Sunday, June 10, 2007

More herping - We just can't stop!

Cornell Herpers with no classes to keep them occupied have proven yet again to be a formidable force. Five friends and I herped some local spots today, with four targets: Coal Skink (the only lizard in Upstate NY, rare and localized, would be new for almost all), Smooth Green Snake (an awesome snake that some of us (including me) had never seen), Wood Turtle (multiple females laying eggs on a friend's property, would be new for nearly all), and Four-toed Salamander (would be new for nearly all).

Paul, Shawn, Eric, Tina, Mike, and I set out at the break of dawn to get to the fields known to contain Coal Skinks before they warmed up. We wanted to catch them hiding in brush piles or basking before they could warm up enough to move out and forage, where only random chance could find them. Less than 10 minutes out of the van, Eric lets out a cry - "Green Snake!!" One target reached very fast! The snake was very obliging:

Shawn seems just a little too excited about his first green snake:

The next 2 hours were spent combing these upland fields for more finds. We found a large number of Common Garters, as well as good numbers of Redbelly Snakes. Here are a few, some of whom had more pink than red bellies:

We also had a very nicely colored Ring-neck Snake:

Finally, in one of the small fields, one of the last options we had left, I located a bark pile and started to dig through. Out came my first Coal Skink!

This specimen was a juvenile, as was the second one we found, while trying to remember the combination to the gate at the back end of the property (we ended up having to drive back to the front!):

We had some time to kill before heading over to our friend Sarah's house to look for the Wood Turtles, so we popped on over to our local Black Rat Snake spot. We quickly located one roosting in the rafters, as well as several large skins:

The Wood Turtles ended up being a bust. We missed the laying females by several days, and failed to locate them with an hour of searching the woods and marshes nearby. However, Sarah will keep close tabs on the known nests, so we may yet get to see baby Wood Turtles running around! Our final spot of the day, a local bog where we hoped to find the sphagnum-loving Four-toed Salamander, was also a bust today. We did find a Painted Turtle on the trail:

We were all still happy with our mornings' finds though, and missing some things means we'll just have to get out there again soon...

Finally, as a small add-on, here are a few other pics from the day:

A Ctenucha moth

A really cool crane fly. When it flew, it held its bold black-and-white legs out stiff, and flew slowly. It was very strange. I have some poor video of the flight I will try to add later, and I will see if I can get an ID on it.

A large shelf fungus

A note on snake photography technique (applies to all small herps). Eric demonstrates the method he taught us: cup your hands over the critter for a minute, until you feel it settle down. Then release and snap the picture while it's still curled up, before it runs again. It works really well and allows for more natural shots than those restrained by hands.

Trip Totals

Ambystoma maculatum (Spotted Salamander) - 1
Notophthalmus viridescens (Red-spotted Newt) - 26
Plethodon cinereus (Redback Salamander) - 33

Bufo americanus (American Toad) - x

Hyla versicolor (Gray Treefrog) - 1
Pseudacris crucifer (Spring Peeper) - 2

Rana clamitans (Green Frog) - x

Rana catesbeiana (Bull Frog) - x

Rana pipiens (N. Leopard Frog) - x

Rana palustris (Pickeral Frog) - 4

Chrysemys picta (Painted Turtle) - 16

Eumeces anthracinus (Coal Skink) - 2

Storeria dekayi (Dekay's Brown Snake) - 8

Storeria occipitomaculata (Redbelly Snake) - 15

Thamnophis sirtalis (Common Garter Snake) - 35

Diadophis punctatus (Ringneck Snake) - 1

Opheodrys vernalis (Smooth Green Snake) - 2

Elaphe obsoleta (Black Rat Snake) - 1


  1. cool, very nice assortment of herps. I too saw that pied fly, one with black and whit legs and looks like mosquito, i had it idied sometime ago but i have forgotten now.


  2. Very cool day! Hey they say that their is a Skink species along the Allegany River/PA boarder! Would this be the same species of Skink that we would have? I have never seen it, but then again I have never gone looking for it!

  3. Meena - The fly is actually not a crane fly, but is in the same suborder. It is genus Bittacomorpha in the Ptychopteridae family. Many thanks to my friend Eric D. for providing an ID.

    Monarch - I checked my guides, and the skink you mention could actually be either Five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus), or the Coal Skink that we found. ASP is just beyond the margins of both species ranges, Coal Skink to the southeast and Five-lined to the southwest. At least, this is based off the range maps from: Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. If you here from 'they' a definite ID, let me know! There are no upstate records of 5-lined skink on the state herp atlas.

  4. This is a known population just over the NY/PA boarder. I just have never gone down their to look for them and thought maybe you might know which species we might find! I will look into those two species you mentioned! Does PA have an atlas?

  5. There is a PA atlas but the data is not very fine-scale:
    They give no map for five-lined skink, but the coal skink map shows populations in the adjacent PA county to Allegany (forget the name).

  6. AWESOME!! The coal skink rocks. I like the black rat in the rafters as well.

    In response to Monarch's question, there is a population of coal skinks in the Onoville area. I have yet to find any there, but there is a lot of nice looking habitat. Are they on the other side of the reservoir? I wouldn't rule it out. As for 5-lineds, the closest you can find them to you is southern Warren county, and they are definitely not common.

    Once again, very cool.