Sunday, November 23, 2008

On Sunday October 26th, the day after my birthday and way later in the year than I ever thought would be worth herping, a sunny day brought me back out. I was incredibly tired, having stayed up late the night before watching the Phillies win game three of the World Series at nearly two in the morning (Carlos Ruiz is the man - why the Rays loaded the bases for someone who was, at that point, the only Philly hitting the ball reliably, I'll never understand, but I'm delighted they did it), but I hopped in the car and drove out to Upper Roxborough to the spot where earlier Scott had found a road jerky milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum). I poked around and scoped out a stone wall where I'll bet you they're hibernating, but I didn't see any.

I ran into a nearby homeowner, and I asked her about milksnakes. In this case I didn't even have to knock on her door (she was outside giving the business to a guy riding up and down the street on a loud ATV), but never be too timid to do this. Asking someone to herp on their property is a bigger deal, but I have yet to find someone who wouldn't tell me what kind of snakes they see in their back yard. Even in Philly, a notoriously unfriendly city, people open right up to talk about the little baby garters they see in the garden (usually those are brown snakes - Storeria dekayi). As for this homeowner, I'd been hoping for an answer like, "oh, they're right over there," but unfortunately this particular homeowner hadn't seen any milksnakes - just garters (Thamnophis sirtalis).

When I recounted this story to Scott, he pointed out how many different kinds of snakes lay people assume are garter snakes, but I had described milksnakes in a lot of detail and I'm pretty sure they hadn't seen any. Let this also be a lesson in the secretive habits of milksnakes. We know they live (and die) half a block away from that house, but the neighbors had no idea.

I took off for another area to herp for milksnakes, but had no luck there either - just a few redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) and this American toad (Bufo americanus). I guess I should hype this toad - all I've been posting lately have been brown snakes and redbacks, and it was a genuine pleasure to see this toad, with its beefy forearms, hopping across the newly fallen leaves on the forest floor.

I decided to wrap things up at the Mt. Moriah Cemetery, where I found one beat-up adult male brown snake. It now occurs to me that this is a really crappy photo to show off an interesting critter, but I'd like you to note a couple things - first, dig that big scar towards the base of its tail. It had several more scars on its belly and back down its tail. You never know exactly what scars are from, but I figure this brown snake was lucky to get away from something, and it then recovered from some really ugly wounds.

Also note the pattern on the back - the little bars connecting some of the dots. These bars are within the usual range of variation for our brown snakes (the northern subspecies), but if you connected a few more of the dots, you'd have the pattern of the subspecies from the South and Midwest - the Midlands brown snake, or Storeria dekayi wrightorum)

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