15 Sep 2010 by Greg C. Greer
I left home early in the day and headed over to South Carolina for an afternoon of snake hunting and “naturing”….which means, looking at any and everything that is found “out-of-doors”. I actually had a quest for this particular outing as I needed to acquire a Carolina pigmy rattlesnake for my venomous snake collection. (I provide live, native venomous species lectures & exhibits) So, due to these little rattlesnakes being quite rare in and around the Atlanta region, I decided to head over to South Carolina to hunt for this species of snake. Along the way, there were lots of Turkey Vultures heading South and I also saw a number of red-tailed hawks, a few broadwings and one red-shouldered hawk, perched on a dead snag over a wetland area. The red-tails, unlike the broadwings, are not moving yet and they actually migrate considerably later than many of the Eastern North American raptors. (birds of prey) Many years ago, I worked at a raptor banding site in Virginia and most of the red-tails did not move south until November. Back to the South Carolina outing……I arrived in an area just across the state line from Georgia and found some beautiful sandhill scrub habitat. This was perfect for my quest. I did a little field hunting but the temperatures were still very warm and at 5:30 PM, it was still in the low 90’s. I really did not expect to find much out, in regards to snakes. Lizards, however, were very active and I observed brown skinks, one five-lined skink and a few Carolina anoles. About a half an hour prior to dark, I began to drive roads that ran through the appropriate habitat as that is a good means of finding snakes. Conditions have to be just right and often, in our thinking that we can figure this out, find ourselves driving roads all night long and find ZERO! We still have a lot to learn in this regard, but this night for me was to be a banner night.
About 15 minutes prior to dark, a noticed a big coral snake on the shoulder of the road. I immediately thought….I do not have a chance to get this animal as coral snakes are extremely fast crawlers, especially when pursued and this one was only partially on the road. I immediately jumped out, with my little snake tool, and the chase was on… As expected, the brightly colored, very slender, very fast coral snake reversed direction and was in the grass in an instant. At that point and for the next 10 minutes, I was glad that no one else was on that road as they would have called 911 to state that someone needed serious help as they had “lost all of their marbles” and was performing some very weird dance on the side of the road. I was actually amazed that I was able to keep track of the snake as it crawled through the grass and up into sand scrub. Here it was considerably more open but there were thick herbaceous plants that the snake could seek refuge in. I would attempt to grab the snake in the short tongs, miss, or get the snake but not in a position that was safe for the snake, and thus…..I would go down on one knee, grab the snake, get up walking bent in half following the rapidly moving snake only to repeat the process. This I did for probably 5 minutes…..until I finally used the rubber tipped ends of the tongs and pinned the snake, at mid body, to the sand. The snake, also typical of coral snakes, immediately bit the end of the tongs, with a bull dog like grip. (The real bull dog, not a Bull Dawg as in UGA) Anyway, not wanting to stress the snake out any more than I already had, and by this time, I was exhausted, so I grabbed the snakes tail…..which is appropriately called….tailing the snake. I moved the snake into an open area, where as he continued to bite the rubber end of the tongs….I grabbed the snake behind the head and within a few seconds had the snake in a snake bag. This was not be a preferred method of capture but nothing ever goes by any preferred method when it comes to coral snakes. So, I recorded the GPS coordinates, the ambient temperature, road temperature…all of the data that will accompany the images of the snake in either the herp collection at UGA or at UF. Then, thrilled with the good fortune of finding a coral snake, I drove on. Only to discover, I had lost my glasses in the “great coral snake chase”. So, due to having the GPS coords, I went back and walked over the area, only to find my glasses by stepping on them. This required some field repair, which I frequently have to do…..A little dental floss through the hole where a screw had popped out, a quick knot in the floss, and the glass eyepiece stayed in place. I was good to go. (Actually, I only need glasses to see “real clearly” at a distance) This, however, is very important in looking for small snakes on roads at night.
Then, just as it was dark, a large adult pigmy rattlesnake was laying on the road edge. The snake was moving so I very quickly stopped, bailed out of the car, aided with tongs and a 5 gallon bucket, and within seconds the little reptile was in the bucket residing on the floorboards of my Honda Element. So, within 15 minutes, I had found a coral snake and a Carolina pigmy. I called my wife to give her the news of my exciting road-running trip….while on the phone…..Whoa! Another big pigmy, I gotta go was all that I got out. (My wife is actually accustomed to this) I threw the phone on the vacant front navigator seat, grabbed the bucket and tongs, threw my glasses on the driver’s seat, so as not to drop them on the road….and within a few seconds….the second pigmy was in the bucket. Just as I placed the bucket in the Element, a car was on-coming, so I quickly jumped into the car. Well, guess what….I sat right on my glasses and again there was a crunch. Gheez, my glasses really took a beating this evening. This time, it required a band-aid, which works well in place of tape, so at this point I had dental floss on one frame arm and a band-aid on the other. I looked like at real “goober”, but boy, I was I one very happy Goober. The temperatures were still good, the road still warm but something certainly indicated to the snakes that it was time to “hole up” as for the next hour and a half, there was not a snake to be seen. Everything had moved right at dark and as quickly as my night began, it also ended. With a good adrenaline rush, I made my way home and the 3 and a half hour drive went by very quickly under the circumstances of having a very successful and exciting night.
Other animals seen this evening: 3 white-tail deer, including one very small fawn. (late birth?) 1 Opossum, lots of DOR Armadillos, 1 DOR coyote, numerous DOR raccoons and opossums.