Saturday, May 05, 2007

Last weekend was one of my Philly herping weekends. I’m trying to alternate between local, Philadelphia herping outings and excursions to the mountains or South Jersey. This is partly to avoid going on too many long-distance trips where I burn a lot of gasoline and non-herping time driving there and back.

Of course I tried to look for milksnakes again. I had a few hours Sunday afternoon (temps falling from low 70s into the low 60s while I was out with a brief rain shower at the beginning followed by partly cloudy skies), so I drove out to the Wissahickon and tried yet another rocky hillside.

I looked under a lot of rocks and almost as many logs and pieces of bark. Redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) were out (or under, depending how you look at it) in force, and I saw about 25 in an hour of actual flipping.

I also found a really nice looking garter snake (Thamnophis s. sirtalis). It seems like a lot of the garters we’ve found so far this year have been a little thin, not necessarily scrawny, but slender. I’ve figured they’ve still had some weight to gain back from hibernation, but it might be that we’ve been catching more males than females; female garters do grow larger than the males, and I’m kicking myself for not doing a more thorough job of trying to sex the ones we’ve found. This one, though, was a robust, chunky garter snake, with a nice bold stripe and pretty, bright interstitial skin (in between the scales).

She decided to chew on my finger to try to convince me to put her down. People often ask what a snake bite is like, so here is the gory picture. Garter snake bites are basically just a collection of little pin pricks. It is worth mentioning that there have been cases of stronger reactions - I remember reading a paper about a boy who was taken to an emergency room with a swollen arm after a garter snake had chewed on his finger. Garter snakes' saliva is venomous to frogs, and apparently there are a few people out there who might be particularly sensitive to the saliva.

On my way home I stopped by my favorite vacant lots, and I found my first post-hibernation brown snakes (Storeria d. dekayi). Jen and I found that heap of them back in March, when they were probably getting ready to head back out to their summer fields, but I haven’t found any since then, neither back near that hibernaculum nor out under the summer cover where I’d been finding them last year.

One lucky chunk of concrete yielded two. Again I’m kicking myself for not trying to sex them, since now I’m wondering if they were a couple – a male hanging around a female for a few days while trying to knock her up.

Back on the internet I’ve figured out which city offices keep land records. I’d like to see how far back I can trace these lots. I’m figuring it’ll go something like this: vacant PIDC land, railroad yards, farms, but it’ll be interesting to see the details of how that habitat has changed over the past few centuries.


- 25 redback salamanders
- 1 garter snake
- 2 brown snakes

Monday, April 30, 2007

A few months ago someone named Tim posted a comment but didn't leave any contact info. Tim, please send me an email at billysbrown[at]gmail[dot]com.