Fall Herps

One of the most beneficial and valuable gifts we can give to ourselves in this life: is allowing ourselves to be surprised! It is okay if life surprises you. It’s a good thing!

~ C. JoyBell C.

The busy schedule at home and work have left little time for getting out and about these past few weeks. But, in preparing for recent programs, I managed a couple of short walks at work searching for some educational props. One night, while out looking for caterpillars, my flashlight beam came across a sleeping reptile…

sleeping Carolina anole

Sleeping Carolina anole (click photos to enlarge)

… a Carolina anole clinging to a leaf along the edge of the meadow. I took a photo and observed it for a moment, pondering how it managed to hang onto a leaf while in that upside down position. I left it alone without disturbing its beauty rest, somewhat amazed that it didn’t budge.

A week or so later, a couple of us at work strolled through the Garden searching for some last minute additions for a weekend program. We spotted a couple of cool reptiles and amphibians along the way, perhaps getting in some of their last days of sun before cooler weather sends them seeking shelter for their long sleep.

Spring peeper and dead leaf

Camouflaged spring peeper

We (actually, she, my boss) spotted a spring peeper clinging to a fringe tree, trying its best to mimic a nearby dead leaf.

Spring peeper 1

Peeper portrait

With a gentle prod, we managed a peeper portrait that included a look at their incredibly long toes equipped with pads that allow them to perform their amazing arboreal acrobatics. A few minutes later, she spotted another tree-hugger…

Juvenile black rat snake in tree

Juvenile black rat snake resting in fork of a tree

… a small black rat snake resting about 6 feet up in the tight fork of a tree along the trail.

Juvenile black rat snake in tree  close up

Not sure he wanted his picture taken

That weekend, we had a successful public program that included our caterpillar table, and several other family-friendly topics. One station was all about our incredible carnivorous plant collection, showcasing a variety of insect-eating species found in North Carolina. The table included a few dissected pitcher plants to show visitors what the plants had captured and digested (a popular activity in one of our school programs). As they cut open one of the pitchers, the educators discovered a very interesting dietary supplement. One of the plants had caught something slightly larger than the usual bug…

Dead anole from pitcher plant 9/23/17

Digested juvenile Carolina anole from inside a pitcher plant

…a juvenile Carolina anole! Its shrunken countenance hinted at a somewhat horrifying tale of picking the wrong spot to take a nap or search for a meal. Though not unheard of, it is pretty rare for a pitcher plant to capture and digest a vertebrate.

While setting up for this program, another co-worker said she had seen a dead rough green snake at another location in the Garden. When I asked her if it had started turning blue, she gave me a quizzical look and rushed off to see if she could find it. She returned in a few minutes with snake in hand.

Rough green snake dead and blue

Dead rough green snake

It turns out that the usual beautiful green color of a rough green snake is created by a combination of yellow and blue pigments.

Rough Green Snake

The usual color (although there seems to be a blue spot down on the body, perhaps from a damaged scale)

Shortly after death, the yellow pigments break down quickly, leaving the dead snake a brilliant blue color. The world is full of surprises if you take the time to look for them.

Dead rough green snake turning blue

Turning blue

The Vine That Isn’t

There’s so much for you to see outdoors. The one requirement, you have to be there to see it.

~Greg Dodge

As the sun came up Tuesday morning I walked out to the gate at the driveway to listen to the bird songs and have a look around. As I was walking back to the house, something caught my eye. It was one of those things I probably shouldn’t have noticed, but did. Maybe my brain has a map of the area imprinted on it, and when there is something different, even slightly out of place, it notices….who knows.

Something out of place

Something out of place (click photos to enlarge)

Do you see it? I’ll move closer…

Moving closer

Moving closer

If not before, how about now?

Rough Green Snake

Rough Green Snake

Yes, it is a beautiful Rough Green Snake, Opheodrys aestivus. This slender beauty is one of my favorite reptiles. To me, they represent the epitome of graceful snakeiness. They occur throughout most of North Carolina and are one of our more arboreal of snake species, spending most of their time foraging in bushes and low trees.

Rough Green Snake hanging from limb

Is it a vine or a snake?

Their slender bodies, leaf-green color (although their ventral surface is somewhat greenish-yellow), and habits make them a great vine mimic as they slowly move through low branches in search of their favorite foods – caterpillars and other small insects, slugs, and spiders. Typical adult size is from about 18 to 30 inches in length and about the thickness of a child’s little finger. And they have a remarkable ability to extend this slender body over seemingly impossible lengths to get from one branch to another.

Rough Green Snake color

Their color and slender shape allows them to blend in to surrounding vegetation

This particular snake was about 5 feet up in a shrub. I moved around trying to get in a better position for a photo. But every time I took my eyes off of the snake, it would take me a few seconds to find again…true masters of camouflage. But look closely at the color of the keeled scales on this snake in the picture above. See the blue spot?

Blue spots

This specimen had several blue flecks on its scales

This snake had several blue flecks on its scales. Interestingly, this species turns blue when it dies. I have seen a couple of these as unfortunate victims of roadkills, and they turn a striking blue color. I wonder if damaged scales turn blue as well, and if they disappear on the next shed?

Rough Green Snake 2

Observing the observer

Every time I see one of these elegant snakes, I take a few moments to appreciate their remarkable sense of oneness with their environment. This, plus the fact that they are totally harmless to us humans, makes the Rough Green Snake an excellent ambassador for the beauty and importance of snakes.

Rough Green Snake 1

Beauty in a slender form