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I received two snake identification requests this week.  The first was found in Central Florida under a seat cushion on my parents’ porch.  The second is a DOR (roadkilled) snake ID request that Jason received from a friend in New Orleans, Louisiana. Any guesses?

  1. Central Florida snake to identify –
    Central Florida snake - the snake was very aggressive after being discovered by my parents under a porch cushion.

    Central Florida snake – the snake was very aggressive after being discovered by my parents under a porch cushion

     

  2. New Orleans snake to identify –
    DOR New Orleans snake

    DOR New Orleans snake

    Post your guesses in the comments!

As with all communication and logic, explicitly defining our assumptions and definitions is crucial for clarity and understanding.  I will continue with the discussion of science, given the definition that I provided in the last Science-Mindedness post: science is a repeatable, systematic method of improving our ability to understand and predict phenomena based upon methodological naturalism, logic, and empirical evidence.  To delve deeper into this definition, I will focus on discussing methodological naturalism in this post, as it serves as the fundamental assumption or “rule” in science.

Methodological naturalism is the philosophy that all observations have an explanation to be found within the universe.  By this philosophy, all supernatural and paranormal explanations are invalid.  Methodological naturalism is a fundamental assumption of science.  Strict adherence to methodological naturalism is not an arbitrary decision for scientists, but rather a crucial starting point established through generations of trial and error.

The efficacy of science is strongly tied to the philosophy of methodological naturalism.  Historically, individuals who attempted to use magic, alchemy, or other means of searching for understanding in our world garnered equal or greater respect than individuals who relegated themselves to observable, testable explanations for phenomena.  However, as efforts demonstrated, only science withstood the test of time as a means to make progress towards a clearer picture of existence.  By applying the assumption of methodological naturalism, scientists continue devising and exploring explanations for phenomena that other disciplines relegate to supernatural causes (hence halting their search for understanding).  Without this crucial assumption, any line of questioning could be halted with one word: magic.

"Where do babies come from, Mom?" "Magic, honey." Can you imagine what Penn and Teller's parents thought when they first told them they wanted to be magicians?

“Where do babies come from, Mom?” “Magic, honey.” Can you imagine what Penn and Teller’s parents thought when they first told them they wanted to be magicians?

To be clear, methodological naturalism serves as a fundamental driving force for research to continue.  By excluding paranormal or supernatural explanations, scientists have restricted themselves to explanations which can be observed, tested, and repeatedly scrutinized, thereby allowing for scientific knowledge to progress and improve as evidence supports (whether affirmative or negative) conclusions.

As we continue our discussion, I’ll leave you with some questions to discuss and lead us to the next post: Why do we use science?  When do we use science?  Should science be applied in all situations?  Are there questions not addressable by science?  Why do we choose science over other methods of inquiry?

We woke up at 7 to leave Vicki’s by 8AM, stopped at Chic-fil-A for a quick breakfast, and headed to meet Jason, Chris, and Caroline in west Texas.

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Breakfast

Along the way we stopped at Buc-ee’s (the famous gas station/store) for a quick break and then in San Antonio to walk along the River Walk and have lunch.

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Fueling up at Buc-ee’s

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River Walk in San Antonio

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There were some neat, huge trees along the river in San Antonio

 

When we finally met up with the other group at a Pizza Hut in Alpine, we were pleased to find Ron and Eric there as well.

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Meeting up with Chris, Caroline, Jason, Ron, and Eric in Alpine, TX

 

After a quick pizza dinner, some supply shopping, and cleaning/reorganizing the vehicles, we split up into three cars: one car went to Big Bend for sight seeing and hiking, and the other two cars went to road cruise for snakes (we were particularly keen on finding samples of Mojave Rattlesnakes).

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Andrew with an amazing save after nearly toppling the water display at the grocery store

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Jason and Andrew cleaning windshields in preparation for a night of cruising

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A giant “A” on the hillside, for Alpine

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Andrew getting the windshield nice and clean

 

It didn’t take long before the state troopers and border patrol had stopped to see what we were doing before letting us continue our search for science. The first snake we came across was a chunky long-nose (Rhinocheilus lecontei) crossing the street around midnight.

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The first snake of the trip, a large Long-nosed Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei)

We spent 7 hours cruising and walking road cuts, and found a total of 15 snakes representing 10 species.  It took most of the night, but we finally found 1 Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) at 3:30AM. By 4:30 we had tired out and arrived at Sky’s (thanks for letting us crash there!) house to sleep.

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A Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula)

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A Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer)

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DOR Common Kingsnake (L. getula)

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DOR Trans-Pecos Rat Snake (Bogertophis subocularis)

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Andrew holding the largest night snake (Hypsiglena torquata) that we’ve ever seen to highlight it’s length.

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Another shot of the same night snake. Look at how big it is!

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Andrew holding a Great Plains Rat Snake (Pantherophis emoryi)

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A closer photo of the same Great Plains Rat Snake

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DOR Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans)

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DOR Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

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Another Great Plains Rat Snake (P. emoryi)

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A small Long-nosed Snake (R. lecontei)

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DOR Trans-Pecos Rat Snake (B. subocularis)

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Our first Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) of the trip, our target species

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Last snake of the night, a DOR Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus ornatus). A bit of a downer to end the night at 4AM with a DOR

A group of four graduate students (Andrew, Matt, Alexa, and Katie) from UCF and I started our drive to Sanderson, TX for the Snake Days conference. We spent the whole day driving to arrive in Houston at 9pm to stay with Vicki (a recent UCF biology graduate) for the night. It was a largely uneventful drive, but it got us one day closer to Snake Days!

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Ron (from Arizona) came to visit Orlando for his first Florida herp trip this March.  His friend, Eric, joined the search shortly thereafter, and we had a great time traveling across the state in search of fun wildlife.  Here’s a long-overdue photo tour of some of the best finds of the trip:

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Ron holds the first snake of the trip, a Florida Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata).  We found a lot of these snakes during the two-week trip.

An exotic, invasive Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) on a palmetto leaf.

An exotic, invasive Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) on a palmetto leaf.  These lizards are common throughout the state.

Ron and Alexa smile for a photo with an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis allagheniensis).

Ron and Alexa smile for a photo with an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis allagheniensis).

A Common Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) sits closed in its hinged shell when we startled it walking along a path.

A Common Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) sits closed in its hinged shell when we startled it walking along a path.

The first of many Pygmy Rattlesnakes (Sistrurus miliarius) throughout the trip, sunning itself at the base of a tree - they can be very difficult to see among the branches, roots, and leaf litter.

The first of many Pygmy Rattlesnakes (Sistrurus miliarius) throughout the trip, sunning itself at the base of a tree – they can be very difficult to see among the branches, roots, and leaf litter.  Pygmy Rattlesnakes are one of the 6 venomous snake species in the state.

TIS Office Expansion 007

A closeup of our first Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) of the trip.  We noticed splotches of white paint on its back, indicating that this individual had been captured by researchers and was being used as part of a study.

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Another Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) nestled between two dead branches.

A third Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) hidden in the leaf litter.

A third Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) hidden in the leaf litter.

Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) tucked under some leaves.  It's amazing how difficult they can be to find.

Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) tucked under some leaves. It’s amazing how difficult they can be to find.

Yet another Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) hiding in the debris.  With how well they hide (and how common they were in this area), I can't help but wonder how many we may have walked right past, never seeing them.

Yet another Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) hiding in the debris. With how well they hide (and how common they were in this area), I can’t help but wonder how many we may have walked right past, never seeing them.

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A frog metamorph (changing between tadpole and frog), either a Pig Frog (Lithobates grylio) or a Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) – the two species can be difficult to distinguish.

One of the sundew species native to Florida - they are carnivorous plants (similar to the more common venus fly traps) which catch and digest insects in the sticky "dew" droplets that their leaves exude.

One of the sundew species native to Florida – they are carnivorous plants (similar to the more common venus fly traps) which catch and digest insects in the sticky “dew” droplets that their leaves exude.

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The first Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) of the trip, unfortunately it had gotten killed in the fire just before it was able to escape down a burrow.

The first Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) of the trip, unfortunately it had gotten killed in the fire just before it was able to escape down a burrow.

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A Common Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) peeking at us from within a burrow.

The first snake we found in the burned field, charred to match the scenery.

The first snake we found in the burned field, charred to match the scenery.

A snake shed in the burned field, the first sign of living snakes in the area.  We found a number of sheds throughout the fields.

A snake shed in the burned field, the first sign of living snakes in the area. We found a number of sheds throughout the fields.

A flattened Flowerpot Snake (Ramphotyphlops braminus), an exotic, invasive snake species which looks like a small dark worm.

A flattened Flowerpot Snake (Ramphotyphlops braminus), an exotic, invasive snake species which looks like a small dark worm.

Our first Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) of the trip, and my first wild-caught Veiled Chameleon ever.  These lizards are an exotic species introduced to south Florida.

Our first Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) of the trip, and my first wild-caught Veiled Chameleon ever. These lizards are an exotic species introduced to south Florida.

Ron holding another exotic species in south Florida, a Knight Anole (Anolis equestris).

Ron holding another exotic species in south Florida, a Knight Anole (Anolis equestris).

A large DOR Green Water Snake (Nerodia floridana).

A large DOR Green Water Snake (Nerodia floridana).

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We found some roadside wetlands that were loaded with water snakes (particularly Brown Water Snakes and Florida Water Snakes). Here are two Florida Water Snakes (Nerodia fasciata) sitting in the water.

An American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), one of Ron's favorite finds.

An American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), one of Ron’s favorite finds.

An African Redhead Agama (Agama agama) that we found on a street corner.  This species is another non-native.

An African Redhead Agama (Agama agama) that we found on a street corner. This species is another non-native.

Ron inspecting the African Redhead Agama (Agama agama).  Check out the goofy front teeth it has!

Ron inspecting the African Redhead Agama (Agama agama). Check out the goofy front teeth it has!

A juvenile Brown Basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus), also called the Jesus Christ Lizard for their ability to run for short periods across water.  They are from Central and South America and have been introduced to south Florida.

A juvenile Brown Basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus), also called the Jesus Christ Lizard for their ability to run for short distances across water. They are from Central and South America and have been introduced to south Florida.

Ron standing bravely beneath the coconuts on a palm tree.  Coconuts can fall on you, causing serious injury or death!

Ron standing bravely beneath the coconuts on a palm tree. Coconuts can fall on you, causing serious injury or death!

A venomous Cottonmouth (aka Water Moccasin; Agkistrodon piscivorus) - one of the 6 venomous snake species in Florida.

A venomous Cottonmouth (aka Water Moccasin; Agkistrodon piscivorus) – one of the 6 venomous snake species in Florida.

An exotic Greenhouse Frog (Eleutherodactylus planirostris).  These frogs are direct developers - their eggs hatch into tiny froglets, rather than tadpoles, so they don't require standing bodies of water to develop and can be transported in potting soil.

An exotic Greenhouse Frog (Eleutherodactylus planirostris). These frogs are direct developers – their eggs hatch into tiny froglets, rather than tadpoles, so they don’t require standing bodies of water to develop and can be transported in potting soil.

Ron holding a cooter.  I'm not sure which species, as many turtle species look very similar.  I would guess it is either a Red Bellied Cooter (Psudemys nelsoni) or a Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana).

Ron holding a cooter. I’m not sure which species, as many turtle species look very similar. I would guess it is either a Red Bellied Cooter (Psudemys nelsoni) or a Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana).

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A non-native, Indo-Pacific Gecko (Hemidactylus garnotii).

A non-native, Indo-Pacific Gecko (Hemidactylus garnotii).

Ron holding a Black Racer (Coluber constrictor).

Ron holding a Black Racer (Coluber constrictor).

A Black Racer (Coluber constrictor) that is preparing to shed its skin.   Before shedding, snakes secret a milky substance just beneath their outer layer of skin which makes them look opaque and reduces their ability to see.  This semi-blind state leaves them vulnerable to predators, so many snakes behave more aggresively when opaque.

A Black Racer (Coluber constrictor) that is preparing to shed its skin. Before shedding, snakes secret a milky substance just beneath their outer layer of skin which makes them look opaque and reduces their ability to see. This semi-blind state leaves them vulnerable to predators, so many snakes behave more aggresively when opaque.

A mother American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) guarding her babies.

A mother American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) guarding her babies.

Some of the baby alligators.

Some of the baby alligators.

The mother alligator.

The mother alligator.

Rhett holding a Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus).

Rhett holding a Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus).

A very blurry picture of an Eastern Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne carolinensis).

A very blurry picture of an Eastern Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne carolinensis).

An Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii).

An Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii).

A non-native Cuban Treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis).

A non-native Cuban Treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis).

 

A Pinewoods Treefrog (Hyla femoralis).

A Pinewoods Treefrog (Hyla femoralis).

A Six-lined Racerunner (Aspidocelus sexlineatus) peeking out of a Gopher Tortoise burrow.

A Six-lined Racerunner (Aspidocelus sexlineatus) peeking out of a Gopher Tortoise burrow.

An injured Common Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) taking refuge in the only moist area left after a burn.  The turtle appeared to have been burned along its back and possibly blinded.

An injured Common Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) taking refuge in the only moist area left after a burn. The turtle appeared to have been burned along its back and possibly blinded.

A native Carolina Anole (Anolis carolinensis) climbing on a palmetto branch in a burned field.

A native Carolina Anole (Anolis carolinensis) climbing on a palmetto branch in a burned field.

A skink (either Southeastern Five-lined or Five-Lined Skink) hiding under the bark of a burnt tree.

A skink (either Southeastern Five-lined or Five-Lined Skink) hiding under the bark of a burnt tree.

An Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus) trying to hide in some sand.  It eventually burrowed down into the sand to cover itself.

An Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus) trying to hide in some sand. It eventually burrowed down into the sand to cover itself.

A live Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus).

A live Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus).

A Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) hiding in the mouth of a Gopher Tortoise burrow.  We found several Pygmy Rattlesnakes, tortoises, lizards, and Gopher Frogs (Lithobates capito) down tortoise burrows.

A Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) hiding in the mouth of a Gopher Tortoise burrow. We found several snakes, tortoises, lizards, and Gopher Frogs (Lithobates capito) down tortoise burrows.

Another Pygmy Rattlsnake (Sistrurus miliarius) crossing the street.

Another Pygmy Rattlsnake (Sistrurus miliarius) crossing the street.

Eric holding a large Florida Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata).

Eric holding a large Florida Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata).

Two DOR Black Racers (Coluber constrictor) that we found next to each other on the road (we stretched them into that position, but they were practically on top of each other hit in the road when we found them)... possibly a pair that was mating when they got hit.

Two DOR Black Racers (Coluber constrictor) that we found next to each other on the road (we stretched them into that position, but they were practically on top of each other hit in the road when we found them)… possibly a pair that was mating when they got hit.

A second type of native carnivorous plant, a pitcher plant (Sarracenia sp.).

A second type of native carnivorous plant that we found this trip, a pitcher plant (Sarracenia sp.).

A Florida Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata) cruising through the water.

A Florida Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata) cruising through the water.

An Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) playing dead when we walked up on it.

An Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) playing dead when we walked up on it.

The same Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) no longer playing dead, once we gave it time to calm down.

The same Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) no longer playing dead, once we gave it time to calm down.