All text copyright  Eitan Grunwald.  All photographs copyright  Eitan or Ron Grunwald  except photographs by others are copyright per photo credits.  All rights reserved.  Terms
FLORIDA
May 2012
3 of 3
FLORIDA
May 2012
3 of 3
       
The Florida Keys have some cool endemics I’ve never seen, including the virtually ringless Key Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus acricus), hypomelanistic Rosy Corn Snakes (formerly Elaphe gutatta roscea), the rare Florida Keys Mole Skink (Plestiodon egregius egregius), and the extremely elusive Rim Rock Crowned Snake (Tantilla oolitica).   Tim lives in the Keys, an area I’ve seldom visited and have never herped, so I eagerly take up his invitation to spend a day exploring his extended backyard.  The vistas of Florida Bay surround us in subtle variations of color and composition; it’s hard to take my eyes off the horizon. But Tim keeps me focused on our immediate habitat, and comes up with a great find practically beneath our feet.  Although I often see Northern Diamondback Terrapins, which are common along the Jersey shore, it’s a special treat to see the rare subspecies found only in the Florida Keys.   For years Tim has been on a determined  some would say admirably insane  quest for oolitica.  We spend the morning in a vain attempt to turn one up, and the search ends without a hint of success.  But a new area looks promising, and Tim makes plans to return again. And again  And again. Still, I learn something new, so I’m not disappointed.  I get the chance to dissect Tim’s technique, and to preview the oolitica chapter of a book he’s writing about the challenging hunts he’s taken on throughout his life.  Compelling reading, and a fascinating insight into the mind and behaviors of a true master. I benefit also from Tim’s persistence with another target.  Having cracked the code for this species, he leads us straight to a likely spot, and in minutes I’m admiring a rarely seen lifer.   . Postscript: In December I meet up with Tim again for another day of Keys herping.  Together with my brother, Ron, we find seven Corn Snakes, including my first-ever Rosy. I’m really taken by how different these island Corns look from the mainland variety.  Some are similar to a dark Miami-phase, but with an indistinct spearhead marking, and less black outlining the saddles.   The classic Rosy Corn is smaller and more slender, with a longer head and larger eyes, and virtually no black at all, not even the characteristic checker-boarding on the belly.  The overall appearance is subtle, a low-contrast pattern of pale orange gently blending with shades of olive-gray.       Returning to May: Time to head back to the mainland, and I stop for a final hike at the site of our Yellow Rats and Corns.  No snakes this time around, but I am surprised by the sight of a gator basking on the roots of a strangler fig tree, relatively far from water.     And speaking of gators . . . Chris invites me to his alligator show, which gives me a chance to see another master at work.     Afterwards we return to the field for one last evening of herping. Chris demonstrates just how sharp-eyed he is.  On our first-day hike I managed to see several Rat and Corn Snakes before he did, and he was momentarily impressed with my spotting skills.  Ha.  Nothing compared to his ability, which proves itself to our great advantage this night. He finds not one, but two different Scarlets on the crawl, small snakes I completely overlook as we walk along.       And the big find of the night  in fact, the highlight of the entire trip  was one I entirely missed. I’m driving as we’re road cruising, when suddenly Chris calls out, “Coral!”  I slam the brakes, Chris bails and breaks into a run, sprinting back to where we passed the snake.  It’s somewhere in the vegetation on the side of the road, no longer visible, and Chris is scrambling to find it in the dark before it disappears for good.  He gets a glimpse in his flashlight, successfully prevents an escape, and somehow manages to persuade the snake to settle down for an extended photo session.  Only my second Eastern Coral, and only thanks to Chris.     It was a rewarding conclusion to a very satisfying trip, made more meaningful by finally getting back to the Glades in spring.  My gratitude to Chris and Tim for being such great hosts and herping companions.  
Eastern Coral Snake Micrurus fulvius
Mangrove Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin rhizophorarum
Florida Keys Mole Skink Plestiodon egregius egregius
American Alligator Alligator mississippiensis
Southern Scarlet Snake Cemophora coccinea coccinea