It begins with the letter A…

Sweat bee (Agapostemeon splendens). Boca Raton, FL, November 14, 2014.
I've been reviewing the photos on my old Mac mini, since supplanted as my workhorse computer by the laptop. But I haven't transferred the nearly 2TB of photos from it, and inevitably I missed a few. Here are a couple from last November that begin with the letter A.
Sweat bee (<em>Agapostemeon splendens</em>). Boca Raton, FL, November 14, 2014.

Sweat bee (Agapostemeon splendens). Boca Raton, FL, November 14, 2014.

Green anole (<em>Anolis carolinensis</em>). Boca Raton, FL, November 14, 2014

Green anole (Anolis carolinensis). Boca Raton, FL, November 14, 2014

As usual, click the photos for a larger image.

New backyard herp: Ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus)

Ringneck snake (Diadophus punctatus). Boca Raton, FL, August 17, 2013.

Fear of snakes is instinctive. It just is. I imagine that most of those who have overcome it have done so through repeated exposure, knowledge gained over time. It's not enough to know that an animal is harmless; you have to feel it. And if you don't, you'll still be scared by something as innocuous as a 5-inch long ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus) that you might find swimming in your backyard pool.

I found that out one night this summer when Daniel was in the pool and I spotted one a few yards away from him. I didn't want Daniel to scare it (or be scared by it), so I casually slipped back inside the house and ran to get the camera. The snake was a tiny little fellow and quite content to hang out in the corner of the pool. Unfortunately, that corner was a bit close to where the lad was playing on the steps of the shallow end. And despite my attempts to keep the snake out of Danny's sight, that proved impossible. (Gee, for some reason my two-year-old son took an interest in whatever it was I was pointing my camera at in the pool. Go figure!).
Ringneck snake (<i>Diadophus punctatus</i>). Boca Raton, FL, August 17, 2013.

Ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus). Boca Raton, FL, August 17, 2013. One guess as to why he's called ringneck.

When he noticed the snake, Daniel got very excited—scared, even—and left the pool; wouldn't get back in until I'd removed the little dude.
Ringnecks are one of the most abundant snakes in North America, both in terms of range and population. They are found across most of the country, and some studies have estimated their abundance in the hundreds to thousands of individuals per hectare. They're small terrestrial burrowers that feed on just about anything (earthworms, salamanders, small frogs, small snakes and lizards, and insect larvae, according to Gibbons and Dorcas); the fact that they're small means that just about anything can feed on them as well.
Ringneck snake (<i>Diadophus punctatus</i>). Boca Raton, FL, August 17, 2013.

Ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus). Boca Raton, FL, August 17, 2013.

Ringneck snakes are, according to the Florida Natural History Museum,
the most frequently found snake in Florida swimming pools—they crawl in to get a drink and then cannot climb out because they are too small to reach the lip of the pool.
I'm sure the herpetologists at the FLMNH have no problem handling snakes, even venomous ones. They're trained to do so, and any fear they might once have felt has vanished with the confidence in their own abilities to handle these critters. However, their advice for the average homeowner understandably takes the layperson's squeamishness into account:
If you find one in your pool, lift it out with the leaf skimmer or a dipnet and turn it loose in the shrubs where it can get back to eating things you do not want in your garden.
And I can vouch for the efficacy of their advice. After my two failed attempts to grab this little guy by hand (and he was barely longer than my hand's width), he retreated to the middle of the pool, where I had to resort to the skimmer to scoop him out and get him to safety. Why did my first two attempts fail? Because the little guy wriggled out of my grasp, and I am no snake wrangler, no herpetologist with long experience in how to corral these critters. I'm just an amateur naturalist, interested in, but sometimes a bit scared of, nature. (I don't have the ophidiophobia of an Indiana Jones, but they do creep me out, just a bit.) Greene writes
Humans have always regarded snakes with a mixture of inquisitiveness and fear, of awe and revulsion, but whether these conflicting tendencies reflect genetically based predispositions or cultural traditions has long been controversial. In laboratory experiments and field observations, primate responses to snakes range from instant terror through curiosity and mobbing to immediate consumption; that some naive nonhuman primates react negatively to snakes suggests an inborn response with obvious survival value.
Now, mind you, just because a snake is small doesn't mean it's harmless. Pygmy rattlesnakes aren't a whole lot bigger than ring-necked snakes, but their venom is quite potent. You won't ever confuse them, because they look nothing alike, but it's always best to treat an unknown snake with caution. Cheers! References Gibbons, W. and M. Dorcas. 2005. Snakes of the Southeast. Athens: U of Georgia P. Greene, H.W. 1997. Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature. Berkeley: U of California P. Krysko, K.L., K.M. Enge, P.E. Moler. 2011. Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Florida. Final Report, Project Agreement 08013, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee, FL. Vigil, S. "Species Profile: Ringneck Snake." Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.

New backyard herp: Coluber constrictor, Southern Black Racer

I've been seeing snakes (well, a snake) off and on for the past couple of months in our back yard, but only on a couple of these occasions have I had my camera with me and been able to get a few shots. The snake in question is one of the more common ones in our area, Coluber constrictor, the Southern Black Racer. While I am always quite pleased to find snakes, they prefer to remain unfound; every time I see this guy he tells me by his actions that he is not very pleased to be discovered. When I first saw it with camera back in February, it went so far as to initiate its threat display, which consists of shaking its tail rather quickly back and forth. Because it was situated in some dry grasses (this was during the dry season here in south Florida and, as usual, we were in the middle of a terrible drought, although the rainy season has come early since then), when it shook its tail it made a rather ominous-sounding rattle. Since I knew it to be nonvenomous, I pursued it anyway, so that you could get a look at it. Here you can see it peeking out from between two pots in the gardening storage area: These are pretty harmless snakes, and as with many of the animals that people tend to fear (wasps, anyone?), they are actually more beneficial than harmful. After all, among the many prey items in their diet, first on the list are the ones we like the least in our homes: vermin! So, I welcome their presence on the premises. To be more specific about what they eat, we can consult my copy of Gibbons & Dorcas (Snakes of the Southeast):
Racers probably have a more diverse diet than any other North American snake. The wide variety of prey items includes small rodents, lizards, other snakes (including smaller racers), birds, frogs, insects, and even small turtles.
These snakes are visual hunters, often holding their head up high like a periscope to get a good view of their intended prey. Upon sighting a prey item, they chase it down, seize it, and swallow it whole. (No snake is capable of tearing up a meal into bite-sized chunks; if the animal is larger than the snake's jaws, no problem—they just unhinge their jaw until their gape can accommodate it!) One personal bonus for me on sighting this species was that it got me to look once again at the description of this species in Gibbons & Dorcas, and there on the first page was the picture of my mystery baby snake from last year! While that individual may not be the one I saw today, it's not impossible by any stretch of the imagination! Here's that baby snake again: And here's the picture in the guide book: I'd have to say it's a pretty strong match. About three months after that dry-season encounter, I saw the snake again shortly after the rainy season had started. He appears well fed, and this time (assuming it's the same one) I was able to get a slightly better set of photos of this guy. He's about three feet long now and still hanging around keeping the place as vermin-free as he can: Since he was in the bushes instead of the grasses where he can "race," I was able to get to within a foot or so of his head. I could have reached out and grabbed him had I been the kind of person who likes to capture snakes. I always like to think that I am that guy (what self-respecting naturalist doesn't want to handle the subjects under investigation?), but it turns out I'm not. I don't always have the specific reasons in mind, but how's this example, from Greene (1997), of why I might not want to handle a black racer?
The Racer (Coluber constrictor) illustrates the responses of many slender, unicolored, fast-moving species of snakes. A startled adult Racer reacts by violent undulatory movement that quickly changes to rapid, graceful locomotion for thirty meters or more. If startled at very close range, a Racer sometimes coils with its head hidden and writhes, smearing scent gland secretions over its body. Alternatively, the snake assumes an S-coil, vibrates its tail, and strikes repeatedly. If seized, a Racer continues to bite and discharge its cloacal contents, while twisting its entire body so strongly that sometimes the tail is broken off. Juvenile Racers have a boldly spotted color pattern and probably rely more heavily on camouflage for escape from predators than do adults.
I have yet to net a butterfly or wasp, and I have yet to do more than admire the snakes and lizards I've photographed. And I have to say, they are often worthy of admiration: It takes all kinds, right? References Ashton, R. & Ashton, P. (1988). Handbook of Reptiles and Amphibians of Florida, Part 1: The Snakes. Miami, FL: Windward. Gibbons, W. & M. Dorcas. (2005). Snakes of the Southeast. Athens, GA: U of Georgia P. Greene, H. (1997). Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature. Berkeley, CA: U of California P.  

Baby snakes are hard to identify

Eric and I were swimming one evening when I noticed a small stick floating in the corner of the pool. Upon closer inspection, it was no stick, but  an elongate limbless vertebrate in the group Serpentes (i.e., a snake!). Remember, all snakes can swim. And it was having a fine time in its little corner of the pool, but it seemed like a good idea to get it out, just so Eric wouldn't wander over there and either get too excited or too scared. I don't have much experience with snakes, but I'm pretty sure it was a baby snake, not just one of the small species, for several reasons. First, the body length is only about 12 inches.  As you can see in the full-body shot below, it fits easily into the deck drainage crack, which is only about 1/8 inch wide: Second, as you can see from that picture, the tail is very long and skinny; no rattles, either. (Woo-hoo! We just ruled out 3 of the 30 or so Florida snake species!) To me, that means this snake hasn't finished growing. Of course, I could easily be wrong here. Third, in its threat displays, it tried very hard to bite me, despite having teeth too small to do any damage, and it never managed to get me, but it did put a healthy fear into me. And fourth, I can't find a picture of anything like this snake in my guides, and it's well known that baby snakes often have vastly different markings from the adults. Going through the identification steps suggested on one helpful website, we can classify this snake as having:
  • "typical" body shape (on the range slender—typical—stout)
  • "medium" head size (on the range "no neck"—medium—broad headed)
  • blotched markings
  • round pupils (therefore not a pit viper)
Unfortunately, there are quite a few typically shaped, medium-headed, blotched snakes with round pupils in Florida and the southeast, making identification quite a bit more difficult for the non-herpetologist like me. Despite the vague descriptions above, which might be incorrect, I have no idea what kind of snake this is; do you? Here are a few more pictures: The pool fence you see in the background looks inordinately large; to give you a sense of scale, the black trim on the bottom is a whopping one inch high, and the portion of the snake on top of the "grout line" in the deck surface is about 3 inches long. This little guy did not show much gratitude for me "saving" it from the swimming pool (yes, I know snakes can swim and they can climb things that you wouldn't think they can, but still...). Once it was on the deck, it wasted no time trying to strike at me. Here's a head shot, showing its fierce disposition: It's a good thing I knew enough about snakes to know that this was not a venomous snake, but that didn't stop me from being a little weirded out anyway. Something about snakes evokes some primal sense of unease, dating back to our distant ancestral past, I'm sure (almost all apes apparently react strongly to snake and snake-like objects). In fact, modern snake genera differentiated from the rest of the serpents over 20 million years ago; on the other hand, we hominins branched off from our common ancestor in the primate group less than 5 million years ago. So we're probably pretty hard-wired to avoid snakes when we can. Even dogs have this same response; expose a dog to a snake for the first time in its life, and it "knows" not to attack. Even though fewer than 20% of advanced* snake species worldwide (and only 16% in Florida) can defend themselves with venom, it's just not worth the risk to take on a bluffing threat display from an elongate limbless vertebrate. All in all, I was just glad to get this aggressive little guy out of the pool and still have time to run inside and grab my camera, so maybe someone who knows more than I do can help me figure out what the heck it is. *Biologists classify snakes into three groups: blindsnakes (300 species worldwide), two different basal groups (160 species between them worldwide), and the Colubridae, often called advanced snakes (all the rest). The basal snakes include the charismatic megafauna among Serpentes: pipesnakes, boas, pythons. One noted researcher characterizes their outsize appeal in these terms:
I can probably recall every individual basal snake among thousands of other serpents I've seen in the field.
This group's popularity has of course led to some problems; here in the Everglades we have a potentially explosive population of Burmese Pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) to deal with. The advanced snakes, the Colubridae, make up about 80% of the world's snakes, so I'm sure there's going to be some taxonomic shuffling soon; no grouping of nearly 2000 species is safe from splitting. References Ashton, R. E. (1988). Handbook of reptiles and amphibians of Florida, part 1: the snakes. 2nd ed. Miami: Windward. Gibbons, W. (2005). Snakes of the southeast. Athens: U of Georgia P. Greene, H.W. (2000). Snakes: the evolution of mystery in nature. Berkeley: U of California P.

It isn’t easy being green

After discovering that Tropical Storm Emily wasn't going to affect us at all this weekend (well, we did got nearly a tenth of an inch of rain on Sunday) , I went over to Mom's house on Friday and found this little guy waiting for me in the garden shed:

Cuban Treefrog in the garden shed

Quite an interesting little guy. Much larger than any of our native tree frogs, the Cuban (Osteopilus septentrionalis) is usually IDed by size alone, but you can also look for the disproportionately large toe pads; no other frog in the southeast gots such big feets. He's resting on a foam kickboard I use as a knee pad, and he's by a pair of pruning shears whose locking switch is broken (hence the twisty tie). What's your biggest treefrog?

Save the Frogs Day in two weeks: get ready!

International Save the Frog Day is Friday, April 29th. How will you celebrate? I'm only a part-time frogger, having more experience with the arcade game of the same name than with the 28 species of frog and toad in Florida (Ashton & Ashton), 42 species in the Southeast (Dorcas & Gibbons), or the 101 species in the U.S. (Elliott, Gerhardt, and Davidson). But I do see them from time to time in the field, the backyard, or the house (in that last case, casa de my inlaws in Atascadero, CA). And as one of the oldest lineages in the animal kingdom (for those of you still into phylogenetic classification rather than cladistics), I have great sympathy for these little amphibians, seen here at Royal Palm Pines in 2007: According to the save the frogs website, there is one event registered in Florida, up near Tampa. Sounds like a worthwhile evening, if you're in the neighborhood. It's a bit far for me to get there from SoFla, though. Since I doubt I'll be able to make an event in the field, I think I'll do what I can (and you can, too) from my armchair: write a letter to the EPA asking them to ban one of the most effective killers of frogs out there: atrazine. Remember how sea turtles kept getting caught in fishing nets, until a bunch of concerned citizens pestered NOAA and the fisheries to invent TEDs? Until then, dead turtles were just called "bycatch" in the industry. Now, the problem is greatly reduced, because we took the time to understand the issue and come up with a simple solution. The same thing is possible here. We can significantly reduce frog and amphibian "bycatch" if EPA will simply write a rule outlawing the human and amphibian menace, atrazine. (If you want to read a chilling account of frog mutation from the 1990s, check out William Souder's A Plague of Frogs. Not pretty.) Here's what the Center for Biological Diversity has to say:
To recognize Save the Frogs Day, the Center for Biological Diversity is teaming up with other environmental organizations to call on the EPA to ban the toxic pesticide atrazine. Atrazine is a widely used weed killer that chemically castrates male frogs at extremely low concentrations and is linked to significant human and wildlife health concerns, including endocrine disruption, birth defects, fertility problems and certain cancers. Atrazine is the most common contaminant of groundwater, surface water and drinking water nationwide. It's time to ban atrazine to protect imperiled frogs and other wildlife. There's no reason to continue use of this poisonous contaminant given the mounting evidence of harm to humans and endangered species. Please take action -- send a letter to the EPA today. ****************************************** Click here to find out more and take action:
So take a minute and help our web-footed friends, won't you? References Ashton, R. & Ashton, P. (1988). Handbook of reptiles and amphibians of Florida. Part three: The amphibians. Miami: Windward. Dorcas, M. & Gibbons, W. (2008). Frogs and toads of the southeast. Athens: U of Georgia. Elliot, L., Gerhardt, C., & Davidson, C. (2009). Frogs and toads of North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Souder, W. (2000). A plague of frogs: unraveling an environmental mystery. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota.

Frogs by the garden hose

Introduced species play conspicuous roles in any ecosystem, particularly here in south Florida, the gateway to the Caribbean and most of Latin America. Every few years we hear of the potential for ecological harm posed by the latest introduction, either those that have escaped from captivity, like the walking catfishBurmese python, or Purple Swamphen; the Everglades ecosystem is still threatened by the intentional introductions of invasive plant species like melaleuca and Brazilian Pepper. Another widespread exotic species in Florida is Osteopilus septentrionalis, the Cuban Treefrog. It's the largest treefrog in North America by far, and it's considered an invasive species here. According to the USGS fact sheet on this species,
Osteopilus septentrionalis is usually introduced through horticultural shipments and plantings (especially palm trees) (Meshaka, 1996a, b, 2001; Jackson in Meshaka, 1996a; Livo et al., 1998; Mitchell, 1999; Owen et al., 2006; Enge et al. 2008), building materials (Meshaka, 1996b; Dodd and Griffey, 2002; Owen et al., 2005, 2006), and motorized vehicles (Meshaka, 1996a; Enge et al. 2008). In addition to anthropogenic dispersal, it also is possible that they can disperse throughout much of the Caribbean by rafting on floating vegetation (Meshaka, 2001). Several authors have suggested that indigenous Cuban treefrogs may have existed on Key West and the lower Florida Keys since pre-Colombian times (Lazell, 1989; Meshaka, 2001). [All references are at the aforelinked fact sheet]
However they first got here, they certainly feel at home now. (By the way, most experts classify this frog, despite its cubacentric name, as a West Indian species, because it is widely distributed in the islands. It doesn't have to worry about the wet foot/dry foot policy...) When I came home from work yesterday, M and little e greeted me with the news that one of these alien invaders could be seen at our garden hose, and sure enough, this little guy seemed quite at home there: They don't worry about whether they're supposed to be here or not; they just go on about the business of being a treefrog. Of course, since they're larger than other treefrogs, and they are frogs, which eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths, the success of the Cuban treefrog has come at the expense of our native frogs, through outright predation and competition for food and breeding resources. Despite the fact that they are competitors of some of our dwindling populations of native treefrogs, they are still quite interesting little (and not-so-little) creatures, squawking away now and then of a wet evening, calling their call (a fairly raucous scraaaack that sounds a little bit like the call of the Southern leopard frog, except that it's usually just one note, not several short ones in a row like Rana sphenocephala), looking for love. Dorcas & Gibbons (2008) describe it thusly:
The advertisement call sounds like a rasping version of a cross between an eastern spadefoot toad's incessant qwaah and a southern leopard frog's "rubbed balloon" croak.
It's easy to tell adults of this species from just about any other treefrog on account of their size: they're almost twice as large as our native species, up to 6 inches in the largest females. It's hard to tell size from a photograph, and if you don't have a native treefrog handy to compare, or you're looking at a small individual, you need to focus on other identifying characteristics. Elliott, Gerhardt, & Davidson (2009) say that you can distinguish smaller individuals from other Florida treefrogs "by its lack of stripes and other markings running from the front of the eye to the rear and sides of the body" (120). They also note that "individuals can change color rapidly, usually from some shade of brown or tan to pale green (or vice versa), and spots may appear or disappear" (120). Another way you can tell them apart, according to my Dorcas & Gibbons, is by the size of the toepad: it's "disproportionately larger than those of any other southeastern frog" (103): Yet another way you can distinguish them from our native treefrogs is their skin: they are usually pretty lumpy bumpy, while our native treefrogs look quite a bit sleeker. Furthermore, according to my Ashton & Ashton (1988),  "There is a fold of skin from the eye over the tympanum and ending on the shoulder" (177). You can see it pretty clearly in this detail: Cuban treefrogs, at least in my experience, are also pretty blase about being approached; they seem much less shy than, for example, the still unidentified critters I saw at Lake Ida ten days ago. (This could be a sign of how successful they are as a competitor; they don't fear much, perhaps because they don't have much to fear?) This is not to say that they are entirely fearless; this individual eventually tired of all the attention s/he was getting from my camera, and decided to head for greener pastures. As it got going, though, it revealed its signature markings, the wash of color on the sides and back of the legs in this shot: We're supposed to euthanize these guys whenever we find them around, but they're so well established, and the process is such a pain, I never can find it in my heart to do that. So this guy went on his merry, and I went about my business. Cheers! If you're curious, here are the instructions from UF/IFAS on how to euthanize a frog:
To euthanize a Cuban Treefrog, hold the frog firmly in your hand and apply a 1 inch bead of benzocaine ointment along the back of the frog. Benzocaine ointment is a topical anesthetic (a numbing agent) used to treat skin pain (e.g., from sunburn) and itching as well as toothaches and sore throats. There are a variety of name brand and generic versions that are available over-the-counter in a tube or spray. If you are able to, using a gloved finger spread the ointment out on the frog's back. Alternatively, you could use a benzocaine spray. Once the ointment or spray is applied, place the frog in a plastic grocery bag or a sealable sandwich bag for 15-20 minutes so that the benzocaine has a chance to render the frog unconscious (be sure to seal the bag or tie it closed). After the bezocaine has anesthetized the frog, place the bag in a freezer overnight to ensure that the frog is dead and then throw it out in your trash. If you are unable to apply benzocaine to the frog, you can simply put it in a plastic bag, seal or tie the bag shut, then place it in the freezer overnight--dispose of the bag and the frog in the trash the next day. Do not throw a bagged frog into the trash without euthanizing it first. Remember, Cuban Treefrogs have a noxious skin secretion so be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after you handle the frog, even if you wear gloves or use a plastic bag. Freezing is a humane way to kill amphibians because their bodies go into a state of torpor (metabolism slows way down) -- just as they do in cold weather outside. If the cold weather is short in duration, the frogs will come out of their torpor state. However, after an extended time in freezing temperatures, the frogs die. A good test to determine if a frog is a Cuban treefrog is to grasp the frog firmly, but gently, and try to move the skin around on the top of the frog's head with your fingertip. The skin on the head of a Cuban treefrog is fused to the top of the skull and won't move. Be sure to wash your hands after handling any frog or toad. They all secrete a slimy film to protect their skin, but the secretions of some species, like the Cuban treefrog, can irritate the skin and eyes of some people.

Watch your step!

When you're a naturalist, even just an amateur one like me, there's nothing better than to get out into the field. You don't have to answer the phone, you're not tied to the computer, you can wander, just walk where you'd like. You have the ability to stop for as long as you'd like, to check things out. And it's usually a good idea to do so. Check things out, I mean. After all, if you don't check things out, you might inadvertently run across this little nasty: It is known as urushiol, and if you're like at least 2/3 of humanity, the case of contact dermatitis you'll get will make you wish you'd looked a little more closely before you'd leaned against that tree, or chased that toy car down by the canal: Urushiol is a chemical that irritates the skin to varying degrees depending on individual sensitivity and amount of exposure. It is delivered to the skin through accidental contact with the oleoresin of plants like this: or this: The top picture is poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum), which I encountered all over my childhood and young adult stomping grounds in the West; the bottom picture is poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), which I know all too well from tromping around the natural areas of Palm Beach and Broward counties. What is oleoresin, you ask? Well, it's a naturally occurring plant product, which, as the name suggests, arises from the combination of an oil and a resin. It can occur either as a preparation (meaning someone combines the two on purpose) or, as in the case of the poisonous plants in Anacardiaceae, the very large plant family commonly called sumac, just au naturel. In case you're curious, the sumac family has much more to offer us than dermatitis. It includes such delicious products as cashew, pistachio, and mango. Of course, you have to take the bad with the good. In addition to poisons oak and ivy, the sumac family has given Florida its #1 invasive exotic pest plant, Schinus terebinthifolius, the Brazilian Pepper. To which, by the way, I am also at least mildly allergic. I now don full gloves and long sleeves to rip out any seedlings I find on my property, after experiencing some tingling in any skin that made contact with the last cuttings I made... Of course, many people have allergic reactions to cashews (I do not), or are allergic to the oleoresin in the skin and sap of the mango tree (I am). As long as you don't touch the skin, or rub the sap on yourself, you should be OK even if, like me, you're quite sensitive to urushiol. I have gotten the rash, though, when I peel mangoes myself, so I know not to do it! I picked up my latest case of poison ivy during the recent North American Migration Count. Well, actually, it happened when I was pursuing my still-unidentified amphibians while simultaneously counting birds for the NAMC. You see, while I was chasing them down, I was not careful to watch where I was going, and before I knew it, I had the dread realization that I had run up against the dreaded leaves of three with my bare legs. Fortunately, I was near a bathroom, and I was able to wash off the poison before it spread through contact, and all I got was a little blemish on my left shin that never developed into anything too annoying. Much nicer than my Easter escapade, in which my little lad threw his brand new toy car off the bridge, and his darn fool dad charged after to rescue it. I STILL have a visible mark on the inside of my right arm from that encounter, and a smudge on the outside of my hand. It's been over 6 weeks! The moral of this story: enjoy the outdoors, but watch your step!

Any froggers out there?

Getting out into the field is always fun, but some days are more fun than others. As I mentioned yesterday, I got wonderfully sidetracked by some little frogs (toads, more likely, given how scrawny the legs are) while taking pictures of birds during the May 2010 edition of the North American Migration Count: Despite having most of the field guides that should help me identify them (among others, Frogs and Toads of the Southeast, the Reptiles and Amphibians of Florida, and the Frogs and Toads of North America) I am just not good with amphibians. I grew up in Los Angeles, and played Frogger much more often than I saw real live frogs. (Lizards, I saw my fair share of, although I never went so far as to identify them to species.) So, needless to say, I haven't been able to figure out what species it is yet. Anyone out there care to help me out? I got the one good shot of this individual after several unsuccessful attempts: The good thing is, it didn't move very fast or very far, so I was finally able to get the one decent shot. And it was only after I'd gotten the shot that I took a closer look at my surroundings. I had trailed those little hoppers through what I had assumed was a tangle of muscadine grape and overgrown grass at the water's edge. After I'd stopped, I discovered that this little bugger had dragged me through not the benign wild grapes, but my old nemesis, Toxicodendron radicans. Sigh. More on that next week. In the meantime, if anyone knows what this little guy is, I'd appreciate a heads-up. Cheers!
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