Friday, August 25, 2017

Snake Identification Challenge of the Week: Baby Snakes? Coppermouths? Help These Folks Out!

These pictures were taken in Brady's Run Park in Beaver County, PA, in June of 2017. There were, at least, 2 adults & multiple baby snakes, over 10 from just what we could see. I looked up local snakes but couldn't find any markings that matched these guys. Also, wondering if they are posionous, or not. Just would like to be more knowledgeable of our surroundings, to better, & fully, educate my two little girls, ages 8y & 10y. We are big wildlife fanatics &love everything outdoors, from exploring, fishing, hiking, site-seeing, & we seem to attract &run into so many different types of wildlife, surprisingly quite a few rare, even endangered, wildlife species. Though we don't do anything special or elaborate, just myself & my two girls getting up close & personal with the world around us! 

Thank You Kindly for your time, assistance, & any info you can provide us! 

Sincerely, Your Avid Learners & Off The Beaten Path Explorers, 

Nicole F.

A friend found this snake in her driveway. Some thought it was a coppermouth. I thought it might be a garter. Can you help? The location is Tuscaloosa, Alabama.


David L.

What Are These Snakes?

Snake Identification Post Ground Rules

-Guesses are welcome and encouraged. Don't worry if you're not an expert, wrong guesses allow us to talk about how to distinguish between the various species and that's why I run these posts.

-If you can't explain why you think a snake is a particular species, go ahead and just say what you think it is. But otherwise please do let us all know how you identified the animal. If you're wrong, we can explain why. If you're right, this helps everyone learn how to identify snakes, which is the point of these posts.

-This is not a pop quiz, any kind of research is encouraged and I hope you will engage with other commenters to try to figure these snakes out. I will eventually chime in with my thoughts.

-Assume I know what kind of snake is in the picture. I run these posts because they are outreach opportunities. Please don't send me private e-mails with your guesses, include them below.

-Remember, the person that sent me the picture is probably reading your comments. Although it is frustrating to know that many of these snakes have been killed, these people do want to learn more about them. More snake knowledge will lead to fewer snakes being killed. Don't hate, educate.

Enjoy what you read and learn here? 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Battling Pythons! Behind The Scenes Interview With Keith Williams

The other day I noticed someone share a pretty cool video on Twitter, two battling Carpet Pythons! I knew I had to write about this one, and I hope you'll check out the resulting article over on Earth Touch! I reached out all the way to Australia to talk to Keith Williams about his scaly neighbors, but I wasn't able to include all of the interview in the article, so I am including everything right here! I hope you'll enjoy this behind-the-scenes material.

Early reports indicated that these snakes were mating; how did you learn that male combat was the more likely explanation?

About two hour after posting videos on Facebbook I had a reply from a friend who is a wildlife carer for snakes, she said no they're fighting and posted videos of mating v fighting. I know that she knows a lot more about snakes than I do.  I then started getting similar comments on my twitter post (from people that I don't know). 

I have a Bachelors Degree in Environmental Science and my wife is currently completing her PhD in the Sea Turtles of NSW. I trust science. I accept evidence. And I know when I'm out of my depth.

Are you interested in the wildlife around you? What have you done to educate yourself about snakes?

For the past 10 years I've helped run a marine wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre, Australian Seabird Rescue, founded by my late father-in-law, I'm currently Vice-President and chief sea turtle wrangler. Through this work I've met all kinds of amazing wildlife and people. I'm particularly concerned by plastic, climate change and habitat loss.

I'm still fearful of snakes generally. I'll jump a mile if I spot one close to me. But once I'm over the initial shock, I'll go back for a look and try to ID the snake. I've taught myself to ID the ones that live near me. I can now easily tell the poisonous from the harmless.

Around here I really only worry about the Eastern Brown Snakes. We had two move into a Garden about 5m from the house last year. Our local snake catcher helped re-locate them away from the house.

Many people would be horrified to learn they were sharing a home with large snakes; why do you feel differently? 

Photo Courtesy of Keith Williams. Finn Williams checking
out on of the pythons in a more peaceful moment.

Nearly all wildlife is facing an onslaught from humans. More than half wiped out in my lifetime.  I do what I can to help the wildlife that lives around me. I've put up nest boxes, replanted native rainforest, volunteer with wildlife rescue. 

Snakes are part of a balanced ecosystem where I live. I reckon these particular snakes have lived in the roof longer than I've lived in the house. 

What would you say to somebody that was scared of snakes and did not want them around?

I do not feel threatened by pythons. They are no danger to me.

We live in the country.  I hate rats and mice around my home, we don't see any during winter with the pythons in the roof, so it's a symbiotic relationship. We get pest control and eradication, they get somewhere warm for winter.

What other wildlife (reptiles in particular) have you seen around your home/yard? 

Eastern brown, red bellied Black and whip snakes. Lots of predator birds Kookaurras, Butcher birds, Magpies, Currawongs, so we see very few lizards, but also Honey-eaters, Rainbow lorikeets, cockatoos. Wedgetailed eagles high above. Echidna, swamp wallaby, bandicoots, possums, Fruit bats. Houses nearby have koalas visiting.

Best spotting ever was seeing a pair of Richmond Birdwing Butterflies (critically endangered) fly past our verandah one day. I've planted more of the particular species of vine they lay their eggs on.

Are you surprised by all the interest your observation has generated?

I was fascinated, so I'm not really surprised others are as well. But the level of interest has been extraordinary.

Is there any information about these snakes or your wildlife co-existence philosophy that you want people to know that hasn’t appeared in other coverage of your observation?

For the first time in many generations we risk leaving our children a much poorer planet than we inherited. It's not right. Do what you can locally to change that.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

On Putin's Vacation - Behind The Scenes Material

Alexei Nikolsky/Tass
Hi all! I hope you will check out my latest article for Motherboard. Recently Russian state media released a series of pictures of Vladimir Putin on vacation and there were a ton of pictures of various plants and animals. I thought it was a fun opportunity to talk about natural history and biogeography and how these fields of study could help generate information for United States intelligence agencies! I spoke with a number of experts for the story that were really generous with their time but I was only able to include snippets of their responses in the article; I wanted to include everything here!

Solomon David on fish:

Seems the timing and location (shallow stretch of river as opposed to lake proper in Fall) doesn't exactly match for Omul (Coregonus migratorius), but it may be Arctic Cisco (Coregonus autumnalis) instead (both coregoninae, a subfamily of the family Salmonidae; Salmonidae includes salmon, trout, grayling, whitefishes); and "Omul" has been used for both species in the past). Both species migrate into streams/rivers to spawn; they are also considered important commercial fisheries in the region (similar to Lake Whitefish and Cisco in the U.S. Great Lakes).

Northern Pike (Esox lucius) and Eurasian Perch (Perca fluviatilis) check out. He's holding pike by eyes which is an old-school angler way of doing it; definitely not recommended for any fish you intend to release (clearly not case here). I would agree with comments noted in the Denver post article that Northern Pike are usually caught with a pole (as opposed to spearfishing), and "chasing" a fish isn't the best way to catch one. Eurasian Perch are popular sport fish, and close relatives to the Yellow Perch in North America; the species has been stocked widely.

Overall, no reasons to doubt veracity of claims (on fishes/habitat/timing) that I can see. It's outside spawning season for all those species. Although they are all cool species, the catches themselves (e.g. the small pike) are nothing I'd write home to the Kremlin about.

Sue Jansen on Russian propaganda:

...We know Putin is deeply attuned to image management (PR), so the body display is purposeful, projecting a very different image than any of his Russian predecessors. These are hardly candid shots, very much posed for the cameras to project hyper-masculinity and physical fitness. 

Alexei Nikolsky/Tass
To some degree it seems like Putin is playing to Western conventions of covering leaders away from the podium where the public usually sees them, i.e., rough and ready Teddy Roosevelt big game hunting, Eisenhower (the first TV president) playing golf, Bush 2 cutting brush on his ranch, Obama playing basketball. I think these shots are meant to humanize leaders, but in Putin's case it almost seems like an attempt to project superhuman athleticism, competence and control --almost evoking a mythic god-like element suggesting Classical Greek figures. The fact that he is a small in stature may be playing into it? Compensating? 

The plant in his pocket might be some type of blueberry. The trees look like spruce or fir, and so would be consistent with the majority of Siberia being in the boreal forest biome. It may just as easily be Alaska or Canada, as the flora and vegetation stucture is very similar. I know nothing more than these generalities.

Damaris Brisco on mushrooms:

[I can't identify the mushroom] down to the species, sadly; could be any number of what's known colloquially as "boletes" (though many of those spongy-pore mushrooms are now classed in other genera besides Boletus.) They're widespread and fairly common in both deciduous and coniferous forests of Europe. Unfortunately, "brownish cap, yellow pores" describes a wholelot of Russian boletes. A closer look at the stipe & pore surface, along with a color-corrected shot of the cap, would help tremendously with would knowing where the mushroom was found.

Enjoy what you read and learn here? 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Cottonmouth Combat in a North Carolina Swamp - Behind The Scenes Interview

Photo courtesy of Buddy Rogers
Hey all, last week I received an e-mail from Buddy Rogers of North Carolina because he wanted to share some pictures he took of two Cottonmouths fighting in a canal. So cool! I hope you will head on over to Earth Touch to check out the article I wrote about what Buddy saw. I interviewed Buddy for that piece but wasn't able to include everything there; I hope you'll enjoy this "behind-the-scenes" material!

How long did the fight go on (at least how long you watched)?

They were going at it when we first saw them.  According to my picture data we watched them go at it for about 7 minutes. 

What was going through your mind when you first realized that all the commotion/splashing was due to watching two snakes?

When my buddy, David Pearce spotted them they were about 100 yards away.   He asked if I had ever seen two snakes fighting.  To me it looked like two birds like cormorants.  When I put the zoomed camera on them I saw it was two snakes.  I had never seen anything like it before but David has many hours experience in herpetology and was familiar with what they were doing.  I couldn’t get over how big they were.   I kept thinking and saying that these things are huge!  I would guess they were both in the 4 feet long range give or take some inches.

You mentioned that you observed a third snake near the fight; did it do anything other than sit there? Did the victor head towards this third snake after the fight?

David said that there was a female around there somewhere.  When we got closer to them he spotted it lying in the grass just above the waterline.  The third snake may have seen us because it slowly moved deeper into the grass where I couldn’t see it.  I did get a couple of pictures of it before it moved.  The pictures show a hole in the bank behind it which might have been its den.   (? )

The victor did stay around this location moving deeper into the flooded grass but while we were there it was still in the water

Most people that saw something like this would probably be scared or even want to kill the snakes. Why did you have a different reaction? 

A couple of years ago I took up the hobby of nature photography.  I try to take advantage of any chance I can to take some pictures.  The snakes were in a deep canal and I knew they wouldn’t give me a problem if I stayed on top of the steep ditch bank.  I was more afraid they would get spooked and quit what they were doing before I could get some pictures. 
The thought of killing them never entered my mind.  I might have had a different feeling about that if I had found them in my backyard.  These snakes were miles away from anyone’s home.  Also we didn’t have anything that could have hurt them and I know as much as my buddy loves snakes he wouldn’t have hurt them under any conditions.

Were you surprised by all the interest there was in the pictures and video you shared on Facebook?

I really am!  It’s been a little over a week now and the views and comments on Facebook are still steadily clicking away.  I’ve been posting nature pictures for a couple of years and I would bet that the views from this would outnumber the ones from all of my other posts.   I have gotten comments from as far away as Denmark.

What were some of the common comments you received after sharing the pictures and video?

I would say that the most common comment has been “Why didn’t you kill them” or people posting how they would have killed them.  Some have even been on the angry side that we hadn’t killed them.  It also seemed that the majority of the opinion about the activity was that these two snakes in the water were mating.  When I replied to their comment by giving a link to a website whichdescribed this behavior about half of these changed their minds.  But some had their minds made up.

Like I said before I’m not a snake person but since witnessing this I have tried to do the research and learn what I could.  But still, as I was watching this I just knew that it was not mating.  Maybe the pictures just don’t show the aggression and almost competition in the way they would stand up beside each other before wrapping around each other. 

I’d say that 25% or so of the comments were defending the snake’s rights to live and the benefits of having these creatures around.

 It was also surprising how many people argued that these were not cottonmouth but water snakes.  There was never a doubt in my mind that is what they were.

Have you learned anything about snakes in the process of observing these animals and sharing your pictures?

I have learned a lot about snake behavior.  I have also learned there is a lot about snakes that people either have the wrong idea about or have just been misinformed.   I have read a lot of stuff related to them and probably spent way too much time trying to change the minds of people on Facebook.  It’s clearly people are interested for one reason or another or I wouldn’t have seen so much response on my posts.

I still doubt that I’ll be tromping in any swamps looking for snakes but if I do happen on one … or two… or even a ball of them I hope I have my camera.

Enjoy what you read and learn here?