SOUTH  FLORIDA - July-August 2008

Beating the Summer Fieldherping Doldrums


The daily thunderstorms can literally put a damper on fieldherping, but they sure bring out the herps if you don't mind the heat, humidity, mosquitoes, etc. Here's a 'Best of' compendium of three recent outings in three different areas in southern Florida the past month or so.


I cruised Everglades National Park three nights in July, and several other roads just outside and en route to there from the west where I live. The herp to mosquito ratio was low, but just enough to keep you from dozing off. It also made you work fast on taking pics when outside. Even the herps had skeeters landing on them. I'd estimate at times later in the evening there must've been 10 mosquitoes per cubic foot around us, and it was even worse outside the vehicle.

Water snake - looks like a dark version of the many that appear to be melds between Nerodia fasciata pictiventris and Nerodia clarkii compressicauda. I find myself concentrating ('unfairly') on the redder ones, so here's a dark one to balance things a little.

One of those cool, semi-transparent striped mud turtles Kinosternon baurii. See its ribs visible through its carapace?

I've seen one to three corn snakes Elaphe guttata guttata virtually every time in southeastern Florida. Lately they've been averaging 3 - 3.5 feet in length instead of the usual 2 - 2.5 footers I see most of the time. This one stood out as a particularly nice Miami phase example.

This 'bullseye phase' scarlet snake Cemophora c. coccinea fooled me into believing it was a small corn at first. I've seen an aberrant specimen similar to this once before in the Apalachicola Nat'l Forest in the early 1980s and have a slide of it buried away somewhere. Friends have also found them like this. Anyone else?

The most unexpected sighting was this 3'+ male king snake Lampropeltis getula 'brooksi' out on a paved road at 11:30 pm. I decided to suffer the skeeters to shoot it since this is the first I've ever seen in the field despite decades of hunting.

Friends and I encountered some of what's becoming the usual suspects too. The first one was about 7 feet....

The next one ran about 8 feet. That pic is in-situ, but I can't reveal the exact location. Anyone recognize the mega breeder on the left - the sleeveless guy drawing the mosquitoes off me?

The hatchlings are also out in force now. This one was about 26" long when stretched out at first doing the caterpillar crawl across on the road. It did not appreciate me following it off the pavement.


The rain has also brought out a new crop of baby veiled chameleons over in the Ft. Myers area. I found about 16 of them sitting just like this in-situ baby one evening a couple weeks ago in about 10 minutes' searching. They tend to be clustered in the first weeks after hatching. They sleep in tall grass and weeds like this. They 'glow' slightly brighter than their surroundings due to the reflective iridophores in their skins bouncing light back more efficiently than everything around them.  See the little critter?

Here's another one, also in-situ after dark, to cement the search image in your minds. The best way to look for them is with a flashlight like a MagLite that has a wide beam function. You sweep the beam widely and rather quickly looking for whatever catches your eye shining brighter than its surroundings.

The few individuals I've taken looking for them usually start out the wrong way (which I didn't know the first time either) by scrutinizing every leaf with a narrow beam of bright light. They quickly learn what a waste of time that method is!

My friend Alan paused for a close-up of the one above, so I decided to go for some close-ups too. I was immediately curious about those dings and dark spots on the poor little fellow's skin visible in the second pic.

Then the cause became apparent in this next close-up of another baby sleeping less than fifty feet away. Look at those bloodthirsty suckers draining my baby!

There were also adults and sub-adults sleeping in the bushes and tall grass. Just like I've seen many times in Madagascar with panthers and Oustalet's chameleons there, adult veileds seem to often hang out in pairs during the warm breeding season too. The larger male (further back and higher up, which is typical 'guardian' position) is about 9 feet above the ground in this in-situ image.

My young friend couldn't resist getting the big boy down for a closer look. Once down, I saw it was an adult male alright, but not exactly a monster size-wise.

We messed around with him a bit. Glad we weren't inside ENP or any other protected place where there's some daffy rules about touching introduced exotics. He displayed his stress colors after further messing....

..... but was looking paler minutes later once he was asleep again on a high branch after we let him wander off.

Here's another half-grown individual I spotted in the headlights at one of the locales where they're propagating. These two shots were taken a second apart and show how they puff up when stressed.


The most recent mini trip (Aug. 5th) was to Sanibel Island off the coast of Ft. Myers where the baby sea turtles are hatching. My bud Chris Lechowicz gets nest duty every week or two, which requires driving a 5-mile stretch of beach in the morning to check for new nests. This time of year, he's also checking hatched nests about 10 days after the recorded hatch for stranded babies, dead babies, number of eggs, etc. His work, the SCCF (Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation) has data from back into the 1970s on sea turtle activity on the island. That's Chris excavating a nest to count shells, infertile eggs, dead babies, etc. in this already-hatched loggerhead Caretta caretta nest.

This one almost hatched, but then died.

Two in this nest were alive and outwardly healthy. Here's one for size comparison.

We let the two live babies run for the sea as I snapped pics.

Local residents and tourists came by to see what we were doing, report dead baby turtles they spotted on the beach, etc. It's obvious there's a huge sea turtle awareness on the island, evidenced by the sand art.

The whole island is more alert to wildlife in general. I loved this sign that follows another one urging slowing down for animals, even s-s-snakes, that may cross the main road.

Lastly, just this morning, Kathy and I took a rescue call for this beauty. Geesh - don't tell me the veileds have new competition now?

Male 'Ambanja blue' panther chameleon Furcifer pardalis. Someone from the Calusa Herp. Society meeting in Ft. Myers tomorrow evening will be taking this fellow home as their new adopted pet.

I hoped you enjoyed this sampler of summer herping in southern Florida.