March 2015 Featured Herper – Kenneth Gisi

March 2015 Featured Herper

Kenneth Gisi


Kenneth with his Speckled Kingsnake
Kenneth with his Speckled Kingsnake

This month we are taking a look at an awesome photographer and herper, Kenneth Gisi.  Kenneth, at 22 years old, has been herping as long as he can remember.  He says his love for reptiles and amphibians truly became a passion around 2009.  Kenneth began catching snakes, photographing them, and it slowly became a huge part of his life.  He, like many of us has been bitten by the herping bug…. He can’t walk past a piece of tin, board, pile of wood, barn, broken down building, or any type of artificial cover without scoping it out for Herps.

Kenneth has been into photography now for a total of 7 years.  He says it all started when he picked up his mom’s Kodak C875.  After that… the rest is history.  He truly has a passion for photography and it shows in his work.  He takes amazing photos and is a master in his field.  He loves how you can speed up, slow down, and even stop time.  He especially loves long exposure.

“… but mainly, what I love about photography is that it’s able to let you see life through another person’s eyes.”

Texas Rat Snake by Kenneth Gisi
Texas Rat Snake by Kenneth Gisi

Kenneth is one of us privileged people who has the opportunity to herp from home.  Kenneth can walk right out his back door and start herping.  He has 100 acres of open fields and woods right next to his house.  I can understand the joy of being able to walk out the door and start herping.  You don’t have to plan, travel, spend money on gas and food….. You can just decide to herp and walk outside.  Kenneth says his favorite place to herp is literally right out his back door.

“I can get lost in those woods for hours, find snakes, frogs, turtles, and all types of wildlife and when I am done; I start walking back home”

Kenneth has herped mostly in Texas and South Dakota but most of his time is spent in Kaufman County Texas.  It is home to many species of snake that keep him happy.

I asked Kenneth where he would herp if he could go anywhere in the world…

“Oh man, hmm. North Africa, they have the Saharan horned viper – Cerastes cerastes. I mean, look at that snake! so beautiful and the horns are so appealing.  It’s such an unusual thing to see on a snake when you’ve spent your life around Racers, Coachwhips and Diamond Backed Water Snakes.  I would die a happy photographer if I got to photograph that snake.”

Kenneth considers his most memorable find so far would have to be the Eastern Hognose.  Kenneth says he was walking on a hot humid morning in May on a trail to the woods when he got an email and stopped to check his phone.  As he was looking at his phone, he accidentally kicked the snake.  The funny thing about it is that the Hognose seemed to tilt its head to the side as if it was saying “What the hell man?!”  He says he will never forget that look on the snake’s face or when it would play dead.

It is funny how many of us share similar experiences with Kenneth.  Most of you can say with me, when I say, some of my most memorable finds were when I least expect it.  I have targeted a species for months and even years just to have it show up on a day I wasn’t even thinking about it.

An Amazing Copperhead Photo taken by Kenneth Gisi
An Amazing Copperhead Photo taken by Kenneth Gisi

Kenneth told me about a speckled kingsnake he found this past season (2014).  He had found his first speckled kingsnake back in April of 2009.  He had just got into photography and didn’t take many pictures.  He wasn’t very satisfied with his pictures and desperately wanted to find and photograph another one.  He says it took him 5 years of searching, but in October of 2014 he finally found another one under a piece of tin he flipped.  He had obsessively searched for 5 years and it had finally paid off.  He was so happy because he had started to think their population was declining.  It’s nice to know they are still in Scurry, Tx.

Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer by Kenneth Gisi
Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer by Kenneth Gisi

Kenneth has two goals for 2015.  He really wants to get an Eastern Cottonmouth.  He found his first on this past year and was able to get a few pictures.  This one was found at night and he hopes to get one during the day and really get some nice pictures.  I am sure that he will have some amazing pictures if he finds one this year.  He also hopes to find a prairie kingsnake.

Kenneth is both an amazing photographer and a true herper at heart.  I will be following Kenneth closely to see what he finds next.  Already this year, he has shared some pictures in Instagram of some sweet finds.  Kenneth has been a supporter of HerpersGuide since it’s creation.  He has offered photos for many of our articles here on this site.  Strong work Kenneth and happy herping to you brother!

For articles within HerpersGuide that feature Kenneth see:

Eastern Racer Snake, Coluber constrictor

17 Great Instagram Accounts for Herpers

For more on Kenneth, visit him on Instagram: @viralography or on Flickr.


HerpersGuide.com Logo
HerpersGuide.com Logo

HerpersGuide.com will be selecting one person each month in the year 2015 to feature on our site.  If you know someone you think should be featured please let us know.  Email Phillip at plaxton@HerpersGuide.com with a means of contact and the reason you think they should be featured.

January 2015 Featured Herper – Aaron Short

January 2015 Featured Herper

Aaron Short


Western Pygmy Rattlesnake Aaron Short
Aaron’s Lifer Western Pygmy Rattlesnake
Aaron Short

This month we take a look at a young herper from Oklahoma.  At 20 years old Aaron Short and has 3 herping seasons under his belt.  He is a herping force that shouldn’t be ignored.  His photos are amazing as well.  This guy is no joke.  In just 3 Herping seasons, he has managed to find 125 species!  He has located over 100 species who call Oklahoma home.  In addition to Oklahoma, Aaron has done some herping in New Mexico and Arizona.  He even got to do an hour of herping in Louisiana.  Hey, herping is herping!

Aaron has managed to build a substantial Herping resume.

[table caption=”Herping Totals” width=”500″ colwidth=”100|100″ colalign=”left|center”]
Species,Finds,
Salamanders,3
Frogs & Toads,24
Turtles,12
Lizards,38
Snakes,50
[/table]

Aaron has found 45 of the 56 Oklahoma Snake Species!

Aaron says he got into Herping early in the 2012 Herping Season because of his girlfriend, Brittany Wheeler (@bits_of_skittles) and her brother, Killian Wheeler (@brutalis69).

The Unicorn of Oklahoma (Scarlet Snake) Aaron Short
The Unicorn of Oklahoma (Scarlet Snake)
Aaron Short

Aaron has only been taking pictures of his herps this past season (Herping 2014).  You wouldn’t believe it if you took a look at his Instagram account.  It is obvious Aaron has photography talent.  He credits his good friend Adam for the skills he has obtained thus far in his photography.  Be sure to check out Adam’s work on his Instagram @professor_pouncey.

Aaron attributes most of his knowledge about North American Herpetology from extensive studying of the internet, books, his girl friend Brittany and her brother Killian, and the experiences he has had in the field.

I think there is no better way to broaden your knowledge about herps than encountering them in the field. ~ Aaron Short

He feels that the species he knows the best would be Eastern Hog-nosed Snake, Timber Rattlesnakes, Massasauga Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, and Coachwhips.

Speckled Kingsnake (lampropeltis holbrooki) Aaron Short
Speckled Kingsnake (lampropeltis holbrooki)
Aaron Short

When asked about his favorite herp that he is found, Aaron told me about a blacktail rattlesnake he found while in Arizona.  On the radar for the 2015 herping season, Aaron says he will be hoping for a Oklahoma Milk Snake or a Oklahoma mud snake.

Aaron and I talked a few minutes about lifers.  I shared with him my personal story with mud snakes in NC.  Found one just to watch it get hit while I was pulling over and another I found alive just to discover it had fatal injuries from being hit before I found it.  Aaron shared with me his story about what would have been a lifer for him.  The prairie rattlesnake is the only venomous snake left in Oklahoma for him.  He watched one get ran over by a passing car while attempting to stop for the snake.  He described it as a tough blow.  We were able to feel the pain of being so close but too late.

 Aaron is a member of the Oklahoma City Herpetological & Invertebrate Society (OCHIS)

For more from Aaron Short, visit his Instagram @sxblur51 or visit his FaceBook.


HerpersGuide.com Logo
HerpersGuide.com Logo

HerpersGuide.com will be selecting one person each month in the year 2015 to feature on our site.  If you know someone you think should be featured please let us know.  Email Phillip at plaxton@HerpersGuide.com with a means of contact and the reason you think they should be featured.

Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorous

Venomous

Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

The Cottonmouth, also known as the “Water Moccasin”, are very heavy bodied, semi-aquatic snakes who are in the pit-viper family.  This snake is the largest of the genus Agkistrodon.  These snakes regularly reach 31″ and there are a few specimen who have reached 71″, although be it rare.  These snakes can regularly be identified by dark crossbands on an olive to dark brown background.  The Eastern Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon p. piscivorous, is one of three sub-species and generally keeps the banding throughout life although it does typically fade with age.  The Florida Cottonmouth or Agkistrodon p. conanti and the Western Cottonmouth or Agkistrodon p. leucostoma, generally darken with age to the point the banding may become difficult to observe.  The only other Agkistrodon living in the USA is Agkistrodon, contortrix, the Copperhead.

Juveniles, look much like the adults except for the coloring being much more vivid.  Young, like all Agkistrodon and some other pit-vipers, have a yellow tail which is used to lure pray into strike range.

Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

*Note in the picture, the vivid markings on this juvenile A. p. piscivorous. Also note the “heat-pit” located just in front of the eye.  The eye is also “cat like”.

Feeding/Diet:

The Cottonmouth feeds on a variety of prey to include rodents, frogs, fish, and other reptiles to include other snakes.  Prey is typically ambushed near the edge of the water.  I have personally found the Eastern Cottonmouth eating large frogs that have been killed on the road.

General Activity/Behavior:

The Cottonmouth loves to bask in the sun on the edge of the water.  When spooked, they will lunge into the water.  Agkistrodon typically swim on top of the water with the head sticking up above the surface.  This is a helpful bit of knowledge, as harmless water snakes, Nerodia, a non-venomous genus of snakes, typically swim under the water.

The Cottonmouth, although considered semi-aquatic, is known to travel overland in search for amphibians at night.  These guys love to get in roads that travel near water on rainy nights, making them an easy to cruise on rainy nights.

Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

The Cottonmouth, like other semi-aquatic snakes, are known for their nasty attitudes.  In my personal experience (which I would consider frequent and knowledgeable with this species), I feel this is highly unjustified in this species.  Cottonmouth are frequently reported to lunge towards a would-be predator and even chase people.  Based on my observations of snake species, I believe this to be a combination of wrong identification and exaggerated stories.  Nerodia, like the Red Belly Watersnake, are an unrelated family of harmless water snakes.  They are known to lunge quickly towards a predator before making a quick escape.  Cottonmouth and Water Snakes are commonly confused with each other.  In my years of dealing with Cottonmouth, I have found only a few I would call aggressive, and NONE have ever chased me!  The vast majority of the hundred or so specimen I have observed were very calm and didn’t strike until prodded for some time during examinations.

Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

Cottonmouth, although generally docile snakes, do posses a very strong venom and all bites should seek medical attention immediately.  There are many documented cases of severe bite and there are reports of death from A. piscivorous bite.

Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Habitat/Range:

Although this species can be found very far from water, it is typically found near aquatic environments.  They prefer the still water of swamps, canals, and very slow moving creeks and rivers.  This species, in some populations, is regularly found in drainage ditches.

Reproduction:

Cottonmouth, like all pit-vipers, give live birth.  Adults mate in spring and give birth in the early fall to 2 to as many as 15 young.

Bear Trap of the South.  Cottonmouth Defensive Posture.  By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Bear Trap of the South. Cottonmouth Defensive Posture. By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: @plaxton53
Neat Fact:

Cottonmouth get their name from the white coloration on the inside of the mouth.  They typically display the inside of the mouth when aggravated.  I believe this does play a part in the misconception of this species being aggressive.

Herping Tips:

1.  Spring and Fall look for them basking on the edge of water sources on nice warm days.  They love to soak up the rays.

2.  In the heat of summer, look for them on the water’s edge lying near stumps, fallen logs, or along the marsh-line.

3.  This species, like other semi-aquatic snakes, are very curious of objects floating in the water.  I have seen many swim right up to floating logs or even boats.  The act of swimming up to boats for closer inspection also add to the story of the “chasing cottonmouth”.

4.  This species can easily be cruised in populated areas at night, especially on humid rainy nights.  For best results cruise during the rain during normal showers or during the approach of a warm front.  Cold front storms typically produce much less results.


For More Information on Agkistrodon piscivorous and other North American Herps, check out:

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians (National Audubon Society Field Guides)