Now that I’ve been herping a while, I’ve inevitably been bitten by the animals I’ve found myself trying to catch. At first it was a Black Rat Snake, then a Northern Water Snake, and I’ve even been close to being tagged by a Black Racer. But nothing comes close to the pain and severity of the bite I received that day, which to this point, is the most dangerous creature that ever bit me.
The afternoon started off well enough. We’d barely even entered the fish hatchery when Ali darted to the side of one of the ponds, darted his hand in, and came out with this nice Banded Water Snake. According to both Daniel and Ali, it’s a pretty darn dull one, looking more brown than banded, but it’s still a cool snake. As soon as I handled it, it tagged me, briefly piercing me with needle-sharp teeth. It may have stung at the time, but it was nothing compared to the bite I’d soon receive.
|Honestly, the musk is the worst part of handling Nerodia sp. The bites, not so bad!|
Taking a small break from the herps, I decided to turn my attention to the multitude of swallows that jinked and juked over the man-made ponds. Among them was my first-of-the-year Tree Swallow, along with a couple Barn Swallows and Northern Rough-Winged Swallows that made some pretty close passes. I found one of the Northern Rough-wingeds perched atop a chain-linked fence, and remembering that this is supposed to be a birding blog, I decided to snap a shot. Too bad he wouldn’t let me get closer, but swallows never do!
|These guys never give me a good look. This is honestly the closest I've ever gotten.|
As we surveyed the edge of the ponds for frogs and turtles, Ali announced he’d found another snake chilling in a low-hanging blackberry bush near the creek. It wasn’t just any snake, though – it was the rarely seen Ribbon Snake, a serpent that looks much like the common Eastern Garter Snake save for the fact that it’s often seen near rivers. It’s also incredibly docile – never did the snake attempt to strike at me, and it posed perfectly the first time around! We ended up hanging out with the snake far past the afternoon, and she (at least, she seemed like a “she”) became our unofficial mascot for the trip. We still miss you, Ribbon Snake!
|I kind of fell in love with this snake! So chill, so cool, and so way awesome!|
As if the day couldn’t get any better, just as we finished photographing the Ribbon, Ali told me he found the snake of snakes down by the creek, the very target we came to the fishery to find. For safety, he carried the snake back in an old pillowcase, and dumped it on the nearby lawn. Tumbling out came a decent sized Cottonmouth, an extremely venomous pit viper. I had to get down low to get my shot, and boy did it pay off!
|Don't bite me don't bite me don't bite me don't bite me!|
That’s when the snake’s behavior changed. Ignoring Ali and his trusty tongs, the poisonous serpend turned towards me, and started slithering in my direction. I decided to stay still, under the rationale that if I got up and moved out of the way, the sudden movement would attract the snake’s attention and cause it to strike. So I remained statuesque, hardly moving a muscle. Did it work? Did the snake bite me? Did I escape the promise of an early death? Scroll down to the next paragraph for the exciting conclusion!
|Don't move. He can't see us if we don't move!|
No, actually, pretty much the opposite of all that. The Cottonmouth was almost disappointingly calm, and we couldn’t get it to flash its trademark white mouth at all. Still, it’s an awesome snake to have such an up-close experience with. And by up-close I mean I got to touch it, because Ali in his infinite wisdom decided to pick up the thing, at which point I finally saw its cottony-mouth as it reared its fangs. Luckily, Ali was holding it behind the head like the competent herper he is, and no damage was done to either party.
|One day, I'll reach this level of herper. But it is not this day!|
After finding our target, we decided to check the nearby pond for other herps. It didn’t take Ali long to dart his arm into a pond and pull out a wholly unique reptile. He gave it to me to hold, and I wish he hadn’t. Sure it seemed fine at first, and the thing hardly struggled. But while we were examining the source of an odd frog call, I felt an excruciating pain on my thumb – while I wasn’t paying attention, it had reared back and struck with deadly accuracy. I tried to pull it off, but it just bit down harder. I couldn’t help but yell out in pain, besmirching the accursed turtle! Oh yeah, it was a turtle by the way.
|This turtle, as a matter of fact. This bloody infernal demon-spawn of a turtle.|
An Eastern Mud Turtle to be exact, and a species I’d only seen once before. It’s only the second turtle I’ve been bitten by (the first when I was a child), and I was relieved to find it didn’t draw blood. But a deep purple bruise remained where it chomped down on my thumb with a force that can crush, I dunno, really tough plants? I guess that’s what turtles eat.
In any case, over the course of the weekend I was mere feet from extremely venomous snakes like slovenly Pigmy Rattlers and tame Cottonmouths, and even a feisty water snake or two. But the only animal that attempted to do any damage was that one stinkin’ no-good excuse for a turtle. Not that I’m complaining, he was pretty awesome. I just wish he wouldn’t be so bite-y next time.