Herping USA - 2004   PROGRAM SUMMARY - NOVEMBER 2004

On November 10, 2004, NOAH member Tim Spuckler, editor of Notes from NOAH,
presented a slide illustrated talk on several trips he made during 2004.

His first trip was to Las Vegas in the middle of April. He's been there 15 times and this year a friend's eight-year-old son accompanied them into the desert for the youngster's first herping trip. Tim indicated that desert temperatures need to be around 100F to see a large variety of herps and since it was April, temperatures were only up to the 80s. However, a variety of herps were still observed. Some of the herping consisted of searching for lizards and catching them with nooses, which Tim said is the best way for catching lizards out west. Tim noted that some problems with nooses include both wind blowing the noose around and the lizards themselves, which can easily run off into bushes, run through the noose, or even attack the noose.

Despite the cooler temperatures, Tim and his friends did catch a few lizards, such as side blotched lizards. These lizards are cold tolerant and often are the first ones out in the morning. Tim noted that side blotched lizards are easy to study, as they are quite tolerant of observers. Their short life span of only about a year is useful for researchers interested in their life cycle. The first snake Tim caught on this trip was a southwestern blackheaded snake, which is a mildly venomous rear-fanged snake. This snake eats centipedes, which also have venom, and hence the snake's need for venom - although it is a gentle snake to handle.

One of the areas Tim visited was a remote spot in Nevada he'd never been to before. The discovery of ancient American Indian petroglyphs in the area was an added bonus. A zebratail lizard was captured, which is the fastest lizard in the southwest. They can grow to 9-10 inches and Tim noted that they have long toes which are useful for running in the loose, sandy soil. Tim and his friends also caught a great basin whiptail lizard. These are especially difficult to catch with a noose, because they are always moving and have narrow heads, which easily slip out of a noose.

An unusual encounter in the desert were pools of water containing tiny crustaceans and tadpole shrimp. These animals live in intermittent pools, but their eggs can hatch years later, when rains come. The highlight of this trip was catching a horned lizard. These are very toadlike in appearance and are not elongated like a lizard. Their defenses include puffing up to appear larger, excellent camouflage and squirting blood out of their eyes. Unfortunately, habitat destruction has contributed to their decline, as has the introduction of fire ants, which outcompete with their main food, the harvester ant.

Other herps observed included a desert spiny lizard, which are very hard to catch, as they are extremely alert and fast. A coachwhip snake was caught, which is one of largest snakes in the U.S., reaching approximately 7 feet in length. They are very fast snakes, which can eat a wide range of foods, but they are not constrictors. Even at Tim's hotel in Las Vegas, a variety of lizards were observed, including chuckwallas and desert iguanas.


A coachwhip caught on April 11, 2004.

In May, Tim went with a group of high school students on a trip to the Atlantic Coast to study marine biology. The students cast nets from a boat to collect flora and fauna. Once, in one swoop of the net, three diamondback terrapins were captured. The students used several buckets to sort the catch and holding tanks in the boat were used to house the catch. Tim indicated that some of the animals brought back to the school lab included pufferfish, window-nose skates and a mantis shrimp. Tim noted that the mantis shrimp can eat crabs larger than itself and despite its small size, they can break the glass in an aquarium, due to the severity of their strike, which is used to disable their prey. Mantis shrimp look like a praying mantis in front and a lobster in back. During an excursion to a barrier island, a Fowler's toad and a baby mud turtle were found among other sea creatures. On this same trip, Tim also visited the Baltimore Zoo's Reptile house. Unfortunately, it was closed shortly after Tim's visit, but did have many realistic habitat settings, including excellent displays of native turtles.

Diamondback Terrapins

Three diamondback terrapins caught on May 6, 2004

In June, Tim attended NOAH's field trip to Maryland. It was a rainy trip and many amphibians such as wood frogs, dusky salamanders and red efts were observed. Several snakes including timber rattlers, ringneck snakes, eastern milk snakes and a northern water snake were found as well.

Timber rattlesnake

A timber rattlesnake captured on June 13, 2004.

Tim's final trip in 2004 was to California. Tim noted that the most common reptile in California is the western fence lizard and one can see hundreds in one day. They are similar to eastern fence lizard, but more varied in color and pattern. Also, they don't stay in trees as much, and typically are found on the ground and in low brush.

Tim also saw western whiptail lizards. Whiptails are unique among lizards, in that certain populations can reproduce asexually. A northern Pacific rattlesnake was found with the largest rattle Tim had ever seen. Tim noted that the only venomous snakes found in California are rattlesnakes, of which there are 10 different types. He also mentioned that western rattlesnakes tend to be more toxic and more aggressive than their eastern counterparts.

On another day, Tim made a trip to Berkley, California to visit to a large reptile specialty store called East Bay Vivarium. The owners were the first to produce Arabian sand boas in the U.S. Tim also visited a Santa Cruz preserve, which was very rain forest-like and encountered a banana slug, which can reach up to 10 inches in length. One of its predators, a sharptailed snake was captured as well. These snakes have a spike on their tail, which is believed to be used as an anchor and/or used to push food down their throat.

Tim caught a California slender salamander which is the most common salamander in the state. Also found were a Monterey ensatina salamander and a pacific giant salamander. The latter can reach up to 13 inches in length and can growl, bark and bite. They allegedly climb trees in search of baby birds and are very aggressive.

Another location Tim visited was the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is located at the ocean's edge, affording beautiful views of the seascape. The nearly 200,000 square foot aquarium is an impressive engineering feat. Some exhibits have waves and one-half million gallons of seawater is pumped in each day to the tanks.

Tim noted that there are no water snakes in California and that some amphibian declines in the state are steep. Also, California has relatively few native turtles. The Pacific chorus frog is the only native frog Tim has found in California, though he noted that there are several non-native frogs which have established themselves. On Tim's last excursion in the state, he encountered a scorpion, a western skink, a California striped racer, and a Pacific pond turtle. The racer was the first one he had ever captured and the pond turtle was especially surprising, as they have become very scarce in California.

Huge Bug

"Huge Bug of the Day" - a very big California bug.

Program Summary by Craig Lass

Tim's Webpage