Herping around the lake
Chrysemys picta dorsalis
After spending a moccasin-filled day at Mingo NWR in southern Missouri, Jim, Jeff and I headed further south and east to the region around Reelfoot Lake in western Tennessee. We arrived late Saturday night at a very crowded campground along the lake. When I say campground I mean RV parking lot - we had to squeeze in amongst the madding crowd out to get away from it all in their big tin boxes on wheels.
The next morning was morning was sunny, but a bit on the cool side. After breakfast we checked out a secluded saddle dam set back against the eastern hills, but came up empty-handed - a racer escaped us on the hillside, and I saw an adult Yellowbelly Water Snake from a distance. Driving on and looking for other opportunities, I spotted a hatchling turtle on the road, and we stopped for a rescue. It was a Southern Painted Turtle, complete with egg tooth, and it was a long way from any water bigger than a roadside ditch. It's not unusual for the females to wander far away from home to lay their eggs; this helps to disperse the species, but means that the neonates have an arduous journey in the spring to find a good wet place to live. Roads take their toll, and those little turtles that aren't squashed run the risk of desiccation on the hot dry asphalt. We packed this little one along for release in the next suitable spot.
We took a road that wandered alongside a small river or bayou, and stopped at a boat launch to release our little turtle. There was debris here, and we found a Midland Brown Snake under some bark. Jeff pulled a Bronze Frog out of the shallow water amid some cypress knees. The black and white reticulated pattern on the venter of this frog was worth noting.
Moving along, the road sported a backwater ditch off to one side, and we stopped several times to photograph water snakes and turtles. We tried to stalk up on a couple of monstrous Diamondback Water Snakes - one was easily four feet long, and as thick as my forearm. I came within an inch and a second of grabbing this snake, but it dove down into the black ditch water. It was a heck of a snake, and had I grabbed it the biting, crapping and musking would have been of epic proportions.
Jeff spotted a mud turtle that Jim and I had walked by, intent on catching big water snakes. Not an Eastern Mud - this turtle sported some head stripes. It was a Mississippi Mud Turtle, Kinosternon subrubrum hippocrepis, a new species for me. Bloop! Off the log it went, but I was able to spot another one a bit farther down the road, and used the zoom to get a picture.
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