Without Wild Things – John Vanek “A Must See”

Without Wild Things

John Vanek

 This article written by editor and owner of HerpersGuide.com

It was not requested by Mr. Vanek.  I choose to endorse his work because I truly find value in the work Mr. Vanek is doing.

© J. Vanek, IN
© J. Vanek, IN

Many of you may know John Vanek from his articles here on HerpersGuide.com.  He helped me and my readers by writing two great articles; Eastern Hognose and Timber Rattle Snakes, both of which were enjoyed by our readers.  He is compassionate about what he does and he does it well.  He is considered a friend of HerpersGuide and his contribution to our site is much appreciated.  John is always welcome to write for HerpersGuide.

John has recently started a blog.  He intends to use his blog to record his “ecological musings in more than 140 characters” as well as present himself professionally.   I have looked his site over and see he is off to a great start.  I could recommend his website to you in hopes of you visiting his site but, if you have read his articles here, I am sure you do not need my recommendation.  Regardless, I would like to formally recommend John Vanek’s personal blog to my readers.


Please take the time to visit his site and follow him as he adds another notch in his belt.  John is a high-class writer.  I have enjoyed everything I have read from him.  Be sure to check out his first blog entry, where he fact-checks a show I watch with my 3-year-old son.  He looks over “The Wildlife Thornberrys”.  It is a fun read.  I also learned how accurate the show is!  I am going to continue to encourage my kid to watch it.  There isn’t much out there.

Thanks again to John for your work on our website and your continued conservation efforts in other ways!

To the readers; thanks again for stopping in.  I can’t share with you enough how much I enjoy being able to offer you this website.  Be kind to one another.  Be kind to the environment.  Be sure to catch and release.  Happy Herping!


17 Great Instagram Accounts for Herpers

17 Great Instagram Accounts for Herpers

Instagram’s Best Herping Accounts


Instagram logo
Instagram logo

Hey Guys!

Are you new to Instagram?  Are you new to Herping?  Are you just looking for some amazing Instagramers to follow?  If you are, you have come to the right place.  As we are nearing the next “herping season” I thought it might be a good idea to post some of the great Instagram accounts I follow.  In this post, I will share with you some of my favorite Herping Instagram accounts.  These accounts are top-notch.  They each bring something great to the table.  In no particular order, here we go…..

17.    johngarrisonphotography

John Garrison

John is a 17y/o photographer from Maryland.  He offers some great shots of Herps and birds.  He has shared his work with HerpersGuide.com and is an account I truly enjoy following.  Be sure to check out John and his work by following his instagram account!  You will not be disappointed.  He also has a YouTube channel and you can get the link from his Instagram Bio.

16.    bill_nye_the_herper_guy

Bill Barham

Bill is a great herper I met this year.  He came down and did some Herping with my wife, kid, and I this past fall.  We had a great time!  Several of the photos on my account in October and November are from the week he spent down my way.  He and I found a lot of herps.  We photographed and released several species in the short time he visited the NC coast.  Bill has managed to do a bit of traveling.  His account has a variety of herps from all over.  Be sure to check out his account.

15.    tkennedyfour

Taylor Kennedy

Taylor is a 19 y/o herper from Canada!  He is now an Ecosystem Management Student.  His account is great!  He offers great reptiles in a very photogenic way.  You should check it out.  Taylor will be working this year on two priorities for Ontario species.  He is targeting the Blue Racer and the Eastern Fox Snake.  HerpersGuide.com will be following close to see what happens this year.  We are hoping to give an update to our Eastern Racer article based on any findings he has this year.  I recommend this account and wish him luck with his Ontario targets this year!!

14.    tx_snakewrangler

Shaun Hayes

This is likely one of my most favorite Instagram accounts of all time!  This guy is an amazing guy who has a very balanced account.  He shares great finds and shares some of his personal pets with us as well.  Shaun was one of the first people I began following on Instagram and was one of the first people to follow me that I didn’t already know!  He would comment and give me strength to keep going.  Without people like him encouraging me, HerpersGuide.com come would likely not exist.  Check out his account!

13.    hawkinsherping

Hawkins Herping

This account, managed by four brothers who all share a passion for Herping.  Their account has some great finds.  These guys have really been a joy for me to follow.  They were one of the first accounts I began following when I became active on Instagram.  I have been a fan ever since.  Their photographs have steadily improved during the time I have followed them.  I look forward to seeing each picture they post.  They have contributed many photographs shared in articles found on this site.  They were a primary contributor on the Rat Snake Feature we are working on.  I strongly recommend following this account!  Check them out and be sure to let them know you found them here on HerpersGuide.com.

12.    aaroncrank

Aaron Crank

Aaron is a Southern Ohio reptile enthusiast who has plans to become a herpetologist.  Looking through his Instagram account, it’s easy to see that passion first hand.  Aaron has some great finds and you can track his work by following his account.  He also has a newly started YouTube channel you can find the link for in his Instagram bio.  Be sure to check him out!

11.    viralography

Kenneth Gisi

There is no way to discribe this account without getting you to visit it first hand.  This account is one of my most favorite.  This account has nothing by high quality photos on it.  To call Kenneth an amazing photographer is an understatement.  Kenneth is well-respected here at HerpersGuide.com.  He has provided many photos for our use.  He provided the feature image for the Eastern Racer article.  This article has become one of the most viewed articles here at HerpersGuide!  I can’t help but think that Kenneth’s racer image is partly responsible for this response.

10.    SXBLUR51

Aaron Short

Aaron Short is from Central Oklahoma.  He has over 1.6k followers and his followers grow every day.  His account consists of snakes, salamanders, lizards, and any other herp that finds its way into his lens.  His account is well-balanced between his love for herpetology and other interest.  You can find the occasional bird of prey or even a shout out to his gal, who he gives credit for getting him into herping and photography.  Aaron Short was HerpersGuide.com January 2015 Featured Herper.

9.     Big_River_Herping


Kalab is the man behind big_river_herping.  At 14 y/o, he is busting out some great stuff.  Kalab is from Northern Illinois and loves his herps!  With his Canon sx170 in hand, Kalab has captured some amazing photographs of some awesome animals.  Turtles, frogs, and snakes make up the majority of his post.  Please be sure to check out this cool kid!

8.     Zacharge

Zach Lim

Zach is a San Francisco native with an interest in herpetology, field herping, fishing and wildlife photography.  When Zach is out herping, he captures his shots with a Canon Rebel T3i.  This guy is the real deal.  The majority of his account consist of, you guessed it, Herps!  Zach does a great job of balancing his Herp shots with the occasional glimpse into his life outside of herping.  He shares images of friends and family, and pictures of his band.  It is just the right balance of mostly herping with a little of Zach outside of that hobby that dominates his account.  He is a must follow.  Zach is a blogger and maintains a tumblr.com account.  You can find the link to his blog on his Instagram profile.  Zach has written for HerpersGuide.com and you can find it Here.


Emre Cayir

This kid is amazing!  Emre is a field herper from New Jersey.  His account is filled with photos he has taken.  Frogs, Salamanders, Lizards, Turtles, and Snakes, you name it he’s got it.  If you are new to herping or a veteran, his account is a must.  He comes highly recommended by HerpersGuide.com!

6.     Itrains4days

Justin (NoNameKey)

Justin is an amazing photographer and his account will back it up.  His Instagram account is full of Herps, birds, and other nature related shots.  If you are into Herps and need an account to follow, NoNameKey is a must on your list of people you follow.  I have enjoyed his work for some time now.  He has also donated several pictures that are found throughout the articles here at HerpersGuide.com.  Here and here are a couple of articles.  Be sure to check out his work.  He also has a flickr account that is in his profile description.

5.     swamprattler


This is most defiantly an account worthy of being followed by any herper!  This guy has some great finds and does a great job capturing their beauty in his photographs.  He has a great variety of herps.  You will get great bird shots also.  He is a great herper and his photography will leave you in awe.  You got to see it for your self.  Check out the swamprattler.  He has also contributed to the Copperhead article here on HerpersGuide.com as well. His Copperhead photo became the feature image.

4.     jryanherps


This 23y/o Oklahoma Herper and all around nature lover will amaze you with his finds and his photography.  The account is full of herps.  I have followed him for some time.  In the beginning, I seen voucher shots of some amazing animals.  I then seen a post were his Christmas present came early and instantly a photographer was born.  His newest shots will amaze you.  This is a must have account on your follow list.

3.     JadedHerper

Josh Young

“Herp Better.”  “Georgia boy who prefers his snakes alive not dead.”  “The only good snake is a live snake.”  “Photographer of nature but mostly herps.”  These are all quotes from his Instagram profile.  His account brings those messages home!  This guy knows his Herps.  I always enjoy checking out what Josh is sharing.  Be sure to follow this guy!

2.     snakemannick

Snakemannick is a 22 y/o field herper with some amazing finds!!  This account features some great reptiles that are photographed nicely.  When you are visiting this account, you cant help but appreciate these amazing animals.  This is a must follow account.  At 3.3k followers, it is clear the rest of the herping community agrees.

1.     kameron_agkistrodon_burgess

This account is off the chain!!  This 22 y/o herper goes by the name of Agkistrodon burgessi, although it’s a funny little scientific name joke, his account is no joke.  This account features some amazing photography of some stellar reptiles.  His account is a combination of both captive bred subjects and those he has found in the field.  This is an account every reptile lover must follow.  Be sure to check it out.

So, like I said before, these accounts are in no particular order.  They each have something to offer to the herping community.  I recommend you check each of them out.  I would also like to point out that I follow many accounts on Instagram and there is no way I could post all the accounts I enjoy on this post.  For all the accounts I follow, check out my “following” list on my personal account at plaxton53.  Thanks for visiting today.  Be sure to leave a comment below with your Instagram account or an account you think others should know about!  Thanks again.

Be kind to each other.  Be kind to the environment.  Always catch and release and, Happy Herping!!


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

Can’t Find the Perfect Herping Spot? Make the Perfect Habitat!

Can’t Find the Perfect Herping Spot? Make the Perfect Habitat!

The Story of My Wife and I Making the Perfect Herp Habitat.


Couple of Squirrel Frogs in Phillip's Pond
Love Birds
By: Phillip Laxton

This article is the story of how my wife and I made the perfect herp habitat.  It is nice to be able to go Herping in your back yard.  Keep in mind, things that work for me may not work for you.  Even the same species may act differently in a different location.  I encourage each of you to share some ideas in the comments section of this article.  You can read through the article and decide for yourself what works for you.

I am writing this article in November for a reason.  Preparing a reptile ready habitat starts in late fall and runs through winter.  The idea would be to get things ready by spring.  You want the things ready before the Herps start moving.

The planning everything out is very important.  Here are some things you want to cover.

  • What resources do I already have access too?
  • What Herps did I want to attract to my property?
  • What kind of habitat do I need to recreate?
  • Are there any cost?

What Resources did I have access too?

When my Wife and I bought our home, one of my first projects was to make it herp friendly.  The property is an acre of land that sits up next to the woods and is off the highway.  The woods are quite swampy and have several canals traveling through it.

On the property, there was a small fish pond about the size of a bath tube.  The pond was overgrown with a lot of aquatic plants.  So over grown in fact, you couldn’t even put a single fish it.  There was also another pond of about the same size that had been converted to a flower bed.  There was a large flower bed on the property that had also been overgrown.

What Herps did I want to attract to my property?

Fowler's Toad
Fowler’s Toad
Phillip Laxton

The property is in the coastal plains of NC.  It is on the immediate coast and is only about 8-9 feet above sea level.  The land is very flat.  There are lots of waterways surrounding my property.  I decided it would be easiest to focus on aquatic and semi-aquatic herps.  I decided to focus on lizards, frogs, toads, and fossorial snakes.  They are all really easy to accommodate.  Most of the larger reptiles need these smaller ones around as food.  I knew that if I got it right the bigger herps would come.  And with enough time, they did….

What kind of habitat do I need to recreate?

I was working on the whole aquatic, semi-aquatic herp approach so it stands to reason I would need water.  My wife and I began by clearing out the overgrown pond enough to allow water to be standing in it.  This became the perfect habitat for southern leopard frogs and pickerel frogs.  I then began digging up the pond that had been converted to a flowerbed.  The dirt was moved to another location on the property and I will come back to that later.  We placed a liner in the pond and filled it up.  We added some vegetation to the pond.  You will need to find out what grows best in your area.  Make sure you have under water plants, floating plants, and plants that are rooted but grow out of the water.

Glass lizard
Young Eastern Glass Lizard
By Phillip Laxton

After the plants came the fish.  This process was a little time-consuming.  We added a few each week to allow the bio filtration time to keep up.  We added 2 species.  Koi and eastern mosquito fish.  The koi really get the biology of the pond moving.  The mosquito fish are used to keep populations of mosquito at bay.  It is important to note that a lot of vegetation is needed so tadpoles have a place to hide from the mosquito fish.

Southern Leopard Frog By: Phillip Laxton
Southern Leopard Frog
By: Phillip Laxton

With healthy plant life and lively water source, the next step was to place plants and rocks around the pond.  We have southern leopard frogs, pickerel frogs, and a bull frog that are permanent residents at the pond.  I have an eastern mud turtle that visits regularly.  He will be gone for a few days then he is back for a few.  I have also found several neonate mud turtles chilling in the lilies.  I have pulled out 2 snapping turtles over the 3 years I have had the pond.  One of the snappers was a neonate.  There are a few spotted turtles that live just inside the woods that occasionally wonder over to the pond when we have a lot of rain.

Ribbon Snake
Eastern Ribbon Snake
By: Phillip Laxton

I have seen several species of snake near the pond as well.  I have seen black racers come for a drink. I have had a few redbelly water snakes stop in for a few days.  The occasional garter or ribbon will stop by for a quick drink as well.  The mosquito fish is an excellent food source for the snakes.  The shrubs and plants around the pond are a frequent place for anoles to hide.  This year, I had a nest of eastern glass lizards hatch in the fossorial garden(discussed below) and the young are regulars at the pond.

As I mentioned before, all the dirt from the pond was taken to a spot next to the woods.  I call it my fossorial garden.  The dirt was spread out over a small area and boards were placed over it.  This creates a perfect habitat for the fossorial (ground dwelling) snakes.  The boards were of all different sizes and shapes.  For more information on how to place the boards see, “The Art of Flipping”.

Rough Earth Snake
Rough Earth Snake
By: Phillip Laxton

We placed the garden just inside the woods for 2 reasons.  1.  The snakes are in the woods and 2.  It doesn’t take away from the visual of the yard.  The most common snake found in my little fossorial haven are rough earth snakes.  I have found as many as 9 in the 10’x10′ habitat.  I also regularly see Ringneck, Dekay’s Brown, and Redbellies.  I have found the occasional salamander as well.

With the pond being near the fossorial site, it makes a perfect one, two, punch.  Each year I add to the project.  This last winter I cleared the woods out a bit and added some fallen trees and a few wood piles.  This has really excited the anoles and five-lined skinks.  It is all slowly coming together.

Are there any cost?

The cost was very minimal.  There was a cost for the liner we placed in the pond.  I had to purchase a pump for the fish and I have to buy the food they eat.  I did have to buy a machete for the woods.  The rest was found in scrap yards or donated by friends.  Here is a break down.

  1.  Liner for pond         $80
  2.  Pump for pond        $50
  3.  Machete for woods  $30
  4.  Dirt and wood for Fossorial Garden were either found on property or donated by friends.
In closing…..
Narrow-mouthed Toad By:  Phillip Laxton
Narrow-mouthed Toad
By: Phillip Laxton

The habitat around our home was slowly modified over the years we have lived there.  Each year we spend a little time to add to it.  The pond and the plant life around it look like any other garden any other person would have in their yard.  The fossorial garden is discreetly placed near the woods and behind my garage.  So for very little money and a lot of tender love and care we have ended up with an awesome habitat for the creatures my family and I enjoy so much.  Do you have a “Habitat” you have prepared for your native herps?  Do you have any pointers are ideas you would like to share.  Please take the time to post them below for others to enjoy.

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