Southern Appalachian Herps etc. from last Spring

This past Spring, Brendan and I took a trip up through the Southern Appalachians, looking for anything we could find in a variety of habitats. We found a lot of great stuff, but my camera went kaput part way through the trip, so I didn't get a lot of the photos I wanted, but I still have good memories of what I saw... just harder to share.

Since we focused primarily on salamanders, I'll begin with some of them.

These bright orange and black Cave Salamanders (Eurycea lucifuga) are one of my favorites (not sure how many favorites I have). They really like the twilight zones of caves, where they are adept at roving along vertical surfaces, as well as hiding in tight crevices, sometimes in groups (below).

Pigeon Mountain Salamanders (Plethodon petraeus) are also found in the twilight zone, but where Cave Salamanders can be found in at least 13 states, Pigeon Mountain Salamanders only occur in caves around Pigeon Mountain in NW Georgia. One neat thing about this species is that the brown blotching on their backs allows them to blend in very well in the clay-covered surfaces just inside the cave entrance.

I'll never complain (I actually probably will) about easy-to-find animals that I'm interested in finding, but sometimes it's more satisfying to have to climb to the top of a mountain to find the subject of interest. That was the case for the five Weller's Salamanders (Plethodon welleri) that I was fortunate enough to find. Their patchy metallic markings on a black background color is very beautiful to me.

Oddly-colored Eastern Redback Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) were found in slightly lower elevations in the same general area as the Weller's. They usually don't exhibit metallic markings on the head and tail like this one. It made me wonder if there is some hybridization going on.

Another high-elevation species is the Jordan's Salamander (Plethodon jordani). The simplicity of an all black animal with red cheek patches makes for a very pleasing appearance. Unfortunately, my camera died before I got a photo I really liked of this species (yeah, I'm making excuses).

Once considered part of the same species, the Northern Graycheek Salamander (Plethodon montanus) is almost identical to Jordan's Salamander but for the gray cheeks instead of red.

This Chattahoochee Slimy Salamander (Plethodon chattahoochee) is one of 13 slimy salamander species, all of which exhibit the general white spots on black pattern, though each with unique differences.

Salamanders in the genus Desmognathus have only mildly interested me in the past, but my appreciation has grown as I've seen more of their diversity of appearance and habits. The semi-aquatic Blackbelly Salamander (Desmognathus quadramaculatus) is the largest species in the genus, topping out at over eight inches.

The more terrestrial Pygmy Salamander (Desmognathus wrighti) is on the other end of the size spectrum, not exceeding two inches. They usually aren't found on orchid leaves unless I put them there for a photo.

We saw a few frogs and toads, including this Upland Chorus Frog metamorph (Pseudacris feriarum).

Now, for some bonus non-herp material before getting to the snakes.

When limited on time, we resort to herping more and resting less. Occasionally, a tired herper needs a good Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA as refreshment. This was right before heading up a mountain.

There were lots of beautiful Spring flowers blooming in some areas, including this iris...

...and these trilliums.

In the cave at Pigeon Mountain, Eastern Pipistrelle Bats (Pipistrellus subflavus) were constantly flying past me, sometimes even briefly landing on me. This one was cleaning itself while taking a break from hunting.

My excursions take me through some interesting areas, both naturally and culturally. This hippy-style pizza place on a river in the middle of nowhere was a welcome sight at lunch time one day.

Though it was still a bit cool in some areas, there were some snakes on the move.
This young Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) was an exciting find crossing the road at night.

This Eastern Worm Snake (Carphophis amoenus amoenus) was found near the entrance to a cave.

Northern Ringneck Snakes (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii) can be abundant under logs and rocks in some areas. These two were found under the same rock.

This young Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula getula) was only the second one I've seen, but it was the first one I've had a chance to photograph. Its perfect shiny scales made me think it had recently shed. King snakes eat other snakes; sometimes venomous ones, whose venom they are impervious to.


A regional specialty and other goodies

This weekend, our good friend Brendan visited from E. TX. While he was here, we went to a few places to find some of the neat biodiversity in the area.

The highlight of the outings for me was going up to AL to search for the rare Red Hills Salamander, the only species in its genus. This salamander excavates and maintains tunnels in the steep sides of some hills in Southern Alabama. It's rare because it has some very specific habitat requirements that only occur in parts of Alabama, some of which has unfortunately been destroyed. Unlike many other rare and protected species, this species doesn't occur on any large tracts of protected public land. It occurs almost exclusively on private lands, and fortunately many of the land owners have cooperated in trying to preserve the habitat.

Active tunnel

Red Hills Salamander (Phaeognathus hubrichti)

This past summer I went to find River Frogs. I saw adults and one school of small tadpoles. River Frogs are unique for the genus Rana in having schooling tadpoles. This weekend, we stopped by our River Frog spot, and were excited to see multiple schools of >100 tadpoles, this time much larger.

River Frog larva (Rana heckscheri)

We also saw some more common, but still enjoyable species, like this Three-lined Salamander (Eurycea guttolineata)

This male Southern Two-lined Salamander (Eurycea cirrigera) is sporting the seasonally present cirri (pointed structures extending down from upper lip), for which it gets part of its scientific name.

I was glad to see that some neat plants were in bloom in some of the wet areas. I always enjoy ladies' tresses orchids (Spiranthes sp.). They may not be as showy as some of the larger, more colorful species, but the spiral arrangement of delicate white flowers is really cool in my opinion.

Ever since my friend Ben Hess pointed out some sort of blue gentian to me in an Indiana fen, I've enjoyed seeing gentians. I could be way off, but I think this is called Harvestbells (gentiana saponaria). Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.



Kelly has entertained everyone with all the salamanders he got to see on our long trip last month, so I figure I'd take a little real estate on our blog to show all the awesome people we got to see, too. :)

Our main reason for going to Indy was to celebrate Sarah and John's wedding! Congratulations again, you crazy kids!

We were really happy to get to hang out (too briefly!) with our friends Scott & Kira and Mike & Meghan. Mike & Meghan escaped before we could get their picture, but here's us with Scott & Kira and their too-cute son, Brody. We love you guys!

We had a great time with my family as well!

We also got to spend a fun day/evening with our good friends Kate and Nate in Philadelphia, although sadly we didn't take any photos to document our fun. Boo.

From Philly, it was on to Alexandria, VA to visit Chris, Jess, and baby Henry! It was our first time meeting our new nephew, and we were smitten.

Us with the new family at Christ Church in Alexandria (where George Washington attended church).

Chris and Jess are lucky enough to have a Dogfish Head Alehouse very close to them. We went one evening and had a few delicious beverages.

Awwwww...Henry loves Uncle Kelly!

We also went to the Museum of Natural History in DC, where we saw the skeleton of a giant ground sloth. It basically looked like the skeleton of a cave troll.

On our way home, we stayed the night in Savannah, GA, because it was on our way and we'd never been there before. We had a great dinner at Moon River Brewery, and enjoyed a walk along the river in the historic district.


Don't tread on me

This beautiful Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) was the highlight of my day today. I'm not sure who saw who first. Nor am I sure who even reacted first. What I do know is that the snake coiled and began rattling before I could've stepped on it. "Don't tread on me" couldn't be stated more clearly.

"I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.—As if anxious to prevent all pretentions of quarrelling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenceless animal; and even when those weapons are shewn and extended for her defence, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?" -Benjamin Franklin