Where We Are and Where We are Headed.

Today I just want to take a moment to let everyone know where Herper’s Guide is and where we are headed.  We are working on several projects at the moment.  I am hoping everything will be enjoyed by all of you.  I will touch on a few of the major projects and let you know where we are in them.

Project 1

The “Did You Know” Facebook post.  Hopefully each day, we will be posting a column on our Facebook page entitled “Did You Know”.  It will be filled with short little facts I think are worthy of comment.  I hope you guys enjoy.  If you do, PLEASE let us know by liking and sharing our stuff.  Share it on your timelines, your pages, and the Facebook groups you are part of.  Be sure to let us know you like.  This is a great way to make sure we keep it up.  Encouragement is the best way to keep us moving along.

Project 2

Post a Species Profile every week.  It takes a little time to prepare the profile post.  I start by writing out what I know.  I then do some research to make sure my opinions are up to date with the latest findings.  Someone has to review the content behind the author, pictures have to be gathered, and it all has to be laid out on the post.  All this takes time.  Thanks for your support so far.  I have been blown away by those who support what we are trying to do.

Project 3

Gear Review.  I have been in touch with a few gear manufacturers.  We hope to be reviewing soon.  It may be spring before this really gets moving.  I would hate to do I review that hasn’t been properly tested in the field.  Let us know if there is any gear you would like to see reviewed specifically in the comments below!

Project 4

The 2015 Herping Challenge!!!  This will be my big project for the year.  I already have my project laid out and it is ready to go!  I will be announcing the 2015 Herping Challenge January 1st of 2015.  Hope you will enjoy as we Herp it Up 2015!

Even with all this going on, I want to be sure to give you guys what you want or need. If there is something you would like to see on the site, please let us know in the comments below.  Thanks again for choosing Herper’s Guide and thanks for the support so far!!

Phillip Laxton

Copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix

Copperhead

Agkistrodon, contortrix

Venomous


Picture provided by @swamprattler
Picture provided by @swamprattler

Hi guys!  I am really excited about today’s species profile article. Why, you ask?  It’s because so many of my fellow Herpers had a part in it.  The pictures supporting the Copperhead piece came from followers of my Instagram account @plaxton.  Copperheads cruised, flipped, found chilling in natural habitat, and captive born were all added to the #HerpersGuide for submission.  Unfortunately I can’t fit all these great pictures on the article but I did get them in a video on our YouTube Channel.  My follower list on Instagram include some amazing Herpers.  I recommend you check out my following list to find some awesome people who help spread the word about Field Herping and the love they share for the reptiles and amphibians they find shows in their work.  Great Job to all of you and happy herping.



The Copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix, Land Moccasin, one of the most famous snakes of North America.  Roads have been named after this snake, and songs have been written about this snake.  It is arguably the most beautiful of the North American Vipers.

Photo provided by: @tjweave
Photo provided by:
@tjweave

 Herping for these snakes can be a real treat.  These snakes are highly variable yet, so easy to identify.

The closest relative to the Copperhead is the Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscavorous.  The Copperhead is a pit viper that contains five recognized subspecies.

  • A. c. contortrix – Southern
  • A. c. laticinctus – Broad-Banded
  • A. c. mokasen – Northern
  • A. c. phaeogaster – Osage
  • A. c. pictigaster – Trans-Pecos
Photo Provided by: @captaincandlepants
Photo Provided by:
@captaincandlepants

The Copperhead’s average length is 30 inches with some specimen making it to nearly 40 inches.  The largest documented Copperhead I was able to find in my research was 4’6″ found in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Chapel Hill specimen was a Southern X Northern innergrade.  The Copperhead is a stocky snake with the typical broad head found in pit vipers.

The color pattern is very variable.  The snake as a whole, is a tan to pinkish tan ground color that becomes darker as you move distal the head towards the tail.  There are darker colored bands moving laterally across the snake.  These cross-bands vary among subspecies being wide throughout, hour-glass, and segmented.  Like the other Agkistrodons, the young are born with a yellow tail that is thought to be used in luring pray near young snakes.

Note the bright yellow tail. Photo provided by: @bill_nye_the_herper_guy
Note the bright yellow tail.
Photo provided by:
@bill_nye_the_herper_guy

Many specimen have dark spots down the flanks.  These snakes can look very different even within the same geographic area.  There is enough diversity in this species that I have been able to view local specimen and guess where within my county they were found.  If you take this same concept and take it across the snake’s whole range, you will quickly discover just how diverse they really are.  With 5 subspecies, inner-grades along boundaries, and then variation among local populations make this snake one of the most diverse vipers in the USA.

Copperheads are sexually dimorphic as well.  Males have longer tails and have overall larger size.  Females, although not as long tend to have more

Photo Provided by: @rj_herplife
Photo Provided by:
@rj_herplife

girth.  This may be due to the high likelihood of being gravid.

Feeding/Diet:

Copperheads feed on frogs, toads, lizards, other snakes, and especially rodents.  Rodents, specifically mice and small rats are a primary food source over much of its range.  These snakes are very important in controlling rodent populations.  The Copperhead is generally an ambush predator except when actively pursuing cicada.  Copperheads seem to be fascinated with eating cicadas.

Photo Provided by: @rj_herplife
Photo Provided by:
@rj_herplife

Although the Copperhead typically stays on the ground, they will regularly climb trees to feed on cicadas as they emerge from their nymph casings.  I have used “cicada hotspots” near my home to help me find them.  There is one oak tree near my home that has a high cicada population.  I have found several Copperheads at the base of this tree over the years.  I have found as many as 4 Copperheads at its base at one time.

General Behavior:

The Copperhead is primarily a nocturnal animal meaning it is most active at night.  In my personal experiences, I rarely see the Copperhead out in the middle of the day.  I usually begin seeing them moving around about an hour before sunset through the first 3 or 4 hours of night.  The few I have seen moving in the middle of the day have been in early spring and late fall.

Many published works describe the Copperhead as being a social snake.  In rocky and mountainous habitat, they are regularly seen denning up together with other snakes for

Photo Provided by: @captaincandlepants
A pile of snakes!  Photo Provided by:
@captaincandlepants

the winter.  I am not sure if this is truly a social behavior or if it is due to limited dens.  I know that in the coastal plains of North Carolina, they can sometimes be seen close together but not truly denning up with each other.  I have found more than one specimen under the same piece of cover.

The Copperhead has a few behaviors that make it unusual in the snake world.  There is one behavior that has possibly caused the Copperhead trouble since the Copperhead range has been overpopulated by humans.  The defensive strategy sets this snake up for being the 1st place winner in the “bite a human category”.

Rattle snakes rattle their tail when they feel threatened.  Cottonmouths display the white of their mouth and shake their tail.  Rat Snakes musk and shake their tail. Eastern Hognose snakes hiss, flatten out like a cobra, and bluff strike a would be predator.  A Ringneck snake curls it’s tail and displays the bright colors on its underside when threatened.  The Nerodia family lunge towards an attacker before making their escape.  The Copperhead freezes where it is and hopes it isn’t spotted.

You can't see me! Photo Provided by: @johngarrisonphotography
You can’t see me!
Photo Provided by:
@johngarrisonphotography

This freezing up works great in preventing the animal from being spotted.  Many times this plan works too well.  Instead of getting out-of-the-way of a person walking near it, the snake ends up getting stepped on or approached too closely.  This results in many bites.  The Copperhead is responsible for more snake bites than all the other venomous snakes combined within it’s range.  The State with the most Copperhead bites goes to, North Carolina.

Habitat

Within the Copperhead range, this snake has mastered many habitats.  The Copperhead is terrestrial to semi-aquatic.  Although the Copperhead can swim rather well, I typically find them in dry or swampy environment and do not seem to see them in water deep enough to require swimming.  In most of the Copperhead range, it favors deciduous forest.  The dead leaf ground cover makes the Copperhead very difficult to spot.  The Copperhead is often associated with rock outcroppings and ledges in mountainous areas.  In my home range, the Copperhead likes woodlands near grassy outcrops.

Sawmill Habitat by Phillip Laxton. By: plaxton53
Sawmill Habitat by Phillip Laxton.
By: plaxton53

I have had a lot of luck at an abandoned saw mill near my home.  I have read several reports of people having similar luck around saw mills.  They like to bury themselves under rotting wood stacked up on the saw dust.  The saw mill is my go to spot when I want to see them moving around at night when on foot.  Cruising at night, on the road leading to the sawmill has also yielded good results.

Reproduction:

Copperheads give live birth to as few as one but as many as eleven young.  There are a few reports of as many as 15 young in one litter.  Both males and females reach sexual maturity around 4 years old.  They are typically around 2′ when they are ready to begin reproducing.  Through most of the range, there is two breeding seasons.  Spring and Fall mating occur each year.  Females that breed in the spring will give birth in fall and the fall breeders will give birth late spring.

Neat Fact:

The toxins within Copperhead venom are so similar to it’s cousin that there was no need to make Copperhead anti-venom.  Most bites do not require any anti-venom but when necessary, Cottonmouth anti-venom is what is used.

Herping Tips

Cruised @jadedherper
Cruised
@jadedherper
  • Night cruising produces the best results for quantity for me.  Humid yet moonlit nights bring out the Copperheads.
  • Cruising just before dark is another prime time.
  • When looking for active Copperheads, be sure to watch were you step.  They freeze when startled.
  • When flipping, look for rotten wood.  They seem to prefer a rotten log over a freshly fallen tree.
  • During cicada season, look up.

Thanks guys for checking in with HerpersGuide.com.  Be sure to check us out on our other media outlets: Facebook and Twitter Also, be sure to check out the Author’s personal Instagram here, for all his Herping adventures.

Eastern Red-Spotted Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)

The Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) is a common species of newt found throughout eastern North America. Eastern newts are a member of the family Salamandridae, and one of only two genera endemic to North America.  Four varieties of N. viridescens are currently recognized in North America: the red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens viridescens), the peninsula newt (Notophthalmus viridescens piaropicola), the central newt (Notophthalmus viridescens louisianensis), and the broken-striped newt (Notophthalmus viridescens dorsalis).  Although there are notable differences in size and appearance of the newts of these four groups, studies of their DNA have revealed that little genetic variation exists between them, so they are not considered true subspecies. This article will focus primarily on Notophthalmus viridescens viridescens.

The red-spotted newt is the largest of the four varieties. These newts have three specific life stages: aquatic larva, terrestrial juvenile, and adult. The aquatic larvae typically range from 7 to 9mm in length when they hatch, with gills and a laterally compressed tail that support survival in their aquatic environment. At approximately 3 to 5 months, they metamorphose into their terrestrial juvenile stage. Newts in this stage are referred to as “red efts”. These efts range in color from orange to bright red. They have two parallel rows of up to 21 red spots with black outlines. Their skin is dry and textured, they have resorbed their gills and caudal fin, and they have developed lungs, eyelids, and limbs to support their new terrestrial lives. After 2 to 3 years, the juveniles then metamorphose once more, this time into sexually mature adults. At this stage, a newt can grow up to 5.5” in length and are identified by their greenish- to yellow-ish brown dorsum with rows of orange to red spots running down both sides of their back. The ventral surface is yellow with small black spots that fleck the skin. The skin is moist, and most adults return to aquatic environments.

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Diet/Feeding: Red-spotted newts feed on small invertebrates, including worms, insects, small fish, amphibian eggs, etc.

Habitat/Range: The collective range of all four regional varieties extend from the Maritime Provinces of Canada to as far south as Florida, and west to Texas and the Great Lakes. Larval newts occupy small freshwater environments, such as ponds or small lakes. Efts move to moist terrestrial areas surrounding these bodies of water. While the majority of adults return to a fully aquatic stage, some adults can move back to land if dry conditions exist.

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Reproduction: Adult newts return to permanent or semi-permanent bodies of water for breeding, which  takes place in late winter and spring months. This migration is usually preceded by heavy, seasonal rains. Males are easily recognized by their enlarged hind limbs, nuptial excrescences, swollen cloaca, and crested caudal fin during the breeding season. The male lures the female by fanning his tail, then grasps the female and rubs his genial gland (found in the temporal region) along the female’s face. If the female is receptive, the male will deposit a sperm packet on the pond floor, which the female will then pick up via the cloaca. After they are fertilized, the female will singly lay between 200 and 400 eggs on vegetation in the water over a period of many days.

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Herping Tips: Red efts and terrestrial adults can be found under rocks and in leaf litter on the forest floor, typically within close proximity to a source of water. During the spring months, shallow ponds that lack the presence of large predatory fish can host an abundance of breeding adults. Because these adults must breathe air, they can often be observed swimming along the surface of the water. Many amphibians, including the red-spotted newt, will exhibit the unken reflex when startled. The unken reflex is the defensive posture pictured below, in which the newt arches its body to reveal its brightly colored ventral surface as a warning of toxicity to potential predators.

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Green Anole, Anolis Carolinensis

Green Anole

Anolis carolinensis


Green Anole Claiming His Territory By: Jason Hellender Instagram: @fireteguguy
Green Anole Claiming His Territory By: Jason Hellender
Instagram: @fireteguguy
Green Anole By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Green Anole By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: @plaxton53

The Green Anole, also known as the “American Anole” or the “Carolina Anole” is a small little lizard, maxing out around 7-8″ long.  There are a few documented cases of these guys reaching 9″ in some of the large males.  They are the only species of Anole native to the United States.  A few invasive species are taking hold in the USA, threatening the Green Anole.  These little lizards are diurnal, or day time active.  They can be found green, brown and green, or brown and some have a stripe going down their back.  They are able to change color based on temperature and activity.  Some specimen have a stripe only when in the brown form and some have the stripe in both their brown and green form.  This species has a dewlap used in mating and territory guarding.

Green Anole By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Green Anole By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: @plaxton53

This species is sexually dimorphic with the males being larger in overall size and girth.  Males typically will have a slightly larger head to body ratio.  The “dewlap” in males are larger and more brightly colored.  Females have rarely been observed using the dewlap in any kind of demonstration.    In the populations I have personally studied, the stripe on the back is found to be strongly correlated to the female sex.  Juveniles look just like miniature versions of the parents.

Feeding/Diet:

Anoles feed on insects and spiders.  They can easily be observed scouting for meals on porch railings, fences, sides of buildings, and trees.  Moths, butterflies, and grasshoppers seem to be a favorite.

General Activity/Behavior:

Green Anole By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Green Anole By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: @plaxton53

The Green Anole is a feisty little lizard.  Males are very territorial and will display a claim of breeding spots with head-bobbing and presenting the dewlap.  If demonstration does not scare off a challenging male, fight will break out.  I have watched two males fight for 20-30 minutes, to the point of exhaustion, just to have a well rested male come in and chase off both tired males.  Fights typically involve biting and wrestling.  Many males have tossed challengers off of trees.  The fallen lizard will many times run back up the tree and try to avenge his honor.  Many males, during a heightened state of arousal, have even demonstrated a claim of territory to other lizard species, other animals, and even passing Herpers.  I must admit, I find it entertaining when an Anole is attempting to scare me off with a head-bob and a dewlap.

Habitat/Range:

The range of the Green Anole is the southeastern USA.  They can be found throughout Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.  The coastal plains of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Coastal Plains and Piedmont of North Carolina, and southeastern Virginia also have a healthy population.

Green Anole By: Drew Simmons, Wyatt Elder, & Wyatt Joachim Instagram: @xtremeherper12
Green Anole By: Drew Simmons, Wyatt Elder, & Wyatt Joachim
Instagram: @xtremeherper12

The Anole has successfully adapted to a variety of habitat.  Being able to scale buildings with adhesive toe-pads have allowed them to take up residency in suburbs and even towns.  The Anole has gotten very good at living in backyards all over the southeast USA.

Green Anole By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Green Anole By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: @plaxton53

Anoles can regularly be seen basking in the sun on the side of buildings.  They can be found on the side of barns and outbuildings, fences, porch railings, and wood piles.  Naturally, they prefer trees and shrubs.  They are good jumpers and can easily move from one tree to another without ever leaving the tree tops.  They can be found on the ground as well.  Many sightings on the ground are lizards that are in transit to a new perch.

Reproduction:

Green Anole By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Green Anole By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: @plaxton53

Anoles begin mating early spring and females will lay a single egg every few weeks until late summer to early fall.  Females lay the egg in moist locations such as mulch, rotten logs, or the inside of hollow spots in trees.  Young will hatch within a few weeks of being laid.  There is no parental care for the eggs or the young.  As mentioned before, males are highly territorial and will defend prime breeding ground.

Neat Fact:

I love to use these guys as a gauge when looking for other herps.  They are a primary food source for reptile eating snakes such as kings, racers, and pigmy rattlers.  They are the first to become active when spring arrives and the last to leave when fall sets in.  Many times, I have observed them active on occasional warm days during winter.

Herping Tips:

  • Look for them along the side of buildings such as barns.

    Green Anole By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
    Green Anole By Phillip Laxton
    Instagram: @plaxton53
  • They love to run along fences and fallen trees.
  • They are regularly found on porches and step railings.
  • Anoles love to get behind vinyl siding.
  • They are a guide to lead you to other reptiles as they are on the menu of many other reptiles.
  • One of the first Herps of spring and last to go in late fall.
  • Extra care should be taken not to grab the Anole by the tail.  It will regularly drop it’s tail in an attempt to get away.  Although it will grow back, you should be careful not to injure it.
  • When attempting to catch one, it may be helpful to slowly wave one hand in front of the lizard to distract it while you catch it with the other hand.

Southern Two-Lined Salamander, Eurycea cirrigera

The Southern Two-Lined Salamander (Eurycea cirrigera) is a small species of salamander of the family Plethodontidae, typically growing to 2.4-4” in length. They can be identified by the two parallel black lines that run laterally down their tan to yellow dorsum to the end of the tail. Most individuals also exhibit black spots along the back, between the lateral lines. Their bodies are slender with 14 costal grooves. Mature males can be distinguished by enlarged jaw musculature, a mental gland beneath the chin for pheromone secretion, and cirri, which are presumed to aid in chemoreception.

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Diet/Feeding: These salamanders feed on invertebrate organisms found in or near the creeks and streams they inhabit, including earthworms, spiders, flies, ticks, millipedes, and various larvae. Plethodontids are unique among other salamanders due to their lack of lungs. Lack of this functional constraint has allowed for the specialization of certain elements to aid in feeding. A cartilaginous hyobranchial apparatus (tongue skeleton) folds during the extension of the tongue, allowing it to project from the mouth. A sticky pad at the tip of the tongue adheres to the prey item, which is then retracted into the mouth of the salamander. This modified feeding mechanism allows the salamander to catch a prey item at up to 80% of their body length in distance.

Habitat/Range: Southern Two-Lined Salamanders can be found throughout the Southeast United States, excluding the peninsular region of Florida. As members of the family Plethodontidae, they are lungless salamanders and rely on cutaneous respiration, requiring the skin to be kept moist. All individuals are at least semi-aquatic, with some adults remaining fully aquatic. They typically occupy shallow creeks and streams that are abundant with rocks, wood debris, and leaf litter for cover, although they have been observed both in much deeper waters as well as terrestrial forest environments during wet weather.

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Reproduction: Breeding begins with a mating ritual that involves the male repeatedly nudging the female to judge her receptiveness. Males possess elongated premaxillary teeth during breeding season (typically September through May) which are used to lacerate the skin of the females to facilitate delivery of the pheromones which are secreted through the mental gland, located on the male’s chin.  If the female is willing, she responds by following closely behind the male until he deposits a spermatophore (a gelatinous and conical structure topped with a sperm cap). The female picks up the spermatophore through the cloaca, where the spermatozoa are then released into the spermatheca and stored there until the female expels them to fertilize her eggs. The female deposits between 15 and 120 eggs in a single, clustered layer on the underside of rocks, logs, or other aquatic vegetation in a creek or stream. She will then remain with the eggs for the 4-10 weeks that the eggs require for hatching (dependent on water temperature). The newly hatched salamanders will metamorphose in 1-2 years. They will then become sexually mature at anywhere from 2-4 years of age.

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Herping Tips: Southern Two-Lined Salamanders can most often be found by flipping rocks and debris in shallow, flowing creeks and streams during spring and autumn months. They quickly try to escape beneath other debris or into the substrate, so act quickly! Grasp them at the middle of the body or towards the head, as they can drop their tails in an escape attempt.