Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hog Wild

Of all the unlisted species of snake that inhabit Michigan, there is one that has been my nemesis for many years. It is a snake that is supposed to be found statewide where sandy soil and toads are found. The species I'm referring to is the Eastern Hognose Snake, a robust Colubrid that puts on quite a show when encountered. Though it is said to be found statewide, it is mostly likely isolated to spotty locations in the thumb & southeast Michigan, and is more widespread on the western side of the state. I saw one up near Sleeping Bear Dunes when I was a kid, but since that time I have been unable to track down a live on here in the Wolverine state, but I did get lucky and find this one in Illinois last fall.

Eastern Hognose Snake - Heterodon platirhinos

Recently I was told about a pocket of habitat on private property in southeast Michigan where a family sees hogs frequently. I was perplexed, as the area is less than ten miles from my house and has literally been under my nose all this time. They agreed to let me visit the property several times if I would agree to take their kids out once or twice to see some stuff. On a warm, muggy morning I decided to swing by their place and check it out for the second time. My first visit yielded Wood Frogs and a quick glimpse of a Blue Racer.

The majority of the property and surrounding areas is similar to the photo above, basically relict oak savannah that has been developed. The soil here is extremely sandy, with scattered grasses and shrubs, and a small creek and wetland nearby. After walking for about fifteen minutes, a splash of color caught my eye.

The splash of color was accompanied by a short, high-pitched hiss that brought my eyes to this awesome snake. It immediately flattened its neck out like a cobra and continued to hiss in textbook form, its easy to see why some rural folk refer to these snakes as puff adders.

Eastern Hognose Snake - Heterodon platirhinos

The Eastern Hognose Snake gets its name from the upturned rostral scale on the end of the snout which is uses to help burrow into loose, sandy soil. Hognose snakes are also known for their incredible defensive strategy, if the animal is touched it will flip on its back, writhe about, open its mouth and play dead. This snake was kind enough to put on a show for me as well.

I was elated to finally find one of these snakes in Michigan after such a long hiatus. And it was a great way to close my spring here in Michigan in the final weeks before I move to New Jersey for the summer. That's all for now. Until next time, happy herping!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Spring Serpents

Its hard to believe its already a few days into the month of May. With school, work, and getting ready for my summer job in New Jersey, the past month or so has been an absolute whirlwind. Michigan has had an extremely wet spring, with many rivers flooding and others reaching their breaking point. It hasn't seemed to affect the snakes too much, as I've seen many species so far this spring. I figured I'd do a quick recap of some of the species I've managed to encounter so far this spring.

Blue Racer - Coluber constrictor foxii

It's been a wonderful spring for Blue Racers, as I've seen more than a dozen individuals at a handful of sites in Montcalm, Oakland, and Washtenaw counties. This absolutely gorgeous individual was found in a sandy field bordered by pines up in Montcalm County, and had obviously recently shed as indicated by its bold colors. Most of the Blue Racers that I've seen are not as blue has the one pictured above, but every now and then you can find real nice ones. 

Open fields and meadows with sparse vegetation like the area in the photo above are ideal for Blue Racers. This species is found in the southern and western lower peninsula, though they have declined considerably in southeast Michigan over the years as urban sprawl has claimed much of their former habitat. But there are still pockets of them where the right habitat exists, particularly in preserves and on state land. Here's two more representatives from southeast Michigan.

Blue Racers - Coluber constrictor foxii

Besides blue racers, there's also been a few species of interest that I've been able to see quite a bit this spring. Northern Ribbon Snakes have been extremely common this spring, I always enjoy seeing them.

Northern Ribbon Snakes - Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis

Ribbon Snakes seem to be pretty common in some areas of Michigan, and oddly absent in others. The second individual pictured above was found at a location that I've been visited since I was a kid and is only the second ribbon snake I've ever seen there. So it was quite an exciting find for that place to say the least. One snake species I've had quite a bit of luck with so far this spring is the Eastern Massasauga, seeing well over two dozen individuals all across Michigan. This past weekend, I visited this nice little meadow.

This small meadow is bordered by a fairly large wetland complex and serves as ideal summer habitat for rattlesnakes. Last year I managed to see several large gravid females and lots of juveniles utilizing this field from May through September, it would appear that this is a major birthing area for this population. On this particular morning, it didn't take long to turn up this big bruiser.
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake - Sistrurus catenatus catenatus

I've also seen a smattering of the real common snakes such as Browns & Garters, but I'll share a few photos of each species. 

Northern Brown Snake - Storeria dekayi

Eastern Garter Snake - Thamnophis sirtalis

I've seen browns in fairly large concentrations and garters are nothing to get excited about, but this little snake had some nice black blotches on the neck on each side, similar to a Checkered Garter Snake. That's all for now. Until then, happy herping.