Monday, February 09, 2009

Warm Weather Critters

For the third day in a row, temperatures at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest have climbed into the upper 60Fs! Creatures that spend the winter months generally out of sight have begun to venture outside to soak in the warming rays of the sun. Several species of turtles and snakes have been seen from the safety of the 1.75-mile boardwalk that winds through the old-growth, cypress-tupelo swamp.

This time of year, reptiles are content to remain quietly in their sunny spots and one can take some spectacular pictures. Therefore, it is highly unlikey that any reptile subject, left unmolested, will pose a danger to a human on the boardwalk. One of the myths we attempt to dispel is that snakes are inherently dangerous. The only venomous snake in the swamp is the Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus) shown in the image. The snake in the image kept a watchful eye on us, but never moved, which is as far from aggressive as an animal can be. Left unmolested, this is the behavior we have observed during our decades in the swamp, including the many times we have encountered reptiles in the course of our various duties far from the elevated boardwalk.

Other reptiles out in the sun included an Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum subrubrum), a Greenish Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta x quadrivittata) in its Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) cavity, and a group of Yellow-bellied Sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta) in the main creek channel near Goodson Lake.

Images by Mark Musselman

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