When I first moved to North Carolina, I didn’t have a place to live lined up. I figured I’d camp out at a park for a few days until I found one. Lucky for me, NC has approximately a bazillion state parks, and I found one nearby with a campground.
A few days turned into two weeks, during which it rained the ENTIRE TIME and I got more and more frustrated as various possibilities fell through. At one point, I posted this extremely green photo on Instagram and Facebook:
A post shared by Bethany Harvey (@bethanyaharvey) on
My concerned friends back in Florida replied that they hoped this was just a temporary situation. It did turn out to be temporary, and a friend who lived in the area called some of her friends, and they offered me a place to stay for a couple of days. Then I finally managed to find someone with a room to rent who didn’t sound creepy and didn’t think I sounded creepy. And after a year of that, I moved into a little house all by myself, and I still live there.
So, this photo? This is not home. This is just the spot where I was camping this weekend. For fun. And it didn’t even rain!
Go to a pond in the southeast and walk along the muddy edge, and you’ll likely see tiny frogs leaping into the water ahead of you. You’ll rarely see the frog beforehand; the first hint of its existence will be a little splash. They launch themselves many times their body length, springing from the weeds into the water as if assisted by wings. From the opposite side of the pond, you’ll hear repeated clicks, like stones being struck together.
If you can find one sitting still long enough to get a good look, you’ll see that it’s about an inch long: a slender, long-legged creature, with bumpy skin and a triangle on the back of its head. It will be some combination of brown, black, green, and gold.
There are two species of cricket frogs: northern and southern. The northern species has slightly longer legs and a slightly more rounded snout, but they are otherwise very similar. They sometimes interbreed where their ranges overlap. (Those shown in this post are the southern species or hybrids of the two.) Between the two species, they cover most of the eastern half of the US.
The breeding season depends on the local climate; in Florida they may breed year-round, while in the northern edge of their range it’s limited to spring. Adults eat insects and spiders, while the tadpoles are vegetarians and feed on algae. The tadpoles are actually longer than the adults, if you include their tails, which are long, transparent, and often black-tipped. The black tip may be useful in confusing predators into grabbing for the tail instead of the body. This is good, because cricket frog tadpoles are eaten by just about everything else in the water — dragonfly larvae, salamanders, fish, snakes, other frogs… The lucky tadpoles which survive can take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks to metamorphose into adults.
Rat snakes are some of the most frequently seen snakes in the US, but they still cause a lot of confusion and panic. They’re often mistaken for whatever venomous snake lives in the same area. They’re relatively large snakes, and they have an intimidating defensive posture, raising the fronts of their bodies above the ground. And they can have a slightly triangular head if you’re looking at it and thinking, is that triangular? I don’t know… maybe? Kinda. Better assume it’s venomous.
It’s not venomous. Rat snakes are harmless, unless you’re small enough for them to swallow. They can even be beneficial to humans, keeping the rodent population under control. On the other hand, they’re notorious for stealing chicken eggs, which they can swallow whole. And they can clear out an entire nest of baby birds. (If you put up birdhouses, it’s a good idea to add predator guards.)
They’re also skilled tree-climbers*. If you live in the United States, and you see a snake hanging out in a tree in your yard, or from the rafters in a barn, or perched calmly on top of your doorframe as you go to open the door, chances are pretty good that you have a rat snake.
Identifying them can get a little complicated. They come in different patterns and colors, depending on the region. In peninsular Florida, they’re yellow with dark stripes:
Elsewhere on the Gulf Coast, they’re gray or tan with darker patches, like the one pictured at the top of this post. And farther north, they’re black:
And to the west, you get this splotchy, stripey kind:
These are all the same species! At the edges of their regions, intergrade patterns are often found. The Atlantic coast has some olive-green ones, a mix of yellow and black. In the Piedmont, where I live, they’re mostly black but often have some faint markings.
Rat snakes are constrictors, like boas and pythons, but much smaller. A truly giant rat snake is about 7 feet long, and most adults are under 5 feet. Still, you could say they’re the closest thing the US has to pythons (except in the Everglades, where the Burmese python has become a pest).
They like abandoned buildings and other structures near humans, where the rats are plentiful. So if you see a big yellow, black, or brown snake hanging out in a tree or a hayloft, no need to panic. It’s probably just a rat snake going about its exterminator duties. Leave it alone, and enjoy fewer rats around your house.
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Happy Place.”
The North Carolina Museum of Art is one of the places that, when I first moved to the Triangle, convinced me that I’d made a good decision. It’s a museum, obviously, with a large collection of art from an amazing range of time and space. As you would expect.
But there’s also an amphitheater where they hold their summer concert series. Their concerts are popular events: the bleachers fill up fast, but then people bring chairs and blankets and sit on the lawn. I usually sit on the retaining wall in the back. I don’t get a good view of the band there, but I can hear just fine and also watch the people mill around and the fireflies come out, and not get stepped on or bumped into. I’ve seen the Lost Bayou Ramblers, the Indigo Girls, and Iron & Wine there, as well as an impressive show by Paperhand Puppet Intervention.
And it has a lovely park outside, with miles of walking and bicycle trails where sculptures loom up along the way. Like these. They have real names (mouse over to see them) but I am not very sophisticated about art, so I think of them as the Corn Cob, the Stargates, and the Dragon Ribs.
The Corn Cob
The Dragon Ribs
And if you go on a cold, sunny afternoon when you have nothing pressing to do, you’ll follow a side trail until you’re away from the main part of the park and down the hill, so that even the giant Stargates are mostly out of sight. And then you’ll take a few more side trails off that, and you’ll come to this tiny dome-shaped building. It’s just out there in the woods. No big, obvious signs pointing to it. The trail is small and easily missed. The builder can’t have expected many people to see it, but there it is. Just for you, the aimlessly wandering person who happened across it.