Wednesday, July 31, 2013

State of the Blog


    Hi all, after four plus years of writing here, I thought it might be beneficial (and interesting?) to recap in a State of the Blog.

    This blog started out in 2007 as a syndicated newspaper column and at one time was appearing in four different newspapers; but, I eventually grew disillusioned by the lack of feedback from that venue. In many cases, the newspaper editors never even acknowledged receiving and printing my material. Was anybody reading? I rarely knew. So, I migrated online for a more interactive experience. My first blog posts appeared on MySpace (yes, really) but I quickly abandoned that platform and joined Blogger (the blog’s current format) in April of 2009.

    I didn’t know what to expect when I started the blog here but it’s been very rewarding to see it grow over the years. In the early days, the site would be viewed between one and ten times a day but things started to take off after I posted a few posts about the giant dead rattlesnake pictures that are often e-mailed around. Now, the blog has over 220 posts, is regularly being viewed over 1,200 times each day (about 40,000 times a month) and I believe we will hit one million views within the next year.  For a nature-themed blog, this is very successful. To put things in perspective, this blog is currently ranked around #28 of the over 2500 blogs listed on the Nature Blog Network (and has hit a high of #12).

    Early on, I had hoped I would receive periodic questions from readers that would be the basis of future blog posts. At least that way I would know at least one person would be interested in what I was writing about. The letters started trickling in slowly, but now it is not unusual to run one or two of these a week. Also, a couple years ago I opened up this site to guest bloggers and I’ve been pleased that so many people have now taken me up on my offer to help them reach a new audience for their writing and thoughts on wildlife.

    As far as some of the intangible benefits of the blog, I am often surprised to see who reads it. I have received a lot of feedback from wildlife professionals thanking me for debunking particular wildlife myths (now they can just forward a link to one of my posts instead of spending the time explaining it themselves) and from people telling me that they have learned or appreciated something new about the wildlife in their area, maybe even persuading them to keep that shovel in the shed the next time a ratsnake shows itself around their property.

    Over the last few months, you may have noticed some changes. I have started an e-mail notification list to provide a more reliable means for readers to staying updated on new content and I also joined Twitter to provide another outlet for the blog. Over the next few years, I hope to introduce interview posts to the blog. This format will let wildlife professionals that are unable to commit to writing a guest post still reach you with their exciting research. 

    But, the change I’m most excited about is the addition of three blog contributors: Brian Folt, David Jachowski, and Jim Godwin. Contributors are all former guest-bloggers that I have invited to regularly publish their work here. If you haven't welcomed them already, please do so. These three offer a wealth of experience and perspectives on wildlife ecology, natural history, and conservation, and I’m looking forward reading more of their writing. I hope you are too and continue to offer your comments on their posts.

    Speaking of comments. Don’t be shy. Recently there has been a sharp uptick in the number of comments on the blogs and that is great. I hope that my posts (and those of the contributors) are the starting point for conversations on the topic and reading your questions and comments will allow us chances to clarify our stories and also get ideas for future posts.

    Finally, what do you want? What is this blog missing that you think will help it become more of an educational and entertaining source of wildlife information in the years to come? What topics are you interested in? What new features are you looking for? Do you know someone that you think would make a good guest blogger or contributor? Do you appreciate the e-mail notifications (I can change the settings so that you receive one a week instead of every time a new post is added). If you’re not subscribed, what’s stopping you?

    I am looking forward to hearing your input (below).

    Thank you all for reading over the last four years. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Readers Write In: I Don't Think There's a Rattle on this Mystery Snake

Hi.

My sister killed this poor critter when she was weed whacking her lawn. She lives in Fayetteville, NC. She posted the pic on Facebook asking if anyone knows what kind it is. Guesses range across the spectrum of probable candidates. There's no clear consensus of opinions so far. I don't think this guy has a rattle. I don't recognize the markings. I was no help at all.

You're my favorite southern snake expert so you were the first person I thought to ask about it. It has a beautiful and distinctive pattern. Maybe you or some of your readers recognize it? We really want to know what it is. Please let me know what you think. Thanks for doing what you do. Especially love the 'giant' rattlesnakes.

Sincerely,

Chris M.
St. Augustine, Fl

    Okay readers, let's get rambling. Chris and his sister would like to know what kind of snake this is. Please let them know and make sure to indicate how you figured it out. Guesses are, as always, welcome and encouraged.

   I think a bunch of you will quickly figure out the Genus; I'm interested to see the range of opinions while we narrow it down to species.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Roundup: This Week's Wildlife Links (July 26th, 2013)

New butterfly species described in Texas.

Just because it shakes its tail does not mean it is a rattlesnake.

Where are all the female Madagascar Sucker-footed bats?

Ever hear of a Dwarf Buffalo? There are about 350 left and they exist in the Philippines. Here are some pics.


Necrofrogophilia, or something.

Introduced foxes were decimating a small population of rare island-dwelling penguins in Australia. Local free-range chicken farmers said to put sheepdogs on the island to protect the birds. Success.

Chilean deer (aka Huemel deer) are making a comeback.

Mega-sized feral cats are wreaking havoc in Australia (some familiar photo tricks being used?)

Frog declared extinct re-discovered in Israel. And, good news for Yellow-legged Frogs in California. 

Ocean giant killed. Cue slow sarcastic clapping.

Saving the Tenkile (Scott's Tree Kangaroo).

You may have seen pictures or videos of sick or dead oarfish, magnificent animals, washed up on the beach. Now, for the first time, video of them doing alive and well.

Mark Bailey gives a primer on Alabama snakes.

Saving Vermont's Timber Rattlers.

For years we learned about how the bacteria in Komodo Dragon mouths kill their prey. Wrong.

Must view: live cam of Osprey nest in Montana.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Married to a Hellbender


    Who would marry a Hellbender? The name itself sounds unreputable at best, like a biker gang turned rock band. The reality is perhaps worse, an oversized soft and slimy salamander, with a nickname of “old lasagna sides.” But to be married to a Hellbender, or better yet one of the world’s leading experts on Hellbenders (
Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), means you spend lots of time around pristine rivers. You focus your life and next family move based on those last remnant headwater streams that produce clear, cool spring-fed waters suitable for this rarest of rare amphibians.

    Perhaps you have never seen a Hellbender. That is easy to understand, as almost no one I know (and I work with biologists every day) has ever seen what my wife studies. Of those that have seen a Hellbender, most encounters are passed along as stories from old-timey bass and trout fisherman you run across at the corner store. Disturbingly, rather than just accidental by-catch, there is an increasing trend of Hellbenders being the target of hobbyists and herp enthusiasts. A quick Google search will reveal dozens, if not hundreds of blogs and websites where you can find a picture or field story from this determined group of weekend warriors eager to either see or catch a Hellbender. But to know a Hellbender requires more than pulling it out of the water for a picture or collecting it as a pet (which is illegal in most states because of their rarity). No, to really get to know a Hellbender you must snorkel down, meet it eye to beady-eye, see it in its natural crevice , watch it while you hold your breath, running out of air and endurance before surfacing for another gasp.

    Even with a snorkel or scuba tank, the Hellbender will win a staring contest . You can only marvel at its inactivity, for it will sit stoically as long as you let it. As you try to hold your place in the swift, clear flowing water your ears begin to ring from the cold, your mask begins to fog, darters and other small fish circle down by your hands and toes, and crayfish begin to emerge back into the open from under their rocks. It is only then, when you are patient and alone in the quiet of a river, that you notice that there is beauty in the Hellbender’s inactivity. You see before you an animal that at perhaps 14 inches long, is over a decade old, and already likely persisted through flash floods and droughts, introduced disease and increasing sediment from human development upstream that clogs up and covers its rock habitat. To live its whole life span of over 30 years, it will need to survive these increasing threats along with the prospect of a warming climate that could make the entire river inhospitable - but today it just sits there in front of you in its rock crevice, waiting for that stray crayfish to pass in front for a meal.

     As you can imagine, it is only the most determined, persistent, and passionate (and yes, stubborn) of women who would consider devoting their life to this species. A woman who hauled our family (dogs and all) around in a canoe in the Ozarks for three years studying the extremely rare and endangered Ozark Hellbender, and now has us living in a quiet valley in the Appalachians studying its more common and widespread (but still imperiled) cousin – the eastern Hellbender.

    So to marry a Hellbender biologist, and live where Hellbenders live, is in a sense a romantic thing. No doubt many would want to build a home-base near cool mountain rivers apart from the grunge of cities and commercial agriculture. Yet to be a romantic requires admission of fantasy, and thus being married to the Hellbender is also horribly depressing because our family knows that at the current rate of decline, a generation from now, no one will even have the opportunity to snorkel down to see a Hellbender. That it will likely only be an extinct species account in Wikipedia, relegated to mere trivia by future generations as one of the largest and longest-lived amphibians to have occurred in North America.

    In this way our household is paralyzed by a joy of living with and near one of America’s rarest salamanders, mixed with fear of its increasingly apparent and seemingly inevitable extinction. What can we do? What can you do? A few kernels of wisdom from my wife:

1. If you want to see a Hellbender, find a way to do it that has minimal impact for wild populations. The sad truth is that the best way to find a Hellbender in the wild can be extremely destructive to their habitat. Hellbenders often use the same rock over and over for 30 years or more, and it takes years for those rocks to settle in the riverbed and develop perfect Hellbender crevices below. Lifting up that perfect rock might give you a glimpse of a Hellbender, but it might destroy a Hellbender’s home forever. Instead, visit or volunteer at a local zoo or aquarium with a Hellbender display (most of these animals were hatched and raised in captivity and not collected from the wild). If you really want to see a Hellbender in the wild, contact someone doing responsible research and volunteer to assist with their fieldwork.

2. Never purchase a Hellbender or encourage a pet store or friend to capture or keep a Hellbender. Besides the fact that we don’t want to lose Hellbenders in the wild, they are extremely difficult to keep alive in captivity as they require specific water temperature and chemistry and can develop disease with sufficient stress.

3. If you are fortunate enough to live on or near a stream, leave some natural vegetation along the stream and reduce soil runoff. Avoid mowing all the way to the river bank and keep your cows/livestock out of the river if at all possible.

4. If you catch one while you are fishing, simply “Be kind, and cut the line.” Leave the Hellbender in the water and it probably has a better chance at surviving than you think.

5. Educate others - tell them Hellbenders harmless, very rare, and need our protection. Tell fisherman they eat mostly crayfish (not sport fish). Send them to the conservation websites such as www.helpthehellbender.org, www.hellbenders.org or http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/amphibians/ozhe/




Further reading:

Jachowski, C. M. Bodinof, & Hopkins, W. A. (2013). Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis (Eastern Hellbender). Aggregate Behavior Herpetological Review, 44 (2)

Bodinof, C.M., J. T. Briggler, R. E. Junge, T. Mong, J. Beringer, M. D. Wanner, C. D. Schuette, J. Ettling, & J. J. Millspaugh (2012). Survival and body condition of captive-reared juvenile Ozark Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi) following translocation Copeia, 2012 (1), 150-159 DOI: 10.1643/CH-11-024

Monday, July 22, 2013

Readers Write In: Are Water Moccasins and Cottonmouths Different Species?


I have recently heard from two independent sources that a cottonmouth and a water moccasin are "in fact" two different snakes. Both stated that coloration, body size/shape, habitat, and swimming behavior were the differentiating traits. I was taken aback by both accounts, never before hearing this in any of my herpetology classes or seeing this for myself in the field. Afterwards, my first thoughts were "Are Agkistrodon piscivorous (Cottonmouths) sexually dimorphic?"...and "Are they confusing a particular non-venomous water-snake for the other?     

Kevin P.
Mississippi 

      It is generally well understood that all species that have been officially discovered, recognized, and described are given a scientific name. These scientific names are made up of two words representing their genus and species. For example, the scientific name of the Cottonmouth is Agkistrodon piscivorus. This name tells us that Cottonmouths are in the genus Agkistrodon (along with some other closely related snakes) and they are the species piscivorus (a name which they don’t share with anything else in that genus).

    The scientific name of the Copperhead is Agkistrodon contortrix. This tells us that Copperheads and Cottonmouths are in the same genus (i.e., they are closely related) but they are different species.

    Common names, on the other hand, are a different story because there are not really any hard and fast rules about them. When I say common names, I mean the words we use to refer to a species in casual conversation. Both Copperhead and Cottonmouth are common names. You can imagine that depending on where you are and because there are no rules about common names, different people might refer to the same species with different common names. Or two different species with the same common name. For example, what comes to mind when I say black snake? Depending on where you are from, you may be imagining a Black Racer (Coluber constrictor), a Black Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) or even an Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi). 

    You can see that these things can get tricky. We even recently discussed in the comments that a blog post just on local and colloquial names might be worthwhile, so I won’t go into much detail about them now. But many of them are quite colorful, like Swamp Lion (apparently this is sometimes used to refer to Cottonmouths).

    In any case, it makes it quite difficult to answer technical questions about common names. That said, species do have standard common names and no species has water moccasin as its standard name. I wrote to Kevin that if people say water moccasin when referring to a venomous snake that lives in the water they are thinking of the Cottonmouth and they are the same species. If people say water moccasin and are referring to a non-venomous snake that lives in the water, they are actually thinking of a watersnake within the genus Nerodia (not a Cottonmouth). I touch on this a little bit on a previous post and include the relevant information here:

    Before we examine how to accurately differentiate between venomous Cottonmouths and non-venomous water snakes, let's first address their names. A Cottonmouth's scientific name (Agkistrodon piscivorus) cannot be mistaken with anything else, but there aren't rules regarding what other names it can be called. For example, Cottonmouths are often referred to as water moccasins. It's not entirely accurate to call other snakes moccasins, but many do. Much confusion can be averted by using the word moccasin only when speaking of the venomous Cottonmouth.

    I thought this would answer Kevin's question, but he responded:

These people seemed very adamant that they were describing two different, but co-occurring venomous snakes.


    Oh.

    Well, that is a different question, one that I can't attribute to people simply being a little loose with terminology. 

    There are not two different aquatic and venomous pit viper species inhabiting the same wetlands in the southeastern United States. There is only the Cottonmouth and various non-venomous watersnakes. The name water moccasin is most often used to refer to the Cottonmouth and less often (and mistakenly, I would argue) used to refer to these other non-venomous snakes. It is not a separate species (here is where I need to add the disclaimer that I base this statement on the fact that there has never been any scientific evidence ever presented that would suggest there is a species in the southeastern United States similar to the Cottonmouth and that shares the same habitats but is actually a different species. Based on this e-mail, there is apparently some local knowledge that would suggest that there are two aquatic pit vipers).*

    I tried to imagine how a Cottonmouth could be considered two different species. It is true that the species exhibits sexual dimorphism (males are different than females) but this difference is just in body size, not enough to mistake them for two species.

   When they are young, Cottonmouths have a bright yellow or green tail that they use to attract prey. Adults do not. Young snakes are also often more brightly colored than adults. In fact, I once saw a young Cottonmouth that was so bright and distinctly patterned that it took a long time to convince myself that I wasn't actually looking at a Copperhead. Perhaps the differences between young and adult Cottonmouths are significant enough to convince some people that they are actually different species.

    Has anyone heard this particular tale before, that water moccasins and Cottonmouths are two separate (but similar) venomous snakes?







* I have to clarify this statement somewhat. There is genetic evidence that there are two different "types" of Cottonmouths. Specifically, Cottonmouths in peninsular Florida are genetically distinct from Cottonmouths elsewhere (the citation for the paper on the subject is below). Whether or not this means they are separate species has not been decided. If they were, they'd probably be called the Northern Cottonmouth and the Southern Cottonmouth, not the Cottonmouth and the Water Moccasin. Because this topic is not directly relevant to the question of whether there are two kinds of Cottonmouths in the same area, I did not discuss it above.

Guiher TJ, & Burbrink FT (2008). Demographic and phylogeographic histories of two venomous North American snakes of the genus Agkistrodon. Molecular phylogenetics and evolution, 48 (2), 543-53 PMID: 18539486

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Roundup: This Week's Wildlife Links (July 19th, 2013)

Are cranes beginning to return to the UK after 400 years? Not to be outdone, lynx may not be far behind.

Byproducts of coal burning are providing refuges for rare insects. Worth it?

Honorable mentions of the 2012 National Wildlife Photo Contest. If these only get honorable mentions, I look forward to seeing the award winners.

Hope for trout and river restoration in Pennsylvania. And, there's some for dwarf foxes in California too.

Over the last 130 years, we have built one large dam every day, on average. That means there are currently 48,000 large dams altering river flows across the planet.

Check out these pics of sharks feasting on sardines. And, a seal hunting the sharks.

Logging in Australia threatens the last refuge of a rare possum.

Andrew Durso provides a great introduction to snake taxonomy.

620 pound black bear captured and relocated in Ocala National Forest in Florida. If a bear can't roam freely in a national forest, where is it supposed to go?

A great article on snake biology and conservation.

24,000 baby eels illegally harvested from New Jersey. And it's no wonder, this Asian delicacy goes for $1,600-$2,600 a pound.

The Sunderbans is a great mangrove forest in India that is supposed to be a stronghold for wild tigers. Conservationists are celebrating because they just generated a high estimate of how many of the big cats were there...drumroll...77. Less than the number of seniors that graduate from most high schools every year.

Is the secret to saving big river fish a matter of focusing on smaller streams?

Did you catch Mermaids on Animal Planet a couple weeks ago? I hope not. I will let these three folks explain why. Crap, I was too late.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Observations on Cottonmouths and Leeches


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 Recently I was in the Bankhead National Forest where I have a project to study the movements of Flattened Musk Turtles (Sternotherus depressus).  The gist of the study is following both male and female turtles in two streams within the forest.  The Bankhead National Forest is north and west of Birmingham, and lays on the Appalachian Plateau, an area with numerous exposures of sandstone favored by Green Salamanders (Aneides aeneus).  One site is Brushy Creek a nice clear, shallow, rocky-bottomed tributary of the Sipsey Fork.  Waters of Brushy Creek flow over riffles, along short runs, and through deeper, often sandy-bottomed, pools.  Beds of water willow (Justicia americana) are rooted in gravelly stream-side shallows and the banks are lined with hardwood trees that provide shade along the stream course. 

    Streams of the Bankhead National Forest, at least in my mind, do not conform to typical Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorous) habitat - slow, sluggish, swampy stream courses and ponds.  Yet, Cottonmouths are one of the most commonly seen snakes along Brushy Creek.  And to add to Brushy’s faunal list are leeches, the best population I know of.  Wading in Brushy Creek the question that may come to mind is not, “will I pick up a leech or two?”, but “how many?”

    On this day in mid-June my son Hugh and I, along with Joe who is on the project this summer as turtle tracker, were looking for turtles along Brushy Creek.  I noticed a snake rapidly swim across the creek and because of its swift movement, smooth action, and bright tannish coloration I identified it as a Midland Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon).  And of course I decided to catch it.  I noted the spot along the bank where it left the water and carefully walked to it, but when close I further noted that my identification was in error.  This was a Cottonmouth.  

    Half of the body was in the water and half in a water willow bed.  The snake threw back its head and opened its mouth as a defensive, not aggressive, warning.  Yep, no doubt a Cottonmouth.  I eased up with a camera and after two or three photos the snake fled into the stream and swam to the bottom to take refuge, although it was still in view.  The water at this spot was perhaps a foot deep and little more.  After a bit the snake surfaced; by this time Hugh and Joe had come over.  Our actions further disturbed the Cottonmouth and it again swam down but into a new location.
  
    In between the Cottonmouth’s game of hide-and-seek I had been watching a nicely colored leech (Placobdella sp.)  at the edge of the creek.   Not only are the leeches in the stream in abundance but they’re also large, 4-6 inches in length.

Now this is the cool part.

When the Cottonmouth went down the second time leeches picked up on it, swam to it, and attached around its mouth, at least three. T
he attachment of the leeches along its lips was apparently very irritating to the Cottonmouth as it began to swim around and scrape its jaws against rocks.  After a few moments the Cottonmouth rid itself of the leeches and swam away, but for those few moments the snake was in an apparent state of irritation.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Readers Write In: What is this West Virginia Snake?

This snake was found in my friend's yard in WV.. What kind is it? Does it seem like snakes are worse this year than normal?

Bridget
West Virginia

    Well, "worse" is relative. If was coming across a lot of snakes I would think it was a good year. In any case, I think Bridget, who wrote in last month about a mystery watersnake, has had her fill of snake encounters this year. Although, based on the condition of today's mystery snake, I imagine the snakes would also like to limit the number of interactions.

   Snakes are secretive animals. But, they are moving around, which may make them noticeable. Snakes move when they are searching for prey, looking for mates, trying to find a suitable place to escape the summer heat (or winter cold) or when young are dispersing from their nest (or place of birth). 

    However, for every one individual snake we do see, there are probably a dozen or so in the immediate vicinity that we never even know are there. I think this introduces an element of randomness to the number of snakes we actually observe. The number of snakes we see probably has as much to do with our behavior as the size of a snake population. If you spend a lot of time outdoors (especially at the right time of day and year), you're more likely to see snakes. 

    My guess is that the number of snakes this year is about normal. Notably, although Bridget isn't the only West Virginian noticing a lot of serpents, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources doesn't think anything out of the ordinary is going on.

  But onto the task at hand. I suggested that if Bridget viewed some past snake identification challenges, the identity of this unlucky visitor would become clear, but just in case, please identify this animal below. As always, please be clear regarding how you made the identification, but in addition and to keep things interesting, please include one reason why one might enjoy having one of these animals around (try not to duplicate answers and I'll give bonus points for creativity).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Readers Write In: An Aquatic Snake Identification Challenge

David,

Attached is a shaky photo of a snake I made while creek fishing on Harbuck Creek in Clay County, Alabama. See if your readers can ID this reptile.

Thanks,
Fletcher S.

Alabama

  Fletcher's wording in his e-mail tipped me off that something was afoot and after an intensive interrogation he admitted he did actually know what kind of snake he had seen and photographed.

  That said, we agreed that examining this photograph would be a useful exercise for people that have trouble distinguishing between the different kinds of snakes that can be found in the wetlands of the southeastern United States. This photo may be particularly helpful for learning how to tell whether a swimming snake is a venomous Cottonmouth or a harmless watersnake. Reading your comments about how to distinguish these snakes is sure to be educational for anybody lurking and reading the blog.

  So, let's have it readers. What is this snake and how could you tell? If you are completely stumped, check out this past post for some clues.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Don't Listen to Turtle Man - Cottonmouths Don't Live in Eastern Kentucky



    Is there an animal that is more misunderstood, persecuted, and maligned than the Cottonmouth? If you can think of one, let me know. Cottonmouths tend to mind their own business and stick to their swamps, but they are fascinating animals. They fight each other over mates, they eat a wide variety of prey (with different strategies for hunting different creatures), they migrate to take advantage of amphibian congregations and to escape unfavorable weather conditions, and they have an incredible warning system: their characteristic white mouth. 

    But, is that what the general public thinks of when one speaks of Cottonmouths? No, we have breeding balls and deadly nests and aggressive snakes that chase you and try to get into your boats (or drop in), all myths, of course. And don’t forget all the harmless and non-venomous watersnakes whose only fault is that they resemble the Cottonmouth too closely and are killed by the thousands because of mistaken identity. Don’t believe me? Check out #watermoccasin on Twitter. Not only are all these snakes misrepresented and feared, but many people don’t even know that Cottonmouths should actually be the least of their worries: they don’t live anywhere near them. And where there are no Cottonmouths, watersnakes should be safe, because nobody will make the mistake of confusing them.

    It is hard to fault most people from being confused about where Cottonmouths can be found when television programs on Animal Planet actively deceive them. This really should not surprise anyone, given that the channel tries to convince people that mermaids are real and that shows about killing rattlesnakes are worth watching.

    Recently the program that features the Turtle Man - the character that shot to internet fame a few years ago because of a classic clip demonstrating his enthusiasm (and rebel yell) at diving into the mud to catch snapping turtles – ran an episode about how he was asked to remove some Cottonmouths from a public swimming pool in eastern Kentucky. Eyebrows were rightly raised by Kentucky herpetologists; Cottonmouths can only be found in the western portions of the state.

    I believe that some of details around this curious discrepancy have not yet been sorted out and there are some intriguing allegations surrounding the case and who profited (this article also notes that the Kentucky herpetologist who initially pointed out the error was asked by Animal Planet to sign a statement agreeing to stop talking about it). But, I think it should be clear to everybody that Cottonmouths were released into a pool in a region where they do not occur and then Turtle Man got them out. (Update, the 'story' has been confirmed as bogus)

    Unfortunately, I don’t know that many viewers followed the controversy that arose after the episode aired. For many folks, this show is one more reason to fear any and all aquatic snakes in eastern Kentucky, even though there are not really any Cottonmouths there. Too many snakes, including harmless watersnakes, are killed as a result of this misinformation and fear; Animal Planet is promoting and spreading both.



***An earlier version of this post contained an error in the title, thanks to Brian Folt for pointing it out.***

Monday, July 8, 2013

Readers Write In: A Mystery Snake Found While Hiking


We were hiking and came across this little guy. The area was upstate SC mountains. The pic is a little hard to see as I wasn't going to get too close. 

Heather K.
Abbeville, SC

Although this species is commonly encountered, we do not often see it featured on this blog. In fact, I don't recall us ever being asked to identify one. So...Readers, do not let me down: what is this snake species? As always, guesses are welcome and please let us know how you came to your conclusion.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A 24-foot Rattlesnake from Bladen County, North Carolina?


    I have to apologize for being behind the ball on this one. About a month ago two commenters on my giant rattlesnake megapost  brought my attention (here and hereto a new giant rattlesnake picture that was doing the rounds on Facebook.

GM FB fam...Welcome 2 Bladen Co. N.C. This is not a Python nor a Boa this is a 24ft Rattlesnake...Holy $h*t!!

    There are so many things wrong with this it is hard to know where to start.

   1) Rattlesnakes do not get 24 feet long. No rattlesnake of any species that has ever been measured has been that big. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find reliable evidence of rattlesnakes over eight feet long (although a handful have been recorded). Once you start talking about rattlesnakes over nine feet long you might as well be talking about Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

  2) That's not a rattlesnake. Based on the color and body shape and patterning it is definitely a python; I believe it is a Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus; please correct me below if you disagree). This species can be found in southeast Asia, not southeast North Carolina. You may be reminded of this post from a few years ago in which another python is hoisted up by some construction equipment and claimed to be a 55 foot boa.

  3) This snake is unlikely to be 24 feet long. It is a lot closer to the camera than the back-hoe so our perception of size is skewed. My guess is the snake is 10-12 feet long. Still a big snake.

   4) Bladen County, North Carolina isn't exactly ground-zero for giant rattlesnakes. The world's largest species of rattlesnake (up to about eight feet long), the Eastern Diamond-back Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus), is known from North Carolina (see range map); historically they occurred in the coastal regions. But, today they are extremely rare and most (all?) of the snakes that are left in the state are on Camp Lejeune, the Marine base. Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus), however, can be found throughout most of North Carolina, except perhaps the central region. And, this species very rarely exceed six feet in length.

Conclusion: the story about this photograph is very bogus.