Wednesday, July 06, 2005

In the last post, I mentioned the wormsnake I had been expecting to see. It’s a big eastern wormsnake (Carphophis amoenus amoenus), which means it’s all of twelve inches long, and I’d gotten used to finding it under the same piece of trash (a large black rubber mat) every time I looked.

I’d found it three times, which now that I see it written out does not seem like much of a streak, but for snakes that’s pretty good. This wormsnake’s rubber mat home lies just into the woods along a field in a wildlife management area (WMA) in South Jersey. In my year so far living in Philly, I’ve been trying to find good places to go herping – reliable spots where I know that at least there are populations of interesting herps there, so the question is simply finding them.

Trash makes finding them easier. I know that dumping construction debris and other random trash out in the woods is a bad thing, and I would encourage anyone to take their boards of plywood, sheets of steel or aluminum, or old rugs to the dump rather than leave them in the Pine Barrens. Still, few things make me happier than rounding a bend in the trail to find that pile of boards. Snakes (and for that matter toads, frogs, salamanders, and all kinds of rodents and insects) really like hiding under this kind of debris. They especially like old boards (or sheets of metal) in the early Spring or late Fall, when they can get a lot of the heat of the sun through the boards without having to expose themselves to predators. Some people even lay out this kind of cover with the idea of finding critters later. When herpetologists do this with the proper permits, they’re called coverboards, and they’re used sort of as lures to survey herp populations.

Anyhow, on a recommendation of another herper I’ve been checking out the WMAs in South Jersey. On my second visit to one of the closest and largest WMAs, I came upon a whole bunch of old plywood boards and old shipping pallets lying in the woods near the fields meant to attract deer, and maybe thirty yards from a swampy area where I had just seen painted turtles and heard the squeaks and splashes of innumerable frogs making their getaways. I almost never get this lucky, I thought, as I started looking under boards. One of the first revealed an eastern wormsnake. Here’s a link to a decent picture (, since mine did not turn out. It was one of my target snake species at the time, so I was really excited to find it. A few boards later I found a young black racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor). Racers are not hard to find, but they're usually really mean and wriggly. This one, though, didn’t bite very much and posed calmly for a few pictures.

I found two more worm snakes on that trip, including the one under the now-famous black rubber mat. I’ll write about the following trips later this week.

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