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:
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.
Bright, vibrant colors in winter can be hard to find, but sometimes all you have to do is look up.
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.
- How does a limbless animal climb a tree? By using its belly scales to push against the rough bark.
Here’s a rat snake in action:
** Source for images (except the first one): Encyclopedia of Life
Not a nature photo. This is a response to the Daily Post’s photo challenge theme: Gathering.
This is a photo from the Moral Monday protests in Raleigh, NC last year. This protest was polite, organized, and huge. There were groups there supporting civil rights, labor unions, public education at all levels, immigration, environment, healthcare… you name the cause, the state government had damaged it.
There were poor elderly people from the middle of nowhere talking to young grad students. There were Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Unitarian Universalist leaders on stage. There were people who normally wouldn’t necessarily dislike each other, but who would just never see one another in their everyday lives, holding hands and holding signs and cheering for each other’s causes. There were signs in English, Spanish, and Arabic. There may have been other languages.
You want to get a bunch of disparate people all working together? Give them a really awful governor.
Sometimes you see a flower and think, “Oh, isn’t that pretty?”
And then there are the times you see a flower and think, “Whoa, Nature! You’re just going overboard now.”
This Passiflora incarnata flower is an example of the latter.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Careful.” I don’t think this one needs an explanation.