Our first day on this trip turned out to be surprisingly successful. 10 of us left from Orlando at 7:30AM in two vehicles, both so that we could fit everyone and the gear and so that we could split up and cover more area. Jason, Hollis, Vicki, and I drove in one vehicle while Jason H., Lindsay, Matt, Alex, Kelly, and Tom rode in the other vehicle. On our way down, we picked up Karlie in Miami for a total of 11 researchers. Our objectives were to get samples from raccoons (Procyon lotor), water snakes (Nerodia sp.), and ringneck (Diadophis punctatus).
We saw 29 bird species on the trip down, the most exciting of which (for Jason and I, because we’d never seen one before) was the Magnificent Frigate Bird. We collected tissues from 2 road-killed raccoons and saw one live one that we weren’t able to sample.
First DOR raccoon of the trip
Second DOR raccoon
Upon arrival, we checked into our campsites and saw a plant stem with lacewing eggs attached to it.
Lacewing eggs attached to a piece of plant material
Once we were settled in, we began searching for the night. Since water snakes tend to be more active after dark, we started out scouting sites and liking for ringneck snakes under debris. We didn’t find any snakes early, but we spotted a box turtle (Terrapene carolina) and a leopard frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus).
Searching for snakes around a pond
More searching for snakes
Box turtle that we found
Leopard frog that we found
After our relatively fruitless search, we stopped for dinner (Jason grilled hot dogs) and spotted a huge, orange iguana in a tree across a canal. Jason H. and I set out to get a closer look at this exotic, invasive animal but instead found ourselves soaked and outwitted.
The sun set as we finished dinner, so we started our search for water snakes. Our approach included road cruising and wading through mangrove swamps and marshes, searching the shores. Ross cruising turned up several red rat snakes (Pantherophis guttatus) for Jason H. and his group, but we found nothing in our vehicle.
We were all much more successful walking through marshes. We found 14 mangrove salt marsh snakes (Nerodia clarkii compressicauda), several iguanas, and jellyfish, brown anoles, and a light-colored raccoon that got away before we could take a sample. Mangrove salt marsh snake populations are often highly variable in appearance, as demonstrated by the many colors and patterns that we observed tonight.
A red-phase mangrove salt marsh snake
A darker, but still red-phase mangrove salt marsh snake
Jason H. holding all 14 mangrove salt marsh snakes that we find for a photo to demonstrate the variability. Notice the differences in color and color pattern.
Kelly holding an iguana that Alex found (he wanted to keep looking for snakes rather than pose for a photo)
Hollis (right) holding an iguana while putting a snake that she simultaneously grabbed into a pillowcase (held by Karlie)
After a successful night, we went back to camp where we saw an invasive, exotic Cuban treefrog before going to sleep.