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An Accumulation of Reptiles

Posted by on June 7, 2010

That snakes and lizards abound in and around my garden and the woods surrounding the house was something I thought I already knew.  Perhaps I just took them for granted.  It wasn’t until now, while doing the Journal that it really made an impact. I’d always been fascinated by snakes and their cousins, lizards. When I found my first snakes at age 8 or there abouts, I proudly and excitedly brought them inside the house to show Mom.

Those little ring-necked snakes were not well received. So while Mom never discouraged my interest or curiosity, she did make a rule — no live snakes in the house.  I quickly learned that rule also applied to salamanders, mice of all types, frogs and, well, all wildlife. Orphaned rabbit babies and injured birds were exceptions.

So this year I began a concerted effort to record all the snakes and lizards I encountered. At first I was ready to write about the Redbelly snake, but then within a day or so there was the Midland brown. A wonderful Saturday with a bunch of Missouri Naturalists at Ha Ha Tonka State Park, practicing wildlife photography yielded some great photos, and the lone lizard of the group, a Broadhead Skink. Then the Western Ribbon snake made its appearance. Enough — time to get this done — too much of a delay already.

The Northern Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata  occipitomaculatat{Storer]) was a most unusual find. Earlier in the day I had been searching out and collecting wild worms for a pair of rescued three toed box turtles. It was twilight and I was going in the house, it was getting too dark. And there, on the cement walkway was this big worm. I snatched it up. But I discovered it wasn’t a worm but a snake. Into the house it went. This snake is known to secrete a rather bad smelling white paste from glands at the vent. The next day when I removed it from its temporary home of a wide-mouth quart jar to take its picture, it obligingly extruded some more for the camera. It is a nice little snake, eating those bugs and slugs that are prone to eat our favorite plants.

The Midland Brown Snake (Storeria dekyi wrightorumTrapido) is another one of those little snakes that help us out by having a good appitite for garden spoilers. I frequently come across them around the barn, the garden and in the woods. There is wide color variations in the ones I’ve come across, some very dark, some very light. They all have had a dark spot under each eye and both sides of the neck, that is what has always helped me in identification regardless of the color. They too secrete a scent from the vent, but not nearly as pungent as the Redbelly. I think the snake’s color has something to do with where it hangs out. This particular one is grayish and as you can probably see, it blends in nicely with the gray karst common around our place.

The Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus proximus [Say]) I came across was in a real hurry. They can get really large and I’ve seen them engulf some really large frogs. The best time to photograph them is early morning before they’ve had time to become agile by warming up in the sun.

Then there is the terrific Broadhead Skink (Eumeces laticeps[Schneider]). It was an exciting find and I was very pleased to be able to get a good photo. I had read about it in Tom R. Johnson’s book, The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri, but had never before seen one in person. We had surprised it while it was sunning on a trail. Instinct told it to dash to the woods, but then it stopped after about five feet, remaining motionless. Since I was with a group of folks, I first pointed it out. Then, crouching and moving slowly, I took a series of pictures, after each one moving a foot or so closer. When within a foot-and-a-half I decided not to push my luck and slowly moved backward until out onto the trail again. Another naturalist then tried for photos and was able to go in and out as I did without the skink taking off. The third photographer got about half-way and evidently the skink said, “enough already,” and dashed  away. It was a grand adventure with a grand skink. It is one of the largest in Missouri. The head of this particular one is reddish, thus, it is identified as the male. It is usual during the breeding season for the males to develop a bright red head. While it has a  light brown back, it has sort of a greenish cast because of the light shining through the greet leaves above. Perhaps because of its red head or perhaps because of its size, many people think it is posonous. It is not. I’m willing to bet however, if you grabbed it, it would reflexively bite. That could smart. Photos are less painful. Usually.

There are more of those snakes and lizards out there waiting to be discovered. A bunch of little adventures waiting to happen. Bring’em on.

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