Speckle Quest

Eumeces fasciatus

good-looking hillside

stub-tailed Tantilla gracilis

Wayne and Jim shooting Tantilla

Plethodon albagula

Wayne scans the bluff face

Thamnophis proximus proximus


It was Jim's quest to find and photograph one of those 'true' Speckled Kings, the ones with a  distinct spot in each scale.  Missouri is a good place for them; I saw more than a few handsome holbrooki while I was growing up on the eastern side of the state.  One May weekend Jim drove south, and I drove west, and we met up and camped that evening at Cuivre River State Park. In the morning, we would drive to the center of the Show-Me State and meet up with Wayne, and go hunt for king snakes at a few of his spots.

In the morning, the rocky hillside on the edge of camp was too good to resist.  While Jim rustled up a spiffy camp stove breakfast, I poked around on the slope, turning up a few Eumeces fasciatus under flat pieces of limestone.  There's always a chance in such places of flipping a Milk snake or Copperhead or something else a notch or two more interesting.

We broke down camp after breakfast and headed west to meet up with Wayne at our rendezvous spot.  Wayne has spent a lot of hours herping in Missouri, and he thought we had a pretty good chance of turning up a Speckled Kingsnake or two this day.  I was tickled pink to be back herping in the Ozarks after a long absence, so anything we found today would be of interest to me.

Our first stop was a cedar glade up on a rocky hogback, and it wasn't long before we turned up our first herp, a Flathead Snake.  I was very pleased to see one, as it had been many years since I had found a Missouri gracilis. These little snakes can be common in the appropriate habitat, and we managed to turn up a few more as we went along the hillside. Flat rocks were plentiful, and Ringnecks and Slimy Salamanders were being flipped in fair numbers. It's interesting to find Slimies on these dry hillsides, although I'm sure that they disappear under the ground to escape the hot and arid conditions of summer.

Wayne indicated that Timber Rattlesnakes, Copperheads and Red Milk Snakes had all been found on this particular hillside, along with the object of our quest.  None of those serpents put in an appearance on this day, so we moved on, working several power line cuts.  On the way to one such place we flipped an old iron door from a grain silo, and underneath was a nice Osage Copperhead.  The snake was cuddled right up against the metal, absorbing heat conducted from the sunny side.  The underside of a toasty chunk of iron was a good place to be on a cool morning.

We spent the balance of the afternoon working more hillsides and line cuts, but failed to find our target.  The temperature was a little on the cool side for early May, which may have kept the bigger snakes from making an appearance.  Towards sunset Wayne took us to a section of old rail bed along the Missouri River, since converted into a hiking and biking trail.  We poked along the limestone bluffs there, the sinking sun casting a last bit of light and warmth on the rocks.  We scared up a Racer, which zipped away into a tight crevice before we could lay hands on it.  Ringnecks and Slimy Salamanders were plentiful as they had been all day, and an unlucky Western Ribbon Snake lay dead in the middle of the trail, run over by some cyclist.  I've learned to accept the sad fact that herps die in countless numbers under the wheels of cars and trucks, but death by bicycle is difficult to understand.  How could someone fail to see a two-foot-plus snake right in front of them?

We stayed at Wayne's house that evening, and his wife Rachel made a wonderful supper for all of us.  Their home sits on the edge of a small wooded area, giving them a nice view from their windows and back deck.  Wayne spoke of the different species of herps he and Rachel have seen around their property and on their way to work, including Copperheads.  It may not seem so unusual if they lived out in the country, but their home was in a settled suburban neighborhood!  Overlooked or ignored, herps can persist in urban settings.


next page                    back to index