reservoir. About a month ago, tiny black tadpoles flourished in the warm, glass-clear world an inch thick between sandy mud and hot sky. Now the tadpoles are gone from the water beyond the edge. They have moved on. Crossed over. They are these.




The grid lines are 5 squares to the inch, or just a wee bit over 5mm per side. The toadlettes are about a centimeter long, and some still have a nub where their original-model propulsive unit used to be. I'm not sure of the species; by now you know the story about our three local almost-identical toads and how difficult it is to tell them apart. It's even harder when they're smaller than your thumbnail.
It was while chasing toads, grasshoppers, and other tiny animals in the back yard as a kid that I first started contemplating sizes and scales; how I was a powerless runt compared to my parents, but an unnervingly swift mountain to the things that live in the grass. Godzilla was always my favorite monster at that age and, relative to everything I saw in the dirt, I vastly outclassed him for sheer titanism. I was more like their Unicron from that movie where Optimus Prime died. Man, I hated that movie. It always made me cry. Anyway, I never did learn the trick of resurrecting scrapped warriors and turning them into living instruments of my all-devouring will. Probably just as well for the toads and stuff.

Anyway, back to the present. Er, the more-recently-past? On the way back from my intended herp targets, I found a target of opportunity.  A safenoodle was sitting in the road, oblivious to the concept of "traffic" or "serpente tagliatelle." I made an unspoken pact with the little nubbin creature: let me take a few pics, and in return I'll see you safely across the road to hunt as many soft-bodied invertebrates as you want for the rest of your days. I pretended it said yes. Thus, saving this snek from automobile-induced dimensional reduction was my second heroic act of the day.


Originally I thought it was a Dekay brownsnake, of which we have many examples. But after someone else's input, I'm now leaning towards Southern redbelly, which is a very closely related species that has variable color patterns but always possesses a ruddy underside. I'll have to make a note to get more ventral pics in future herpings. Perfectly harmless, they feed almost exclusively on slugs. But a lot of people around here mistakenly believe them to be "baby copperheads" and kill them on sight. They'll pay for it when their houses are overrun by slugs!



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Since they're frequently roadkill fodder here and since I seem to remember seeing much more of them in my youth than today, I get unreasonably excited to find a live turtle or snake by the side of the road these days and, if possible, pull over to escort them across.

Painted turtle! Of course, found near a duck pond.


The various kinds of aquatic turtles seem to be doing okay, but it's rare that I find a box turtle* anymore. Apparently my state is the primary source for wild-caught box turtles in the pet trade, since we're the only state left that hasn't outlawed such harvesting.


An adult rat snake. We have the shiny black variety around here; further to the coast, you can find yellow ones.


Both black and yellow rat snake juveniles look the same; like some kind of grey python with distinctive markings. I have a couple of low-res pictures taken with my old flip phone when I found one in a bush near the house a few years ago.


I was at a park Saturday and managed to photograph a midland watersnake, also assuring people nearby that it was harmless and not a cottonmouth. My only pics are from a footbridge bridge; they're shy and don't hold for a pose if you approach like rat snakes.


*You may have heard that turtles are aquatic and tortoises live on land; thus some people call them "box tortoises." This is wrong. They're actually in the pond turtle family despite being just as terrestrial as a true tortoise. Likewise, it's not true that all frogs have smooth skin and all toads have warty skin.
Rules of thumb like these were generally created when A) biologists were still learning how to classify things at all, and B) all the English-speakers lived in England, which has so few herps that simple rules like this were often true. Throw them out the window if you're not in Ol' Blighty, though.

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Friday: Several sightings, but only one specimen stuck around to be photographed. Another pond turtle basking on a log over recently-flooded forest floor. Probably another painted turtle.



Yesterday: More turt rescue! Another box toytle.



You can see the hinge on the bottom shell that makes New World box turtles almost unique: they can close up the bottom of the shell completely once their head and limbs are pulled in.
I say "almost" because Asia has its own "box turtles" with a similar feature, though they're not closely related. It's parallel evolution in action!

BONUS HERP: Not my sighting, but a coworker's. During an installation I had to bring in another technician to work on our cable outside while I did the inside work for the job, and he found this helpful little rat snake slithering up to lend a non-existent hand.


That kinked-up posture is the usual rat snake pose when they know they've been spotted. Instead of a speedy retreat like many snakes, they're more liable to freeze in place.
I shared this picture with the chat group my crew works in and got a variety of reaction, spanning the gamut from "SHOOT IT!" to "AW HECK NO!" The tech who took the pic, meanwhile, came back when he was done and we both chatted for a bit about how really the only dangerous snakes in our area are copperheads, and those are pretty distinctive so you're not likely to mistake something else for them.




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4 hours ago, Friendship is Horses said:

The rat snake kinda looks like a discarded piece of rubber hose. I wonder if that's its plan.

Rat snakes are the kind that show up in a nurse's outfit, waking you up in bed, and demanding to know if they look like they have a plan.

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One particularly frustrating challenge to the casual herpster is trying to get a photograph of something you just spotted because it's already in the process of getting away from you. In other words, how do you take a picture of a frog or a lizard you've only noticed because it made a mad dash for cover? Frogs are especially notorious: the vast majority of the time you know know there's a frog nearby because they squeak and leap into a pond or creek. Otherwise they were motionless and nearly invisible and you didn't even suspect their presence. If they weren't so skittish, they'd make excellent assassins. [Note to self: research prospect of training an army of hit-frogs]

This is one of the reasons I have so many pictures of toads and almost none of frogs. Our local toads are much more chillax, and also more terrestrial. Less chance of a toad jumping into a nearby pond when there's no nearby pond!

So I was quite relieved this last Sunday to approach  a small drainage pond where I know frogs congregate in masses and actually managed to find a big ol' frog that didn't immediately spring into the depths before I could get within five yards of it.


The thing is, I don't know for sure if it's a bronze frog or the world-famous Bullfrog, Scourge of Fictional Australia! The two look nearly identical except 1) Bullfrogs eventually get bigger, and 2) the glandular folds on their head and neck have a different shape. Based on these admittedly non-ideal pictures (have half a dozen more but they're all pretty much the same) I'm leaning towards Australia's Bane.


This next one needs no introduction because it's our old friend, the Eastern Box Turtle!



Once again rescued during a road crossing. I'm sure she's thrilled at being plucked from the wide open spaces by an enormous monster and carried bodily through the air, then left to fend for herself. So thrilled that she forgot to thank me. Oh well, I'm sure she was just overexcited.


Now some may question my sanity, taking all these pictures of reptiles and amphibians all the time. "Has he gone mad?" they ask. "Is he obsessed?" they muse. "What's up with all the herps?" one might well question. Well, fear not! I also take pictures of things that aren't reptiles and amphibians on occasion! But since this is the herping thread, I've hidden them from view so as not to offend pedantic eyes.

Flagrantly violating the posted signage, a Green Blue Heron looks for fish in the duck pond, like some signage-violating dinosaur from the yester-zoic era. Not pictured: any ducks. Also pictured: Cobra chicken (Branta canadensis) and my walking buddy (Canis lupus familiaris). Like the frog above, this one had to be taken from a respectable distance so the resolution is a little low:


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Never later than better! Or something!

Bullfrog spotted in my driveway. So substantial a fellow that it was easy to see him in the dark.



There's a subspecies of the "pond slider" turtle which has red smears behind the eyes. As you might have guessed, this subspecies is commonly called the Red-smEared slider, and they're tremendously popular as far as pet turtles go. But they also exist in the wild!



Whew, that was close!


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The good thing about having a couple of hurricanes blow through your state in rapid succession is that you'll probably see quite a few frogs out.
I see nothing wrong with that sentence. 

Two squirrel tree frogs and some kind of chorus frog! All on different days within a week of each other.




Several others as well that were too quick to photograph. Apparently we have a whole lot of tree frogs in this state. Who knew? I've spotted some Cope's Gray Treefrogs before but don't have any pics on my personal phone. Definitely going to keep an eye out for more of those going forward.

Also spotted another Carolina Anolady* while working at a roadside telecom cabinet. Looked like she was in the process of shedding her old scales.





*An anole who is a lady.

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