The birders among you may already know that the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow shares its marl prairie habitat with Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Yellowthroats, grackles, and the occasional raptor or migrating bird. But what else—besides birds—inhabits this vast expanse of grass?
For this post, I’ll share a few of my reptile finds from my walks through the marl prairie…
The reptilian that I most commonly encounter is the Cottonmouth, also known as a Water Moccasin (pictured behind me, above, and close up, below). Unlike other snakes, who tend to slither away unseen, these guys like to stand their ground, baring their white mouths as a warning. Cottonmouths are equipped with hematoxic venom but are (thankfully) not too aggressive. Unless you intentionally aggravate them, it’s unlikely that one will actually strike. Nevertheless, my encounters with cottonmouths are usually accompanied by a loud yelp and an instinctive leap back.
Sometimes, all I find left of a snake is its skeleton or shed. The first time I came across a snake skeleton, I thought I was looking at a fish. It took me a few minutes to realize that the fish would have had to be quite long and have strangely curved ribs. The snake shed pictured on the right probably belonged to a water snake.
Out in urban areas, the diversity of lizards–especially exotics–is quite high, largely thanks to the pet trade and pet releases/escapes. In the marl prairie, however, the native Green Anole rules supreme. We’ll often find them hiding in plain sight, matching the green of sawgrass or cypress needles.
Every now and again, I find turtle shells partly buried in periphyton. It’s always cool to see the vertebrae running down the center of the shell and the sutures marking where the bones have grown together to form this protective shield for the turtle.
Of course, I also stumble across the occasional live turtle. So far, I’ve only seen Florida Box Turtles, whose beautiful shells look like they’ve been streaked with rays of sunshine.
Last but not least, there is one reptile that we have (thus far) only heard in our study sites. Here’s an audio clip recorded by our friends at the National Park Service:
This deep rumble sometimes sounds to me like an old man snoring, but this reptile is not quite as innocuous as a sleeping old man. Can you guess what it is?
If your guess was singing male alligator, you’d be exactly right! They tend to like the wetter areas of our study sites, so when we hear them sing, we know to stay in the shorter grass, where it’s higher and drier.
More field finds coming soon!