Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shedding the Outer Layer

There comes a point in this hot, humid weather when thoughts turn to removing a few outer layers in search of comfort. For some, that's be a scary proposition...for us, not them! At the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest the heat and humidity seems to have an up side. The snake population appears to be eating well and growing accordingly.
While on the boardwalk to take images of the new observation tower and test drive a Trimble Juno GIS/GPS unit, we saw two shed skins. Like snakes, we shed our skins, though we do so constantly and in pieces small enough to be almost undetectable. Healthy snakes, unlike lizards, shed their skin in one piece from the nose to the tail. When ready to shed the dead scales, the snake will catch the skin on a twig, piece of bark, boardwalk nail, or other such object and then simply crawl out of the old skin. The inside out remains can be seen in the images. The first specimen is unidentified, but the second specimen is a Brown Water Snake (Nerodia taxispilota).

The Brown Water Snake skin was found at the edge of Goodson Lake at the end of the boardwalk. We had not identified the skin when we bent to pick up the 3-foot hollow version of the snake. All systems went to RED ALERT when our fingers made contact with the moist and quite supple skin. The cast off skin was fresh enough that we could easily be in striking range of its former resident! A quick scan of the surrounding mud allowed us to drop to DEF CON 3 and a closer inspection of the skin revealed that it belonged to a non-venomous snake. We incorrectly thought that it was not possible to sweat more than the smothering conditions had already caused.
The strong fishy odor of the skin left no doubt what Brown Water Snakes eat. With the low water level causing fish to congregate in smaller pools, snakes will have plenty to eat and we should see the bounty of skins that they outgrow. However, in the future, we will scan the area first and THEN pick up the souvenir!
Images by Mark Musselman

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