Of Queen Snakes and Longtails

Longtailed Salamander

Queen Snake Sweet Spot

First Queen Snake

Juvenile Midland Water Snake

3/4 inch of toadlet

Rick secures another Queen

West-central Indiana,
July 16th, 2005
with Rick Milas

Overcast, with brief showers;
occasional patches of sun.  High humidity, 78F ground temps

If your mind is set on herping in July, a cool spring-fed creek in a shady canyon is a good place to be.  Rick and I headed over to a place that matched the description, one of our favorite spots. The day's forecast was sunny and warm, but the sky was overcast and threatening rain as we headed east.

The water level in the creek was low, despite a stretch of rain over several days.  We headed downstream, checking under flat rocks along the water's edge, expecting to see a number of Twolined and Longtailed Salamanders.  Nothing turned up for quite a while, until Rick turned up the first herp of the day, a small Longtail.  We weren't seeing any frogs either - this creek was home to Cricket, Pickerel and Green Frogs in fair numbers, usually. 

Further down stream the herps started to make appearances.  Rick turned up a small Ringneck, and I found my own Longtail.  We reached our first 'sweet spot' for Queen Snakes, but couldn't find any.  Further down we were crossing the creek over a small pile of flat rocks, and I turned over the one in front of me before stepping on it.  A small Queen Snake was underneath, but quickly slithered into a cavity beneath before I could make a grab.  Shucks!  We turned around and worked some of the nearby rocks more carefully, on the premise that if there was one Queenie, there might be more.  Within a few minutes, I found a second one under a large piece of slate, either a neonate or last year's progeny.  We took some pictures and then put the snake back under its rock.

Moving on, we worked a broad area of bank with lots of rocks, in the sun which was shining through a large hole in the clouds.  "This looks like a good spot for some juvie Sipedon," I commented to Rick.  Sure enough, within a few minutes I flipped one near the water's edge.  I get a kick out of 'calling the herps'. We haven't seen the adult water snakes along this creek, but we know they're around, probably in the brush-filled log jams where the creek makes sharp turns.

Now we had to be careful as we walked along the banks, as this year's crop of baby toads were now out and about in fair numbers.  We didn't want to step on any if we could help it - for every toad that made it this far, there might be a hundred others that never made it past 'toadpole'.  I turned up an adult American Toad, and Rick found a Fowler's Toad, a bit of surprise since we'd only seen American Toads here so far.

The next bend led us to another Queenie spot, and within a few rocks Rick turned up another juvenile.  A little further along and we found a fourth young Queen snake, along with another small water snake.  We were pleased to be find so many juveniles - any recruitment for an animal so dependent on a clean, intact stream ecosystem was a good sign.  These juveniles displayed uncharacteristic behavior for Queen Snakes, attempting to bite us and flattening out their bodies in Nerodia-like fashion.


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