Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Badger Encounter

When I am out searching for snakes, I always stumble across a lot of other wildlife, none of which is nearly as interesting as snakes. This trip was no exception. I started out early in the morning hiking next to a creek north of Timberlakes (NE of Heber, UT). The bank on one side of the creek is very steep and in some areas it is a straight drop off with the roots of large trees hanging out exposed from erosion. I was looking for a reasonable place to cross the creek to make the hike a little easier and I found a large tree that had fallen across the creek, providing a bridge across the creek (well, almost). The tree was about 6 feet above the creek and was large enough to be sturdy, but small enough that I decided to crawl across on my hands and knees as there was nothing to hold onto. When I was about 1/2 way across the log, out of the corner of my eye I noticed something moving and turned to see a large badger running along the side of the creek that I was trying to cross over to. I was not in a good position to run (obviously) so I kept still and hoped that the badger would not see me and just go on its way. The next few seconds were really tense for me as I watched the badger run up to the other end of the log that I was on. I don't know if this is normal for a badger, but this one ran with its head looking/pointing straight down and had not seen me yet. It also could not hear me starting to move backwards on the log because of the noise of the rushing creek water below. I was hoping that it would smell me and run off scared. Instead, it began crossing the creek on the log that I was on. I realized that the badger was going to run right into me because of how unobservant it was. I have heard stories of how these animals can take down an elk. My heart was now pounding and not from the hike. I waved one of my arms hoping to get it to see me. It didn't. I then yelled as loud as I could (note: when I say yelled, I mean I screamed like a little girl. I am glad no one else was with me to witness this). The badger stopped where it was on the log. It finally looked up and saw me. It sniffed towards me. It was only about 5 feet away from me. It then turned around and trotted back in the same exact path that it had traveled to get to my log bridge. It looked back one time at me and then was out of sight. I sat on the log for a short time wondering if I should continue across and then I did cross the creek and resume my snake hunting and I was just very grateful that the badger was not a bear.

(Note: I was not able to get a picture of the badger so the pictures are just generic)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Utah Beauty

Who could see the beautiful scenery in Utah and even consider living anywhere else? On a summer evening, just pick a canyon and go. This time we went up Diamond Fork to the Red Ledges area and brought some chicken dinner. The kids and their cousins had a great time (go figure). Getting out into nature increases my chances for finding snakes, so I had a good time as well. The Red Ledges have many different types of lizards crawling all over the rock formations. This attracts lizard-eating snakes, which attracts snake hunters like myself. I was finding dead snakes on the road. By the way, if you find a dead snake on the road and it is bright blue, that is not its natural color. Smooth Green Snakes turn blue after they die, because all of the yellow pigment quickly goes away after death (I have heard that the Yellow-Belly Racers do this also, but I'm not absolutely sure). As always, Garter Snakes were out in abundance. The creek was pretty and the kids had to spend some time throwing rocks into it (they can do this for hours). Good feelings always accompany our nature outings like this or at least I forget about stressful things for a while. Enough psychology talk: enjoy the photos.

Friday, July 25, 2008

THE ORANGE GROVE (circa 1981)

When I was young, my dad's dad owned a large citrus grove in central Florida near Moss Bluff. My brothers and I stayed at the grove quite often in the summertime. At the beginning of every trip to the grove we would go down to the big lake and flip over the boats and my grandad would shoot the venomous water moccasins (this seems futile because we would then swim in a moccasin infested lake right afterward). There were always large bullfrogs under the boats as well. I would wait until the shooting was done and then try to catch some of the frogs that were fleeing to the lake. The amount of wildlife at the grove was incredible. There were alligators, lizards, frogs, salamanders, opossums, armadillos, various birds, turtles, butterflies, raccoons, squirrels, and SNAKES. All my reptile collecting was "catch and release". This was mostly because we didn't know how to care for the snakes or lizards properly and their health would decline. Letting them go was easy because there were so many others to catch. I found so many different species of snakes that I don't remember them all. Even Indigo Snakes were somewhat common back then. One reptile that my grandad did keep for a while was a baby alligator. He insisted that I hold the thing. He tried to hand the gator to me. It had it's mouth open (we didn't know to tape it shut) and I jerked my hands away just as my grandad was letting go of the neck (I was supposed to grab it's neck). The little gator whipped around and latched on to my grandad's thumb. They say that even small alligators have a powerful bite and I think that is true, judging by all of the yelling and swearing from my grandad. I got brave and held the gator a while later. I thought it was really cool. The grove was a wildlife paradise. We always had a good time and we got to bring home a trunk full of the most delicious oranges available.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

100% Het. For Herper

Reptile/amphibian enthusiasts (herpers) can seem to speak their own language. The herp language is not that difficult to learn. Just memorize the scientific names of 10 or more snakes common to the pet trade and you can fit right in. Start with Elaphe Guttata Guttata (the corn snake). This is the snake most herpers start out with and every pet store in America has them, but you'll need to know how to recognize a sunglow motley zigzag freckled hypo Miami phase corn or you'll look stupid. Elaphe Guttata means "spotted deer", which makes you wonder how smart the scientists were that applied these names. Even non-herpers can tell the difference between a snake and a deer. The scientific name for Racer is "Coluber Constrictor". Whoever applied that scientific name never observed these snakes as they never constrict anything, they simply bite, hold on until the prey gives up, or swallow quickly if the initial strike is in the right place. Our local Great Basin Gophersnake has been given the scientific name "Deserticola", which sounds like the namers became thirsty out in Utah's west desert. If you find the "normal" phase of any snake to be appealing, keep it a secret or you'll end up looking even more stupid. Normal is not exotic and snakes are supposed to be exotic. If you like normal pets, go buy a dog. I know a person that thinks normal pueblan milk snakes are the prettiest of all snakes, but wouldn't admit it in certain company. Some snakes are distinguished from other similar looking snakes by the number of lower labial (bottom jaw) scales. Who would have ever thought to count those? Scale count knowledge isn't as important for impressing fellow herpers as it is for avoiding wildlife laws in some states. At reptile shows, any snake with the title "het" in its description will be more expensive. The word heterozygous simply means that an animal looks normal, but will have offspring that are predictably not normal. By this definition, we can all be considered heterozygous for something. When it comes to our own offspring, most of us hope we are 100% het for normal.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Are all big brothers this mean?

The Black Racer snake is one of the first snakes that I ever caught in the wild. It is a very beautiful glossy black with a white chin. One characteristic of the Black Racer is that they are very defensive when you are trying to catch them. They will bite repeatedly and strike so fast that you don't have time to react. When you think that you have them, they actually have you. The best way to catch them is to follow them until they think they are camouflaged. They will then stay still and if you slowly approach them, you can pin them down with a flexible stick or something that won't injure them. Then grab them carefully behind the head. (note: Black Racers are listed with a top speed of 8 m.p.h., but my experience is that they can be much faster. At Alfred B. Maclay Gardens in Tallahassee I noticed a Black Racer's head standing up above the tall grass like a periscope. I started sprinting full speed toward the snake and thought for sure that I could catch it because it was in a large open field about 30 yards away from me. The snake, which was about 5 feet long, fled toward the woods. I was gaining on the snake, but not quickly enough because it beat me to the woods and disappeared into the thick vegetation. My estimation of the Racer's top speed is 14 m.p.h.) After you catch the crazy snakes, it is usually only a minute or two before it is calm enough to release the head hold. The snake will then have no interest in biting you. With wild-caught racers, you must go through the head hold/calming procedure every time you get them out of the cage or you can expect a vicious bite. One day my sister, who is a year younger, and her friend came to the back yard where I had about 20 Black Racers in a large cage (note: all of my snakes were released after a short time) and I was holding 2 of them. My sister had never taken one out of the cage and was not aware of the necessary calming procedure, but she wanted to show off one of the snakes to her friend. She asked if she could hold one. I said sure and then began to watch, knowing what would happen. She reached for the largest Black Racer in the cage and it immediately struck and bit her arm. She was shocked, hurt, and embarrassed in front of her friend. For some reason she didn't trust my snake advice after that. She still reminds me about that to this day, but she has forgiven me. Strangely, out of my 6 siblings, she is probably the only one that would have a pet reptile or hold a snake. I guess I will take credit for that.