Spotted Salamander

I am very excited to have something new to show you here.
A Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum).

My first cousin, Emily Haynes, lives near a tiny little pond (called a “vernal pool”) where Spotted Salamanders travel to, in mass gatherings once a year to mate, usually in late February/early March. I’ve not been physically able to go and witness/photograph one of these gatherings. So my cousin was kind enough to photograph one for me and let me share it with you here. You can see it here in her husband, Andy’s hands.

They are quite large, growing to approximately 8 inches in length. They took their kids, Cheston and Caleb, to watch the salamanders on their way to their gathering this year.

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Some interesting facts about Spotted Salamanders:

They live most of their lives 3 meters underground and come up to vernal pools this time of year to breed and lay their eggs. The eggs take 4 to 6 weeks to hatch. It isn’t known what their exact lifespan is in the wild, but they have been known to live over 20 years in captivity!

(I do NOT recommend someone try to keep one as a pet. It is not fair to the salamander, possibly illegal, and it is difficult to give them the conditions they need to be healthy.)

A certain percentage of them are lost each year during these mass gatherings as they cross roads at night time and are hit by cars. Certain animals (skunks in particular) are said to love to eat them, and will often clear the road of any signs of dead salamanders before morning. Interestingly enough though, they don’t seem to be interested in eating them while they are alive – only when they are roadkill. I don’t know what that is, but I assume there is a reason.

So if you are driving around at night in WV, keep your eyes out for Spotted Salamanders trying to cross the road! ¬†ūüôā

 

 

Hide and Go Skink?

This skink was somewhat reluctant to be photographed. ¬†But I stalked it and got a few photos. ¬†ūüôā

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Peeking out behind a little statue on the windowsill to see if I am still watching:

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Umm… if I can see you sticking out both ends, perhaps the water hose is not the best hiding spot?

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Ok the board, is a little bit better. ¬†But I still see you peeking out to see if I’m still there.

ūüėČ

 

Worm Snake

Today my husband and my father were working on a leaking drain line on the property and while digging it out, they accidentally dug up a worm snake. ¬†I didn’t get to photograph it. ¬† ūüė¶

But I was happy to hear of another one seen nearby. They said it was pretty sluggish, no doubt because of how cold it is. ¬†They moved him nearby to an area where they weren’t digging. ¬†Hopefully he made it back underground safely.

Young Eastern Box Turtle

Today I’ve got a young Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina). ¬†I haven’t seen the adult who was hanging around in July in awhile. ¬†I hope he didn’t live too dangerously. ¬†Hopefully he’s still around and I just haven’t seen him. ¬†I haven’t been out much, so that is entirely possible.

This one isn’t full grown yet. ¬†And was quite cooperative in terms of getting his photograph taken. ¬†So that was nice.

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This next shot is a close up of his shell:

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Their shell patterns have always reminded me of finger prints.

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It’s so nice when my subjects have such a pleasant personality and tolerate me pestering them with my camera so well.

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As you can see in the photo above, he has some sort of injury or birth defect to one of his toes.

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And also a small place near his mouth, as you can see below:

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Time to leave him alone, and let him go about his way.  But it was nice to have him visit.  I hope he hangs around.

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September 21st, 2009 – Eastern Worm Snake Video Update

Today I uploaded a quick video clip from the September 18th entry on the three Eastern Worm Snakes.  In the video you can see the two intertwined snakes, and you can see the third coming back again to me after I would startle him away trying to photograph the other two.  As I mentioned in the previous blog post about this, he did this many times.  This is a short video of him approaching me with curiosity once again.

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September 18th, 2009 – Eastern Worm Snakes

Today these three Eastern Worm Snakes were in our yard.   I had never seen an Eastern Worm Snake (Carphophis amoenus amoenus).  My husband had only seen one in his life, that he saw as a kid while digging up worms for fishing.

They are said to grow to up to 11 inches in length.  They are not commonly seen above ground during the day time and when they are spotted it is usually crossing roadways on wet nights or when someone is digging and accidentally digs one up.  They live primarily underground on a diet of mostly worms and some other soft-bodied insects.  They mate in the spring and in the fall and lay eggs in June-July.  The females that breed in the fall delay fertilization until the next spring when they come out of hibernation.  They are not known to bite humans.  But they do have a stiff point to their tail that they are sometimes known to try to stab at their captors, in an attempt to get away.

As far as I could tell, two were breeding and a third was hanging around nearby, extremely interested in what was going on.  Or perhaps the two intertwined were fighting over the third?  I have no idea.  The two were wrestling about, one was even biting the other, to the point of not even noticing us.  But as I got close enough to try to video tape them, they froze perfectly still.  They stayed in that position (except for the biting) and let me take a lot of photographs of them before finally I got too close and spooked them.   Then they quickly darted straight down into the ground and disappeared as fast as you could snap your fingers.  It was really something to see.

Here’s the first photo, just to give you perspective on how close the third was to the two that were intertwined. ¬†The third is toward the upper left hand corner of the photograph:

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Next some close-ups of the two together:

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Here is a photo of me taking a photo, just to give you a better idea of their actual size:

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Eastern Worm Snakes are known for having scales that are smooth and opalescent.  This was obvious in person, but not showing up quite as well on camera as I would have liked, mainly due to the fact that it was dusk and I was loosing light quickly.   So I decided to take some with flash.  Here are those photos, notice the opalescence.

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As you can see they decided to hold still for me to photograph for quite some time.  The third displayed his own, different, yet interesting behavior as well.  The closer I got to the intertwined pair, the more interested in me he became.  And he crept down to me ever so carefully, looking at me the entire time.  When he was finally almost onto my foot I put a stick in front of him which startled him just enough that he slithered off up the hill.  That was this photo:

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There can be variances in color in the Eastern Worm Snake and this one was darker on the top and pinker on the bottom, than the other two.

What was truly interesting to me, was how this little fella would not leave.  Not that I was trying to get him to, but normally if you startle a snake they either leave or they hide.  He (she?) did neither.  He slithered off a few feet up the hill and then once again started cautiously coming at me again.  Again with a look of great curiosity.  But this time with more speed to his return.  Enough so that getting a non-blurry photograph of him was becoming very difficult.  Here are some photos:

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As he got right up on me again, I moved my hand in front of his face to stop him and he jumped and rapidly left again.  As you can see here:

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As you can sort of see in the above photo, he was whipping himself back and forth on top of the grass so quickly that he was only touching the tops of the grass as he moved away.

But again he only went a few feet, and then rapidly approached me again. ¬†It wasn’t an aggressive approach. ¬†I’m honestly not sure what he was thinking. ¬†We did this back and forth a few times. ¬†Finally the last time he approached me it was very quickly. ¬†As you can see below, he was a blur as I photographed his approach.

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So this time we scooped him up and put him in a little holding tank so that I could finish photographing the other two, without him distracting me.  And that is how I got the photos above of the first two.

Here he is confused in his little holding spot for a few minutes:

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After the first two spooked and leapt into the ground, we were done and we released him back in the same spot.  And he burrowed down into the grass.

All in all I found it very interesting. ¬†Not only did I get to see and photograph Eastern Worm Snakes for the first time, but I was able to watch them behave in ways that I have never seen a snake behave before. ¬†I honestly think that this third snake was as curious about me as I was about him. ¬†Perhaps it was his first encounter with a person. ¬† ūüėČ

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Update 09-21-09 : ¬†I added a short video from this day. ¬†It is posted under September 21st, 2009. ¬†And it is also viewable from my You Tube Channel ¬†“natureblog“.

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September 17th, 2009 – Learned something new today

Today I learned something new about the Five-lined Skink ( Eumeces fasciatus).  Of course I knew that they can drop their tails as a means of escaping predators or things they perceive as threats, and that the tail grows back.  But I was not aware that the tail keeps moving long after they drop it.  I think it safe to assume that the reason for this has to be because it would work even better as a means of escape, if it continued to move as if it were the actual skink himself.  I found this really interesting.

But I’ll back up for a moment and tell you how I learned this. ¬†Today my husband was on his way outside and he yells, “Debbie there’s a skink in the house.” ¬†I came into the kitchen and said, “Where?” ¬†He said, “I opened the door and it fell on me and jumped off of me onto the floor. ¬†Then it ran under the table.” ¬†I said, “Oh great.”

Skinks are very fast, and I hated the thought of loosing one in our house. ¬†Where he might die a slow death of dehydration. ¬†ūüė¶ ¬† I looked under the table and spotted him right away. ¬†A very young one, running about looking for a place to hide. ¬†I managed to get under my table in time to catch him in my hands. ¬†I feared what going under there would do to my spine, but surprisingly enough crawling under my table hurt less than most of the things that I attempt during the day.

As soon as I caught him, I cupped him in both of my hands. ¬†I never pulled on him or anything like that. ¬†Just scooped him up carefully but quickly. ¬†But apparently I scared him enough to make him feel the need to drop his tail while inside my hands. ¬†I felt the Pop as it popped off inside of my hands. ¬†I said to my husband, “Oh no, he’s dropped his tail.” ¬†I felt a ton of thrashing about, and I assumed it was the little skink. ¬†In hindsight I now realize it was the tail. ¬† I cracked my hand open and his tail fell out onto the floor. ¬†I took the little skink outside and he sat there in my hand looking at me for a few moments. ¬†Then he took off up my arm as fast as he could run. ¬†I put my hand in front of him to block him from making it to my shirt, and he leapt off into the grass.

I had only two teeny tiny drops of blood on my hand. ¬†So clearly there isn’t much blood loss when they do this.

My husband came out with the tail and said, “You’ve got to see this.” ¬† He laid the tail on our outside table and it was thrashing about like you wouldn’t believe. ¬†Eventually it stopped (this was probably at least 5 to 10 minutes after popping off). ¬†And he touched it, and it started flopping again. ¬†We realized that it would lay perfectly still until you touched it, then it would move. ¬†It was really something to see. ¬†My husband went and grabbed the camera and we took some photos of it.

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After a bit (probably at least 10 – 15 minutes after the tail had dropped off) we got the idea to take a video of it. ¬†And he touched it to provoke the reaction again and we taped it. ¬†If you’ve ever seen someone kill a snake, I would say this is much like the muscle reactions that you see after a snake is killed. ¬†It doesn’t so much surprise me that it does this, as much as it surprises me that it does it for so LONG. ¬†And that it stops for several minutes or more, and then if you touch it again, it provokes the same reaction. ¬†What an interesting defense mechanism indeed !

I wish I could have stayed and timed it, to see how long it would do it before loosing whatever energy allows this to happen.  But I was in too much pain and had to go back inside to sit down.  All I can say is that it continued to do this after we took the video.  And we watched it do this for at least 20 minutes after the skink popped it off his body.  I think that is really impressive.  And certainly enough to help fool a lot of predators I would think.

Now for a first ever on this blog…. ¬†Video!

I have thought about adding video on several other occasions but never did. ¬†But I thought this was worth adding. ¬†It was just too tempting to pass up. ¬†So….. Here ya go. ¬†I hope you enjoy watching. Notice not only how it moves, but also how it moves enough to even completely turn itself over. ¬†Let me know what you think and if you would like to see more videos in the future.

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September 15th, 2009 – Sniffer strikes again

I mentioned in the previous blog Sniffer’s desire to kill anything that she can. ¬†I never said she was terribly effective. ¬† Just that she would, if she could. ¬† ūüėČ

Today she struck again. ¬†I can honestly say without hesitation that she is the only dog that I have ever had or seen that could catch skinks. ¬†Skinks are very quick, and generally don’t seem to spark the interest of dogs. ¬†But Sniffer is no ordinary dog. ¬†She takes things like skinks extremely seriously. ¬†We have rescued more skinks from her than I care to count. ¬†To date, I only know if her actually killing one skink and that was last year. ¬†Usually if we’ve turned our back on her and we hear her “ferocious killer” bark we immediately put a stop to whatever is going on, or about to go on.

Today she caught the tail end of a skink as it got almost out of her reach. ¬†It left it’s tail with her, and went on about it’s way.

If you aren’t aware of this already, this is a defensive act on the part of the Five-lined Skink¬†(¬†Eumeces fasciatus). ¬†They drop their tails and get away. ¬†The tail grows back.

Here’s the tail:

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I found the skink approx. 10 feet away, scurrying into hiding:

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I went back inside and about an hour later we spotted it back closer to the door again. ¬†It quickly ran and hid on the windowsill area. ¬†You can see it’s head peeking out at me in the photo below:

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When I clicked the camera it took off running further away.  The poor thing really seemed stressed and extra skittish after the encounter with Sniffer.  And who could blame it.

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It looked rather bizarre running so quickly, without it’s tail.

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It came back out just a bit, then I clicked the camera again and it decided it had enough of me and took off at lightening speed for the roof of the house.

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