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Remembering reptiles from childhood/Brian Hess

June 8, 2012
By Brian Hess , The Daily Mining Gazette

Ever since I can remember I've been interested in herpetology.

During family camping trips it was not uncommon for me to disappear from the campsite minutes upon arrival only to return covered in mud or soaking wet and holding a frog, turtle or snake. I'm sure my parents were always amused.

I wasn't aware of the scientific terminology until much later but herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians. To this day, I'm still fascinated by seeing these creatures, although maybe a little less enthusiastic about catching them as I was as a youngster.

Recently I've been seeing a lot of turtles in the area crossing roads. Just last weekend I had a huge snapping turtle passing through my lawn. I also spotted a painted turtle along the roadside by Swedetown ponds digging a hole in the ditch. Right now is the time when these turtles leave their normally aquatic habitat to pursue a more suitable spot to dig a hole and deposit their eggs.

According to my sightings and a cross-reference to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians, we have three species of turtles in the area. The most common of these is the painted turtle. This turtle is seen mostly in lakes, marshes, and streams. The second most common is the snapping turtle and it also is associated with water. The third is the wood turtle. Although I have not encountered one in the area, as its name suggests, it is mostly found in wooded areas. The painted turtle and the wood turtle are rather easy to handle but the snapping turtle, well let's just say they prefer their personal space.

We also have a number of snake species in the area. I have seen both the red-bellied snake, which seems to like my compost bin, and the common garter snake, which is a welcome guest in the garden. According to the Audubon Societies guide, there are also ring neck, fox, northern water, and smooth green snakes in the area. None of these snakes are poisonous and most are rather docile. In fact, they may be considered beneficial because they mostly prey on insects, other reptiles, amphibians, and small rodents. Speaking from vast childhood experience, water snakes are an exception, they may not be poisonous, but they are rarely docile and do not like to be handled.

On top of the turtles and snakes, the area is loaded with amphibians. There are many species of frogs that inhabit the surrounding forests, wetlands, and even yards. Toads are also quite common in the area. Salamanders and newts are also present but I have yet to find any, though I don't turn over as many rocks and logs as I did in the past. Lizards may be a tough find in the area, though. There are a variety of lizards known as skinks that may be present, but that would be a rare sighting and consider yourself lucky if you happen to spot one.



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