2014 In Review

2014 In Review

What have we accomplished and where are we heading?


HerpersGuide.com has come a long way since we started out.  We got a late start but we made the best of the 3 months we had in 2014!  Here are some of our milestones reached this year.

  1. Decided to develop a website for those who love Herping in August of this year.
  2. Domain Name purchased in August of this year.
  3. Design picked out and began working on what to include on the Website in September.
  4. First articles posted on the 6th October!
  5. Phillip was proud to have fellow herpers begin writing for HerpersGuide.com.  Zach Lim and Rachael Hetzer both published works on the 29th of October.
  6. Zach Lim’s article about the Santa Cruz Mountains became the first 100 visitor article within 24hrs!
  7. HerpersGuide published its first YouTube Video on Oct 31st!  It was a documentary filmed by Phillip and his Wife in 2 hours while studying Cottonmouths.
  8. John Vanek joined the team in November with his first article being published 25th of November.  His article about Eastern Hognose became the first article to reach 300 visitors within 24hrs!
  9. Phillip’s article on Eastern Box Turtles became the most viewed article on the site within 48hrs of its November 29th publish date!  Since the Article’s publish date, it has been viewed over 2000 times!
  10. HerpMapper supported the site and Chris Smith provided HerpersGuide with information about their project on the 6th of December.  Chris Smith has provided us range maps from the HerpMapper project on other articles since that time!
  11. On December 11th Phillip wrote an article on Racers.  This article is supported by a contest with over 80 pictures provided by 56 readers of the site!  This site is what it is because of the support from you the reader!

In 2014:

So what are we doing for 2015!

  • More Articles
    • Species Profiles!
    • Herping Journals
    • Site Studies
    • and so much more!!
  • Featured Writers
    • Looking for some of the leaders in the Herping Community!
  • More Videos
    • Videos from Herpers doing what we do!
  • More Contest
    • You could have the next featured shot!
  • More of what you love!

Do you have an Idea for HerpersGuide.com?  If so please be sure to let us know!  Thanks again for being part of this adventure with us!  Here is to 2015!  Lets Herp it Up!!!

Florida Fence Swift Revival

The Florida Fence Swift Revival;

My Account of the Events


The Florida Fence Swift Revival is a day in history I will not soon forget.  It is a day that is forever engraved into my memory.  Every time I see an Eastern Fence Lizard or hear a Ray Stevens song, the memories flood my mind.  The following is my account and the best I cam remember, the story (or at least the way I remember it).

Ironically @oceanswept found an Eastern Fence Lizard outside of a church as well!  Thanks for the photo!
Ironically @oceanswept found an Eastern Fence Lizard outside of a church as well! Thanks for the photo!

As many of you may know from my bio, I grew up a preacher’s son.  The advantage of being raised as a son of a preacher is, preachers occasionally have to move.  When I was a lad, we lived on the outskirts of the quiet little town of Bonifay Florida.  The home we lived in, the church, and the church association camp grounds were all on one large piece of property.  The property was down a dirt road that was down a dirt road in the swamps of the Florida panhandle.

I have many memories of the herps of Florida.  Alligator snapping turtles, soft shell turtles, gopher tortoise, box turtles, gator pups, lizards, frogs, toads, salamanders, and lots of snakes; a herper’s paradise.  I have so many stories I could tell about my start in the swampy woods of Florida.  One story in particular, I will likely never forget…..

One Sunday evening, at the age of 6, I was outside doing my usual herping thing.  I was working hard to find my little critters without getting my church clothes dirty.  (Side note, I usually failed at this.)  This ritual of looking for reptiles and amphibians happened every Sunday.  Most of the time, I would find my new friend, catch it, run home, put in a critter carrier, and run back to the church before the service would get started.  After church, I would check out my new friend and release it.  On this particular day, things would go slightly different.

The old Concrete Table Courtesy of  Camp Mt Pleasant Facebook
The Old Concrete Table 20 some Years Later!
Courtesy of
Camp Mt Pleasant

As I was looking around, I heard “the whistle”.   Now, “the whistle” is a very distinct call my Dad had for me.  He would place his fingers in his mouth and whistle.  This whistle was loud, ear-piercing, and could be heard for hundreds of miles!  There was no mistaking “the whistle”.  Just as I heard “the whistle” I noticed a large male eastern fence lizard, known in this area of Florida as the Fence Swift.  The little guy was resting on a large concrete table that rested underneath a lean-to, next to the church.  I couldn’t resist the urge.

I quickly threw both my hands up into the air, waving one hand in front of the lizard to keep his attention while I slowly brought the other hand closer from behind.  Just before I snatched him up, I heard “the whistle” again.  This slight break in my attention was all the fence swift needed.  He was off.

I began to walk away, disappointed in not being able to observe this little guy closer.  As I turned away and began walking towards the church, I noticed the lizard jump for a tree.  The lizard fell just shy of the tree and landed on a large tarp.  The tarp was difficult for the lizard to run on.  This was my chance!  I was able to quickly scoop him up and quickly put him in my pocket while running towards the front of the church.

I walked over to the pew where my brother and mother was setting, walking in the door just as the service was beginning.  Being sure to keep my hand in my pocket, I could feel the little guy moving around.  I would let his little head stick out for fresh air.  At some time during the service, I dozed off.  Suddenly I awoke to a commotion behind me.  Some were laughing and some were gasping.  Curiously, I turned around to see what was going on.  This is when I noticed an Eastern Fence Lizard standing proudly on the back of the pew!

It didn’t take me long to put two and two together, realizing my lizard had worked its way out of my pocket and was now the center of attention in this little country church!  As I jumped toward the lizard in a despite attempt to quiet the service, he ran the full length of the pew and jumped to the pew in front of me.  The lizard landed just inches from a unknowing elderly woman.  The fence swift then jumped to the floor and ran to the front of the church.  Although the song written by Ray Stevens was referring to a squirrel in his song “Missippi Squirel Revival”, the lyrics sums up the church reaction.

“It was a fight for survival that broke out in revival.  They were jumpin’ pews and shoutin’ Hallelujah” – Ray Stevens song “Missippi Squirel Revival”

The swift then tried to climb the stage curtains as I grabbed him.

At this point, my heart was racing and I knew I was a dead man.  Turning around to walk back to my seat, I was quick to notice all eyes on me.  There was nothing else left to do but walk the fence lizard back outside.

It is funny how events in life can make such an impression on a kid.  Even now, 26 years later, every time I see an Eastern Fence Lizard or hear a Ray Stevens song, my mind goes back to that little church, on the dirt roads of Washington County, in the Panhandle of Florida…

Mt Pleasant Courtesy of  Camp Mt Pleasant Facebook
Mt Pleasant
Courtesy of
Camp Mt Pleasant

I know this article isn’t scientific and I understand that it may not have much educational value.  It does however, illustrate my love and passion for reptiles and amphibians.  I just wanted to take a second to reflect back on a piece of my childhood with you.  Thank you for allowing me to share and I assure you I will get back to more educational pieces soon.  Please be sure to comment and share.  – Phillip

Eastern Racer Snake, Coluber constrictor

 

Eastern Racer Snake

Coluber constrictor


C. c. constrictor, Northern Black Racer from Coastal NC Michael Gosselin
C. c. constrictor, Northern Black Racer from Coastal NC
Michael Gosselin

Non-Venomous

Arguably one of the most successful North American snakes, the Eastern Racer Snake has dominated most of the Continental US and populated parts of Mexico and Canada.  This species of colubrid snake contains 11 subspecies.  Recent molecular work suggest the possibility of more than one racer species being recognized in the future.

Blue Racer @Big_river_herping
Blue Racer
@Big_river_herping

Subspecies of C. constrictor:

Range of Racers by Subspecies (Note: Western Yellow-Belly present on West Coast
Juvenile Racer @itrains4days
Juvenile Racer
@itrains4days

Collectively, these 11 subspecies make up the species known as Eastern Racers.  They are also known as Racer Snakes or Runner Snakes.  Adult racers range from 20-60″ depending on the species.  The species rarely weighs in over a pound.  Typically the species has a solid back and the underside is almost always a single color.  Juveniles are vividly patterned from the head and quickly fade to a solid color moving towards the tail.  The pattern generally fades as the snake grows older.  Juveniles from different subspecies lose their patterns at different ages but generally between 1-3 years old.  For more information, be sure to check out the subspecies details for more on the description.


Racer Reports from HerpMapper Click on image for clear view.

The above map was provided by HerpMapper.  Note:  The map is composed of Herpers who submit data.  There may be gaps in this map due to lack of reporting within a specified area.  You can help by providing data.

Feeding/Diet:

Sassy Racer Juvenile  Kyle Loucks
Sassy Racer Juvenile
Kyle Loucks

The primary food source of this species consist of soft-bodied insects such as moths, grasshoppers, and crickets.  As adults, they primarily feed on rodents, frogs, toads, lizards, and other snakes.  A few species have been known to eat young birds still nesting.  One of the adaptations this species has, is the ability to eat opportunistically.

General Behavior:

Like all species, there is variation among individuals however, the racer is known for a few characteristics shared by most specimen.  They are diurnal, meaning they are day time active.  They are usually seen during periods of sunshine.

This species is highly alert.  Most have a nervous nature about them.  Although they typically are found hunting in open spaces, the racer always seems to have a few hiding places in mind.  They are always on the alert.  The racer is rarely ever ambushed by Herpers.  Generally, unless a Herper flips them, the racer is aware of us long before we see them.

Juvenile Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer telescoping Kenneth Gisi
Juvenile Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer telescoping
Kenneth Gisi

Racers are very curious snakes.  they have very large eyes that allow them to see very well.  They have some of the best eye sight of all the North American snakes.  The racer is regularly seen telescoping above the height of the vegetation around them.  Once the racer sees a would be predator (or Herper), it will quickly flee for cover.  They are very fast snakes in terms of snake speed.  Even though the racer is fast, it can quickly be out ran by a human in an open field.  They are sprinters.

When a racer is cornered, the true colors of this snake are shown.  The racer will thrash around, defecate and release musk, and bite repeatedly.  Racers are also known to “rattle” their tale in fallen leaves.

Habitat:

Juvenile Racer @konnor_ross
Juvenile Racer
@konnor_ross

The racer has concurred many habitats.  They have been found in tall pine forest, dump sites, swamps, semi-arid landscape, and grassy plains.  This snake has mastered suburbia.  In many locations throughout the racers home range, it is the most encountered snake in suburban areas.  This species prefers warm weather with plenty of access to direct sunlight.

Phillip’s Personal Herping Notes

In my personal experience, I have best luck in open fields near a source of cover.  I will find them along the wood line on the perimeter of grass lots.  I have also found them along the road between the road and the woods, telescoping for food.

Reproduction:

Northern Black Racer Thomas LaVine @Herpingnc
Northern Black Racer
Thomas LaVine @Herpingsc

Racers mate in the spring.  Most of the mating takes place in May and June.  The female will lay 6-30 eggs shortly after mating.  Nests are usually in hollow logs or under cover.  Juveniles are born in early fall.  They generally reach maturity at the 2-3 year mark.  Females produce only one clutch per year.

Neat Fact:

There are many myths of the racer chasing people.  This does not happen.  The racer, as mentioned before always has a hiding spot in mind long before a threat is encountered.  It is likely this myth originated by people startling the snake while standing between the snake and the desired hiding spot.


C. c. anthicus, Buttermilk Racer
HerpersGuide.com
HerpersGuide.com

AKA:  Ash snake, spotted black snake, spotted racer, variegated racer, and white oak racer

The Buttermilk Racer, C.c. anthicus, is uniquely patterned.  Unlike most of the others in the racer complex, the buttermilk has multiple colored flakes on the dorsal.  This subspecies can reach up to 60″ in length.  The buttermilk racer is only found in southern Arkansas, Louisiana, and southern and eastern Texas.  This racer prefers Longleaf and mixed pine-hardwood forest.

The buttermilk racer regularly integrate with Eastern Yellow-bellies (C.c. flaviventris) along the western edge of its range.

Back to Main Subspecies List


C. c. constrictor, Northern Black Racer
C. c. constrictor, Northern Black Racer Paul-Erik Bakland
C. c. constrictor, Northern Black Racers
Paul-Erik Bakland

AKA:  Black Racer, Black Snake, Black Runner

Juvenile Northern Black Racer HawkinsHerping
Juvenile Northern Black Racer
HawkinsHerping

The Northern Black Racer, C.c. constrictor, is one of the largest of the eastern racer complex.  The northern black racer can regularly reach 60″ and has been known to reach 71″ in total length.  This racer has a coal-black dorsal.

The northern black racer ranges from southern Maine and central New York south to northern Georgia and Alabama.

The northern black racer is regularly confused with other solid black snakes where their ranges overlap.  They are commonly confused with black rat snakes and the black phase of eastern hognose snake.

This race is listed as endangered in the state of Maine.  The presence of this race in Canada has been heavily debated.


[table caption=”Black Snake Guide” width=”500″ colwidth=”20|100|50″ colalign=”left|left|center|left|right”]
,Northern Black Racer,Black Rat,Black Phase Hognose,
Scales,Smooth,Slightly Keeled,Heavy Keeled
Underside,Plain or Lightly Speckled,Checkered,Lightly Colored
Head,Large eyes with white chin and sleek head,slightly widened head,Wide head with upturned snout
Background color,Sleek black and glossy,black with usually some pattern hidden with slight gloss,black with some pattern hidden usually dull
Overall Body Shape,Long and thin,Long a bit thick,Short and stocky,
[/table]
 

Northern Black Racer @snakemaneargle
Northern Black Racer
@snakemaneargle

Back to Main Subspecies List


C. c. etheridgei, Tan Racer
HerpersGuide.com
HerpersGuide.com

The tan racer, as the name implies, is generally a solid tan or brown in color snake.  The tan racer may have some speckling especially in the Texas part of its range.  The juveniles are vividly marked and this marking fades once the snake is about a year old.  They generally max out around 60″ in length.  The tan racer is found in Louisiana and Texas.  There is some integrating between the tan and the buttermilk have been reported in Texas.

Although most racers inhabit primarily open spaces, the tan racer prefers more cover.  The primary habitat is Longleaf pine flatwoods.  Land clearing is reducing the prime habitat of the tan racer.  As more land is cleared in this snake’s range, the buttermilk racer, being resident to open habitat, is slowly invading what was once tan racer range.

Back to Main Subspecies List


C. c. flaviventris, Eastern Yellowbelly Racer
(AKA Yellow-Bellied)
C. c. flaviventris, Eastern Yellowbelly Racer Jake Scott
C. c. flaviventris, Eastern Yellowbelly Racer
Jake Scott

Please Note:  Many people within the Eastern Yellow Belly Racer range refer to this subspecies as the blue racer.  Be sure to view the correct range description to determine the proper subspecies you are referencing. 

 

Eastern Yellow Belly Racer @viralography
Eastern Yellow Belly Racer
@viralography

The Eastern Yellow Belly Racer is an unpatterned olive-brown to grayish snake.  They are slightly smaller than the maximum racer size, maxing out near 50″ in length.  This snake has a cream to yellow underside with especially bright yellow under the snake’s chin, across the lip scales, and on the sides of the neck.  Juveniles keep their markings slightly longer than most other racers, with some keeping their juvenile markings until nearly 3 years of age.  The markings fade closer to the tail.  This solid tail color slowly advances up the snake’s dorsal until it has completely faded.

The Eastern Yellow-belly is one of only 3 subspecies officially to be documented in Canada.  The other 2 are the Western Yellow-belly (flaviventris) and the Blue (mormon).  There is some debate on flaviventris and mormon as it is generally excepted that most of the specimen in Canada are intergrades.  All 3 subspecies are currently protected in Canada.

Back to Main Subspecies List


C. c. foxii, Blue Racer
C. c. foxii, Blue Racer Joshua French
C. c. foxii, Blue Racer
Joshua French
Blue Racer Matt Bordeaux
Blue Racer
Matt Bordeaux

The Blue Racer is a pale blue or bluish-green snake with a white to bluish white underside.  There are isolated populations that have been documented as having a reddish dorsum.  The blue racer can sometimes look gray in color as well.  The head of the blue racer is usually darker than the rest of the specimen.  The chin is white.  They are found in extreme southern Ontario and northwestern Ohion west to southeastern Minnesota, eastern Iowa, and Illinois.

C. c. foxii, Blue Racer Lloyd Smith
C. c. foxii, Blue Racer
Lloyd Smith

Although they are good climbers, it is seen most frequently on the ground.  Most research shows this subspecies to climb far less than other members of the C. constrictor complex.  The blue racer is more social than most other racers during hibernation.  They are frequently seen hibernating in large numbers and with other snake species.

Once common within it’s range, the blue racer numbers are falling.  This is due to needless persecution by humans, den site destruction, and habitat loss.  Minnesota has listed this snake as a species of special concern since 1984.  This race is listed as endangered in Canada.

Back to Main Subspecies List


C. c. helvigularis, Brown-chin Racer
C. c. helvigularis, Brown-chin Racer Jake Scott
C. c. helvigularis, Brown-chin Racer
Jake Scott

The Brown-chin Racer is a slate black snake.  The lip scales and chin are tan or brown.  Some specimen have a rusty color to chin and lip scales.  They are found in the Apalachicola and Chipola River Valleys in the Florida Panhandle and adjacent Georgia.  There has not been much documentation of integrates with other subspecies.

Back to Main Subspecies List


C. c. latrunculus, Black-mask Racer
HerpersGuide.com
HerpersGuide.com

The black-mask racer is slate gray to tan in color racer with a black stripe behind each eye.  The underside is pale grayish-blue.  This species was once thought to only reside in southeastern Louisiana.

In 1997, a paper was released by the Journal of Arkansas Academy of Science, describing the blackmask racer living in Arkansas.  The article, written by Stanley E. Trauth, discusses the possibility of the blackmask living there as well.  He explains finding a series of color slides in the Arkansas State University Herpetology collection, presenting with a postocular stripe on the sides of the head of several specimens from eastern Arkansas.  The article concludes that, Southern (C.c.priapus) is the most wide spread race found in Arkansas, Buttermilk (C.c.anthicus) in south-central part of the state, and Eastern Yellowbelly (C.c.flaviventris) was found in the northwestern part of the state.  The second most widely-distributed race in the state was, in fact the blackmask.

The article is a good representation of a scientific approach.

Back to Main Subspecies List


C. c. oaxaca, Mexican Racer
C. c. oaxaca, Mexican Racer John Eagleton
C. c. oaxaca, Mexican Racer
John Eagleton

The Mexican Racer is the smallest of the racers.  It is characterized by an overall greenish gray color.  There is usually a darker hue extending down the middle of the snake’s dorsal.  There is many times a darker hue present between the dorsal scales as well.  The throat of the species normally has a white or pale yellow color.  There are some isolated populations within the Texas range where the snake may have a pink color to the chin.  The rest of the abdomen is generally a pale yellow to yellowish-green.

Back to Main Subspecies List


C. c. paludicola, Everglades Racer
C. c. paludicola, Everglades Racer Jake Scott
C. c. paludicola, Everglades Racer
Jake Scott

The everglades racer is a variable snake.  It can be bluish, greenish, or brownish gray on the dorsal.  The underside is normally white or cream with pale gray or powder blue markings.  This racer generally reaches 50″ in length although, some have reached the 60″ benchmark.  It is found in the southern Florida Everglades and east of Cape Canaveral.

Back to Main Subspecies List


C. c. priapus, Southern Black Racer
C. c. priapus, Southern Black Racer Kyle Loucks
C. c. priapus, Southern Black Racer
Kyle Loucks

The Southern Black Racer is very similar in appearance to the Northern Black Racer.  There are a few subtle differences.  The southern black racer, comparing the whole subspecies, generally has a more white chin.  This is not a for sure diagnostic as northern black racers do have quite a bit of white on the chin.  The iris of the eye, in southern racers are usually red or orange.  The eyes can not be completely relied on either, as some southern racers do not carry this trait.  The male organs of the southern racers are larger than that of the northern counterparts.  Blood testing is the only sure way to determine the two subspecies apart in females that do not have the red or orange eyes with predominantly white chins.  The best way to tell the two apart will be based on range information.

C. c. priapus, Southern Black Racer Juv. Jake Scott
C. c. priapus, Southern Black Racer Juv.
Jake Scott

The Southern Black Racer is found from the coastal plains from extreme southeastern North Carolina to the Florida Everglades.  It is also found in the Florida Keys.  Moving west, this subspecies can be seen in the southeastern Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, southeastern Mississippi Valley to southern Illinois and southern Indiana.

There is some integrating among racers near range boundaries.  This is especially true where the northern and southern subspecies meet up.

Back to Main Subspecies List


C. c. mormon, Western Yellow-Bellied Racer
Western Yellow-belly Racer @zacharge, also see HG-Article
Western Yellow-belly Racer
@zacharge, also see HG-Article

The Western Yellow-Bellied Racer is normally a green, olive-green, yellowish-brown, or reddish-brown colored snake.  There are isolated populations with a bluish-brown coloration.  This bluish color is noted in the picture above.  This subspecies is found from southern British Columbia to Baja California east to southwestern Montana, western Wyoming, and western Colorado.

Back to Main Subspecies List


I would like to thank everyone for the support so far.  I have had a blast viewing everyone’s submissions for this article.  These articles would never be as detailed without readers, like you, submitting images.  Please be sure to leave us a comment letting us know how we are doing!  Be sure to share this article with friends and family with the social links provided below.  Once again, let me say thank you for all the support and encouragement.   Phillip Laxton

 

Feature image by @viralography

Rough Earth Snake, Virginia striatula

The Rough Earth Snake

Virginia striatula


Non-Venomous

The rough earth snake (Virginia striatula) is a very small, fossorial snake that is common throughout most of its range.  This snake averages 7-10” in length and there is only a few documented cases of this snake reaching over a foot in length.  These little guys are brown, gray, or reddish in color.  The rough earth snake has no pattern except for a few specimen having a light band around the neck.  The band is usually more visible in young.  The belly of the snake is usually white, tan or cream.  The band around the neck of young and a few of the adult specimen do sometimes cause mis-identification with Ringneck’s.

Rough Earth Snake found on a warm December 2nd, 2014 By: Phillip Laxton
Rough Earth Snake found on a warm December 2nd, 2014
By: Phillip Laxton

The rough earth snake derives its name from the keeled scales found on this species.  The presence of these keels help differentiate the rough earth snake from the very similar smooth earth snake (Virginia valeriae).  The rough earth snake is also commonly confused with the worm snake (Carphophis amoenus), and the DeKay’s Brown snake (Storeria dekayi).  Smooth earth snakes look very similar to the rough earth snakes except for the lack of keels.  The DeKay’s brown snake has checker and striped markings on its back.

The rough earth snake and the smooth earth snake were thought at one time to be extremely closely related.  This was due to the fact they looked so much alike.  With the use of mDNA, the two species have been found to be a bit further separated than previously thought.

Feeding/Diet:
Rough Earth Snake found on a warm December 2nd, 2014 By: Phillip Laxton
Rough Earth Snake found on a warm December 2nd, 2014
By: Phillip Laxton

The primary food source for the rough earth snake is earthworms and soft-bodied insects.  It is believed that most populations feed almost exclusively on earthworms.  In my herping experience, I have regularly found them under cover in places with lots of earthworms.

General Behavior:

The behavior of the rough earth snake is very typical of most fossorial snakes.  The rough earth snake is rarely ever seen out in the open.  The snake’s secretive nature results in the general public rarely encountering them.  The rough earth snake is regularly found under cover.  Flipping is generally the best way to find this snake.  There is some indication the snake may be slightly social, with multiple specimens being found in very close proximity.  It has yet to be determined if snake concentrations are social or prime habitat driven.

When encountered, the rough earth snake will typically freeze in place or make a mad dash towards the nearest hole.  When picked up, the rough earth snake will usually squirm around violently and release a musk along with defecation.  The snake regularly digs its head into the skin of the handler.  This is thought to aid in movement and not necessarily an act of aggression.  The rough earth snake is not known to bite.

Rough Earth Snake  By: Phillip Laxton
Rough Earth Snake
By: Phillip Laxton

There was an interesting article produced by the Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, discussing the frequency of small fossorial snakes using ant nest as a hibernacula.  The study focused on smooth earth snakes, DeKay’s snakes, young garter snakes, and ringneck snakes.  The article did lightly reference the rough earth snake.  The article presented the case that the snakes were using ant nest under tin as a hibernacula.  The study mentioned the likelihood of the rough earth snake also using the nest.  The fact that rough earth snakes are not as common in the study area resulted in there not being enough data.  The paper can be found for free at; “Use of an Active Ant Nest as a Hibernaculum by Small Snake Species” by, George R. Pisani.

Although I have not studied the topic in detail, it is my experience, that I would support the theory.  I regularly find rough earth snakes in ant nest early spring and late fall.  I have on occasion, found rough earth snakes on the occasional warm winter day, under some tin in an ant nest.

Habitat:
Rough Earth Snake By: Shawn Hayes
Rough Earth Snake
By: tx_snakewrangler

Within the rough earth snake range, this snake can regularly be found in loose damp soil.  A good rule of thumb would be, look for earthworms.  If the soil is loose enough and moist enough for earthworms, you will find rough earth snakes.  They can regularly be found flipping boards, logs, tin, or other ground cover.  The rough earth snake regularly visits flower beds.  The rough earth snake has a very small home range.  Many snakes can be found repeatedly each season, from year to year.

Reproduction:

The rough earth snake breeds in early spring.  They are one of the first active snakes when spring arrives.  The mother will give birth to 3-11 young, each totaling approximately 4” in length.  The young will look just like the adults accept many will have a light ring around the neck and the head tends to be much darker.

Neat Fact:

The small fossorial snake populations are generally considered a staple species when I begin herping a new location.  Many other snakes feed on small species like the Rough Earth Snake.  King snakes, Mole snakes, Pigmy Rattle Snakes, young Rat and Corn snakes, and other Herps depend on these small fossorial snakes as a primary food source.  In my experience, where there are little snakes there are big snakes.

As another neat fact, I use the emergence of the rough earth snake and the anoles as a sign.  When these guys emerge, it is time to get the herping gear out.  As a very cold tolerant species, that is small in size, that is typically under sunny cover, they are some of the first to get moving around!

Herping Tips:
  • Look under light weight cover any time of year.
    • In spring and fall look under cover in direct sun light.
    • In summer, look under cover that is in the shade.
    • In winter, on warm days, you can still find these guys under sunny cover.
  • Specimen are easy to find under cover when ground is saturated. (after heavy rain)
  • Look in areas with earthworms (favorite food source).
  • They tend to buddy up with ringnecks and DeKay’s.

 

Eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina

Eastern Box Turtle

Terrapene carolina carolina


 The North Carolina State Turtle

 

Male Eastern Box Turtle By: @cplaxton
Male Eastern Box Turtle
By: @cplaxton

The Eastern Box Turtle is truly one of my favorite turtle species.  This turtle is the only “land turtle” found in my state.  There are so many things that set the Eastern Box Turtle apart from the rest of the State’s species of turtle.  I am glad this little guy was chosen to represent our State.

The Eastern Box Turtle is a subspecies of the “Common Box Turtle”.  The Box Turtle currently has six living subspecies and one known extinct subspecies.  Four subspecies in the United States and the other two subspecies are found in Mexico.

Common Box Turtle Subspecies
  • United States
    • Florida Box Turtle, T.c. bauri
    • Gulf Coast Box Turtle, T.c. major
    • Three-toed Box Turtle, T.c. triunguis
    • Eastern Box Turtle, T.c. carolina
  • Mexico
    • Mexican Box Turtle, T.c. mexicana
    • Yucatan Box Turtle, T.c. yucatana
  • The Extinct Box Turtle of Georgia
    • Putnami Box Turtle, T.c. putnami

This article is focused on the Eastern Box Turtle.  It is the most dominant subspecies and is believed by most scientist to be the primary bloodline of Common Box Turtle.  We hope to eventually get the other members of this species online soon.  Many of the Eastern Box Turtles traits can be found in the other members of the species.

Female Eastern Box Turtle By:  @cplaxton
Female Eastern Box Turtle
By: @cplaxton

The Eastern Box Turtle is a bilobed, or double hinged plastron, turtle.  This allows the turtle to close its shell completely.  This ability to completely inclose it’s self within its shell is one way it can be identified against mud and musk turtles.  The carapace is a highly domed, rounded shell that has variable markings.  In most specimen, the Eastern Box Turtle’s markings are vivid.  The upper jaw is slightly hooked and many have a significant overbite.  The Toes are slightly webbed.

Eastern Box Turtles tend to get slightly larger than other members of the species.  They typically max out around 8 inches but some have been found just over 9 inches.  Males and females are very easily distinguished in Eastern Box Turtles.

How to Distinguish Male and Female

  • Males tend to be larger in overall size and weight
  • Males tend to have red or orange eyes and females tend to have tan, dull yellow, or brown eyes.
  • The female has a more highly domed carapace than males.
  • The plastron of males are concave while the female plastron is flat.
  • Males tend to have more color splashes on the head and feet than females.  Color on the carapace is usually equally colored.
Feeding and Diet:

Eastern Box Turtles feed on a number of things.  They are omnivores, meaning eater of plant and animals.  The Eastern Box Turtle will eat insects, worms and caterpillars, fruit and berries, mushrooms, and even carrion (dead animals).  The Young start out with a higher protein diet (meat) and gradually shift to more veggies as they mature.

I have found Eastern Box Turtles feeding on mushrooms regularly.  They also love cucumber gardens!  I have found them on strawberry farms as well.

General Activity/Behavior:
Old Male Eastern Box Turtle By:  @Geckoman0528
Old Male Eastern Box Turtle
By: @Geckoman0528

In my opinion, the Eastern Box Turtle is one of the most predictable turtles in my home range.  I can tell you before I even leave the house if they will be out or not.  They are fully terrestrial (North Carolina’s only one).  They do however love the occasional bath.  They are diurnal, or day time exclusive.  I find Eastern Box Turtles out within the first hour of daylight and the last couple hours of daylight more than any other time.

The Eastern Box Turtle is a very shy turtle.  They are very quick to go inside their shell and close up.  I have seen them stay in the shell for several minutes.  I have discovered that old males will sometimes stay out of their shell when picked up.

The Eastern Box Turtle is regularly hit by cars on the road.  Just to give you an example, one morning I left for work.  We had a very dry spell up to this particular day.  It hadn’t rained any real amount in 15 days.  The rain came in just before I began my travel to work.  The sun was also just coming up.

On this 8 mile stretch of road between work and my home, I encountered 11 box turtles.  Of the 11 that I seen, 4 were freshly hit.  (I did move the others to safety.  More on this later).

Habitat:

The Eastern Box Turtle can be found in many different kinds of habitat.  They can live in wooded areas, fields, parks, swamps, and sandhills.  Although they are terrestrial, they frequent streams, creeks, and ponds.

Reproduction:
Young Male Eastern Box Turtle By:  @Geckoman0528
Young Male Eastern Box Turtle
By: @Geckoman0528

The Eastern Box Turtle matures very slow.  Most do not reach maturity until they are 7 or 8 years old.  There are many that do not reach maturity until they are 10 or 11 years old.  The Eastern Box Turtle mates in early Fall.  The mother will lay 3-6 eggs the following spring. The young, if the nest survives, will hatch late summer early Fall.  The baby Eastern Box Turtle will only be a little over an inch at hatching.

Neat Fact:
Juvenile Eastern Box Turtle By: @Bill_nye_the_herper_guy
Juvenile Eastern Box Turtle
By: @Bill_nye_the_herper_guy

The Eastern Box Turtle deserves credit for a lot of neat facts.  So here it goes:

  1. Males and females are very easily distinguished as pointed out earlier in this article.
  2. The Eastern Box Turtle has a very small range.  Most turtles can be seen in the same field or seen crossing the same paths year after year.
  3. The Eastern Box Turtle has a homing drive.  If this turtle is moved away from its home, IT WILL TRY TO GET BACK HOME.
Herping Tips:

The Eastern Box Turtle is a creature of habit.  Once you learn a turtle you can easily predict his/her next move.  When I was younger, there was an Eastern Box Turtle i seen day after day, year after year.  I hope he is still doing well.

  1. Cruising the roads, at dawn and dusk, on rainy days yield good results.  I love looking for them when conditions are right because I want to get them out of the road.  (***If you find a Box Turtle in the road, carry him/her off the road in the direction he/she was headed***)
  2. Look along creeks, pools, ponds, and streams.  Especially when it has been dry for several days.
  3. Look in the underbrush.
  4. LISTEN….. I have found many Eastern Box Turtles just investigating the rustle of leaves and pine-straw.
Male and Female Box Turtle By: @cplaxton
Male and Female Box Turtle
By: @cplaxton
Special Note of Concern***

The Box Turtle (including all subspecies) are homing turtles.  DO NOT try to relocate.  If found in an unsafe area such as a road, move the turtle to a safe spot in the direction the turtle was heading.  A turtle that has been relocated will very likely die trying to get back to its home.  Especially if crossing a road is required to get home.

**  This is a quick observe, leave where you found species **

In many places, it is against the law to disturb Terrapene carolina.  Know the laws in your area.