Monday, June 25, 2007


My summer herp blitz continues. This weekend's installment: Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus)!

Finding this ultra-rare (in NY at least) snake involved slogging through mosquito-infested, brush-choked swamp and bog. First, before we even walked out of the parking lot, a nice big Pickeral Frog jumped by. It had nice electric lime green highlights around the dark spots on its back, and ridges down the middle of the back, which I haven't seen before. It posed nicely:

But, on with the rattlesnake!

The sweetest flip:

A large, gravid female Massasauga, very calm, only rattling a little bit and never even thinking about striking:

Kudos to Amanda T., the venomous expert among our group. Without her experience in handling rattlers, it would have been a very different trip (it probably wouldn't have happened at all).

She found the girl, and gently hooked her while our scattered group converged at her point in the swamp (gathering the troops when you can't see in any direction is a more difficult task than you might think!).

The eastern massauga has a black belly (western has white w/ dark markings):

We let her go after everyone had soaked in a good look. She didn't move far, and hid. She's still probably under the same coverboard.
We were ecstatic. Amanda was downright giddy (and still is today). I was absolutely stoked:

The others decided that this was the Holy Grail of NY herps. I disagreed, holding out for the Long-tailed Salamander from a few weeks ago, or at least a Hellbender. We settled on Champie.

On the way out of the swamp, we passed the edge of the field that was swarming with hundreds, if not thousands of skippers. They scattered before us in clouds. I failed to capture a decent shot to show you the numbers, but here's a few perched (Amy, what kind of milkweed?):

Group shot, and bog feet (my own socks were solid muck - i fell in up to my thighs twice):

Things unraveled from there. Jim didn't look while backing out of the parking lot. The result:

Notice, the rear wheel is in the air, the back bumper is supported on the far side of the ditch.

This incident, and lunch, and rattler euphoria (Amanda, during lunch: "Smell my hands... rattlesnake musk. I'm not washing that off!") killed our motivation. We did check one more spot, hoping maybe for Ribbon Snakes or Spotted Turtles (no luck on either). We did see a few more cool observations:

Cliff Swallows gathering mud:

A large Snapping Turtle, basking four feet up in a tree:

I missed the picture of him plunging off the branch, with a complete lack of grace.

My tally of herp species for the year in NY is at 35 (out of 68, not counting sea turtles). What will I go for next? I don't know, but it's going to be good.


  1. Wow, so many wonderful creatures! Long-tailed Salamander would be wonderful to see for sure but then again the Massasauga would be just as nice! We had some around where we were living out in Michigan but never came across them! Although the two months we were their was very cold and wet! In NY< Big wow! Keep up the great work!

  2. Hey Nick,
    Very cool!! Saugas rock. I have yet to look for them, but this has me wanting to plan a trip. I can't believe you even found one.

    Your pickerel frog is actually a wacky leopard by the way.

    Check your private messages on the forum.


  3. Hey rex. Saugas do rock. Do you know of any localities down south of your way - erie or even ohio? Or are you thinking of ny (maybe with ritt?)

    On what basis do you call my pickerel a wacky leopard?


  4. I'm pretty sure I'll be doing Bergen with ritt, and I may venture into PA as well. There is one nature center in Butler co. PA that has saugas.

    I would call the frog a leopard because the spots are outlined in a lighter color, although somewhat square, the spots are not quite like a palustris, and the overall look of the frog which is sort of hard to explain. There is something in the nose shape that is different between them too. Pickerel frogs have more pointed noses, and leopards are more rounded. I think it's the spots that give it away though.

    But, I've been wrong before.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. Sorry, I didn't mean to post under "anonymous".

  6. Hey,

    Would you be able to tell me the specific location in NY where there are currently Massasauga populations? I'm doing some research on the snake.