Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Readers of this blog might already know that I have a borderline-unhealthy obsession with the black rat snake (Pantherophis obsoleta). No local critter excites me so much when I find it or occupies more time and energy of the herp-finding centers of my brain. It is a cruel joke of the herping gods that I hardly ever find one. I'm on a one-per-year rate now, in spite of spending almost all of my herping time in black rat snake habitat.

As evidence of my obsession, I've already started this post talking about something besides the most exciting experience of this particular day (June 17th) for anyone else: kindergartners releasing baby diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) into the wild.

Along with lots of fascinating terrapin research and inspiring terrapin conservation work, the Wetlands Institute dissects DOR (Dead On the Road - herper lingo for roadkill) adult female terrapins and removes the eggs for incubation. The hatchlings spend a year at Stockton College beefing up before their release in June. The Wetlands Institute displays some impressive media savvy (and some environmental education savvy) by having little kids release the turtles, attracting local reporters and television cameras, bringing much-needed attention to the threats facing the terrapins and the WI's conservation efforts.

The two biggest threats are old crab traps that drown the terrapins and the automobile. Turtles are no match for car tires, and each year thousands of females get crushed before they can lay their eggs - not sustainable for long-lived, slow-breeding turtles. We actually found two DOR females on the way to the WI and brought them in for egg rescue (...we hope - the WI can salvage eggs out of only a small portion of the DORs; they got 650 DOR females last year and this year are releasing only about 130 baby turtles.). The WI website features some impressive citizen-led turtle fencing efforts for you Shore dwellers to emulate, and the rest of us can (1) slow down and (2) help turtles cross the road, always in the direction they were heading.

What about the rat snake? Well, our main computer is broken right now, forcing us to use a really clunky, freeze-prone backup until this weekend when we get the new one. Without the computer to process the photos, I'm holding off on loading them for the moment. I'll just leave the story of the snake(s) as a weekend cliff hanger, and give you a link to Lee Stabert of Grid's blog post about the event with her great photos.