After a few exciting snake moments in 2015, I went full herper in 2016. Since the year is coming to an end I wanted to take a look back at all the reptiles and amphibians I saw this year.
The herping season in southern Wisconsin starts in March. I didn’t see my first herp until the 12th of that month when I saw a few painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) sunning on a log. Soon after I came across a brightly-colored younger one hiding out in the reeds at the edge of another pond. These turtles are the ones most often seen in the state so they were nothing new to me, but being my first herps after the winter I was pleased to see them.
The second herp I saw, and the first of the snakes, was the eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis). Starting with a sighting in early April of a rather sluggish one, I began to see them everywhere for a month or so. Also around this time I started hearing spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) and western chorus frogs (Pseudacris triseriata), both tiny treefrogs, and started seeing eastern American toads (Anaxyrus americanus americanus), one of our omnipresent amphibians.
In May things really started to heat up- literally! And since herps are cold-blooded, this meant much more of them. One day I went down to a lowland forest by the Wisconsin river and it was herps galore. The first one I saw after getting out of the car was a Ouachita map turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis).
Walking a bit farther, I found the forest’s frogs. These included the very common green frog (Lithobates clamitans), as well as the wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) and northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens).
My best turtle day of the year came later in the month when I saw three species on one outing. The two other besides painted turtles were the common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and the eastern spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera spinifera).
The eastern spiny softshell is one of the stranger vertebrates I’ve encountered. Their shells are, predictably, not as hard as the shells of most turtles people are familiar with. In fact, they even curve with the terrain.
Females are larger and darker than males. They also have the trademark spines of the species along their collar.
May brought me some more snakes as well. The first one was, as of yet, my first and only smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis). I found it in an oak barrens. I didn’t notice it until I almost stepped on it, the snake being small and camouflaged. I was in awe. I had not expected to see one and it had a gorgeous, dainty appearance. At roughly the girth of a DeKay’s snake (Storeria dekayi) and not much longer it had the appearance of a little green snake fairy. Unfortunately I was not able to get a picture of this shy creature, making it the only snake species I saw but didn’t get photographic evidence of this year.
The next day I almost ran over a snake with my bike. I was riding along a gravel path when suddenly something much larger than the previous day’s snake slithered, almost jumping, out of my way. I slammed the breaks, sending gravel flying. I walked back to where the snake was and it was safely on the grass intent on getting away from me. I took a few pictures and later identified it as an eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos). Oddly enough it wasn’t behaving like one. When startled, they usually spread their hood giving them a cobra-like appearance, fake striking, and finally playing dead. I guess I didn’t freak this one out enough or it figured it could outrun me. All for the better. I’d rather see a safe snake than to get a good view of one.
Wisconsin has a handful of treefrog species. Two of them are virtually identical and I can never tell which is which. They’re cute anyway so I let it slide. Below is a young treefrog of either the eastern gray (Hyla versicolor) or Cope’s gray (Hyla chrysoscelis) variety chilling on a compost bin.
I saw my final two snake species of the year at Door County in June. The first was the DeKay’s snake and the second was a northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) basking by the surf.
Finally here’s a picture of a DeKay’s snake from this fall. I already posted it but they’re cute and I have a hard time resisting that face.
What a fun year learning more about the natural world around me! I can’t wait to see what kind of herping adventures I’ll have next year. Stay tuned for my upcoming post about my 2016 birding fun.