Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Herpin' 'Round the World" or "Reptile Reminiscing"

With all of this snow and wintry business, there's been no warm windows to go out and winter herp, or even consider doing so. We've had so much snow, low temperatures, and general icy nastiness, herping in Pennsylvania is a distant memory...or dream...or whatever. It's just not been a plausible idea (even for winter). I've been jonesin' for spring as it is, and definitely can go for some warmer weather to facilitate my herping problem.

With that all being said, I've been paying attention to my current herp pets (two eastern box turtles, a White's blue phase tree frog, a painted chubby frog, a juvenile red-eared slider, an oriental firebellied toad, a fire salamander, just to name a few) and watching them more to satiate my herp hunger (that sounds filthy). Reading fellow herpers' blogs also got me all nostalgic at some of my past finds as well. All of these things made me decide to write a "throwback" blog to some of my historical (and best) finds, all on vacations, and not all in PA. So it's Throwback...Tuesday. 

Delaware Water Gap, Northeastern PA, circa 1998:

I'm not entirely sure when exactly this was. I believe it was my 7th grade summer. I was a strapping young lad, brace faced and awkward. When I wasn't fending off the ladies from all that adolescent man-candy, I was doing nerd things. Like, SUPER nerd things. One of those things (which now, is totally cool) was herping. Thinking back before cell phone cameras, or even regular digital cameras, were readily available and smaller than your wallet, I had some pretty respectable finds. This story contains one such respectable find.

I went to upstate PA with my friend and his parents for a few days to a cabin they rented yearly on a country club/resort type place near the Delaware Water Gap. My friend shared my interest in herping, so this was a perfect pairing. His father was an enabler, being interested in herps as well, so we were in great hands, much to his mother's dismay. We'd also do a lot of fishing, which was not only fun, but of course conducive to my herping addiction. My finds were mainly at a small pond near the side of the road where my friend (who I shall call Krabs) and his dad (who for comedic purposes, I shall call Mr. Krabs) have fished in previous years. It was LOADED with frogs and turtles. We fished (and herped) during the day and even at night, which was awesome. I found a few really healthy green frog specimens:

I'm on an all-protein diet, bro.
That lil' fella was about two inches long. In between catching sunnies and a few other assorted fishies, I would catch a much bigger greenie (Lithobates clamitans).

Seen here in his natural habitat: a cooler with lily pads thrown in.
I would release the green frogs after holding them against their will briefly like the TSA at the airport. My next find I kepy a wee bit longer. At this pond, many a frog alluded my capture: steep banks, high vegetation, and me with no net. Bunches of greens and bullfrogs jumped in whilst yelping. Every time one called and jumped in, they sounded like Nelson from The Simpsons shouting "Ha-Haa!!" at me. Eventually, we spotted a BEAUTIFUL bullfrog bellowing in a catchable position. I grabbed him after diving head first into the bank of the pond, and boy, was I happy. It may be one of my best physical catches to date. This guy wasn't very big, but he had a BRIGHT yellow belly and beautiful green markings. I decided to keep him for a few days in my frog cooler prison. We would let him jump around the cabin porch, even on the kitchen table, and watch with glee.

"...I'm so full of glee!"
Fishing also helped us hook some painted turtles. Krabs and I each caught one with our rods. For story purposes, I caught the larger one. Krabs wanted to keep these and take them home. Here's another picture of a picture, since I'm too lazy to scan them into the computer:

Superior photography skills at work. And yes, the original picture is indeed that shitty.
They were both decent sizes. We kept these guys for a few days.These turtles weren't the only turtles we'd find. Oh no. We ventured on to the golf course one day (because why not) even though we weren't really allowed to mill around on the golf course if we weren't golfing. We dodged golf balls (because I say we did to spice this story up) and ran over to a creek that ran along the side of the course. Krabs and I looked around and didn't find anything at all, when I noticed a head sticking up from the middle of the creek. Whatever it was blended in with the big rock it was sitting on in, sunning itself in the middle of the creek. It was a ginormous wood turtle, which I had never seen before. I jumped in the creek and quickly scooped him from the rock. I'm sure he didn't mind at all. His carapace (fancy "shell" synonym) was over a foot long. He was the biggest herp I've ever caught to date; I couldn't get over how big he was (obligatory "that's what she said..."). We ran back across the golf course to show Mr. & Mrs. Krabs, Mr. Krabs was amused, Mrs. Krabs was not. Being about 13 years old, we convinced them to allow us to keep our finds for at least until the end of the trip.

I love sleepovers.
After a few more days of trout fishing, attempted frog catching, and good times, we headed home with our reluctant bounty. I knew my parents weren't going to let me keep any of these animals, but being young and stupid, I tried anyway. Mr. and Mrs. Krabs figured they'd let me learn a lesson I guess, and Krabs was totes jeal of my new short-term pets. When I got home, my parents of course were almost furious (especially my mother) I took animals home and out of the wild. The wood turtle (glyptemys insculpta) was described by the both of them as "a dinosaur" because of its size, and since it looked pretty prehistoric roaming my back yard. And again, this thing was ridiculously big. 

I'm a grown-ass man.

After a few days, I had to set them free. No, I did not put them in the alleyway, nor did I dump them in a park just because there's grass there. NAY! I put them all in a huge wildlife reserve right outside the city. I let them go near a creek with small "ponds" that collected in the middle of them and watched them all scurry away (except the wood turtle. He was slow.) I was sad, but I learned a valuable lesson about taking animals from their natural habitat...and never really applied that lesson. One funny thing about that wood turtle though that I had still heard even up until very recently: he's still around. How, you ask? Well for one, every once in a while, the news stations do stories about the wildlife refuge (as a special feature or whatever since it's not a murder). When they mention the refuge, they briefly go over the types of animals you may encounter there. EVERY time they mention the animals, when they get to the reptiles and amphibians, they always add in something like "...and it's even home to a wood turtle, a rare species for this area." EVERY. TIME. Secondly, they're pretty rare for the Philadelphia area. Ergo: they're talking about MY wood turtle. And I think that's pretty cool.

Orlando, Florida, circa every time I've been there:

One constant besides anoles whenever I go to Disney World are these guys: Cuban tree frogsI've caught loads of them; more than green tree frogs, toads, anoles (although anoles are EVERYWHERE.) I usually catch them right outside my hotel rooms. They're considered invasive (seeing as how they're called "Cuban" and not "Floridian" tree frogs. We'll get to invasive species later. Science!). Here's one of the only pictures of the abundant lil' bastardos:

"When I play the maracas, I go 'chic chicky boom.'"
The last time I was in Disney, I did the extended hours at the parks, complete with color-coordinated what park I'd be visiting when.

Here, for no reason at all, is a family of mallard ducks waiting for the shuttle bus with us. 

Hopefully, they did not eventually get squished.

One evening, I was in Epcot. Grabbed some food and sat around "Japan" where I absolutely was taking more pictures of the herps I was seeing in the koi ponds than I was of the Disney scenery.

The Most Magical Place on Earth!
Tourists usually take photos of important stuff. I took pictures of a man-made pond in the middle of an amusement park.

Natural Disney.
I looked down and round in the water to see if I could find anything close enough to photograph. My first herp was a green frog tadpole:

Unused Disney Character: Petey Polliwog!

I sat around for a while, just relaxing...possibly waiting for food...when some juvenile greenies popped up.

...or is he a bullfrog?
I stick by my initial identification. Shortly after, another one appeared.

This one is definitely a green.
Another common sight were, as stated earlier, anoles. Green and brown, usually, although they're so fast, it's kinda hard to tell sometimes. I love watching tourists scream at them if they scurry across their path, or watch them in awe as if an alligator just strolled up from the pool where they used to have the 2000 Leagues Under the Sea ride. "Foreigners" (i.e. tourists not of this continent) usually seem to be the ones that react to the lizards the most drastically. I wouldn't be surprised if some naive Norwegian family mistook one for the crocodile from Peter Pan. Of course, the Japanese tourist are the most easily frightened and intrigued, both snapping 800 pictures then screaming incoherently when the little fella scurries off. This one that I decided to pursue was a Cuban brown anole:

"Oooohh! Gojira!" - every Japanese tourist
Cuban browns are an invasive species (ANOLES, of course...you racist). There's that word "invasive" again: For those who don't like nature and think all forests should be turned into shopping malls, "invasive" species of animals are non-native to an area's ecosystem, and invades and disrupts the balance of the native species. So picture taking a bunch of lions from Africa and setting them free in New Jersey: they're going to fuck shit up. Cuban brown anoles are from (you guessed it) Cuba, as well as the Bahamas, and since riding tires across the Caribbean and establishing themselves in Florida, they kinda have been blamed for displacing native green anoles.

"I'm invasive? YOU, sir, are invasive! Invasive of my personal space!"

I'm not going to lie: I've had a terrible track record with catching anoles, both wild, and ones I get from PetSmart that escape all the time. However, I have resounding proof that I have indeed caught at least one, one time, sans net, bare handed in the "wilds"...of Disney World. 

Here is a random picture of a white ibis we saw roaming the front lawns earlier that day:

Foe to herps everywhere.
I also saw bunnies.

Another evening, I literally did everything there was to do the one night in the Magic Kingdom, since there were barely any other people there. I met those rare characters like Donald Duck that you usually have to offer to blow a park employee to get near. I even managed to get some herping in right in front of Cinderella's Castle! Whilst walking out of the park around 1 AM, there was a friggin' 'uge bullfrog right in the middle of the pathway! He was smack dab in the middle of what normally would be a path flooded with sweaty tourists. I picked him up, posed for pictures, because of course I did.

"This is bullshit."
I placed him in the grass near a pond so that no one else would mess with him like I did. I always get nervous for animals that (like in the case of the ducks near the shuttle bus) either a) have no fear of humans, or b) are too stupid to move, when they're in such close proximity to the general public. I fear that other people that would pick this guy up wouldn't be so kind to him. People put hamsters in microwaves, so I trust no one.

"I'm going to go eat a mouse now...JUST FOR SPITE."
No one looked at me funny, either. They were the ones taking pictures with poor college kids dressed in fake talking animal costumes...

..and then there was the demon bunny.

"My eyes glow red with the blood of the fallen."

Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, Mexico, circa 2008:

On my one trip to Mexico, I of course had to sample the local fauna. My first real encounter was in my room upon returning from dinner one night. To my total lack of surprise, there was a visitor on the wall: a common house gecko

"Don't mind me."
I managed to capture him with little effort (admittedly surprisingly, fa' real), and promptly snapped his picture. I apologize in advance for the raw, rugged, handsome man-ness you're about to inadvertently see (ladies).

I will love him, and pet him and call him "George".
There was a nature preserve that I snorkeled in and explored the nature trails, with ridiculously prehistorically gargantuan leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles, but they were kinda captive, so they didn't really count. However, there were small herds of iguanas (mainly spiny-tailed) roaming around all over the place, and I got fairly close to this guy, who's missing a hand. This one, I believe, is a Ctenosaura similis.
 I could have probably scooped him, but I prefer to keep all of my phalanges...unlike Stumpy, down there...

His ghost-hand is actually flipping me off.
One TOTALLY AWESOME experience was going down to Tulum, about 20 minutes south of Riviera Maya, to snorkel on a not-so-crowded beach. It was here that I went in by myself (while poor touristy schlubs paid for "snorkeling tours" about 50 yards from me) and SWAM WITH FREAKIN' GREEN SEA TURTLES!!!

Unfortunately, this is best picture of a picture of me swimming with said sea turtles.
This was some Little Mermaid shit. I would say "this is some Aquaman-type shit" instead, but that'd be lame. Maybe Namor. He's not as lame as Aquaman. But I digress. I was close enough to grab their shells and have them drag me in the water like frickin' Poseidon! 

'Twas magical. I was singing "A Whole New World", Aladin-style, except under water. Wrong Disney movie.
But I didn't, sadly. There were signs all over the place to NOT touch the wildlife. Stupid conscience. The Mexican government wouldn't have ever found out if I rode a protected sea turtle like a boogie board, but they still denied me that chance. 

I also had the overwhelming urge to yell "Cowabunga" while doing so.
Oh well. It was one of the coolest herping experiences...scratch that, just one of the coolest experiences ever. Being that close to wild sea turtles was something I may never experience again. I swam around with them for as long as they stayed in the area. I literally may have swam with them for an hour or so. It just didn't get boring to me at all. They swam around, feeding on plants at the bottom. I was able to get right up on them pretty much every time. They accepted me. I was one of them now. This must be what those crazy people who live with wolves feel like! I guess they're used to maniacs like me harassing them on their daily routines.

"Don't make eye contact, Jimmy. He'll leave eventually."
I have a bunch more pictures (of pictures) that I could show you all, of stingrays, skates, and all sorts of fishies, but this is a herping blog. Plus the photos themselves are from a plastic case that you put a disposable camera in so you can take underwater pictures, so it's not exactly National Geographic quality. That case got the job done, though. I should probably invest in at least a decent digital camera eventually. Then, I should also at least take the time to scan the photos in instead of using my smartphone to take a picture of a photograph and email it to myself to put on here.

Personally, think the flash adds composition to these shots.
Of the bunches of other aquatic sea life I encountered, (even the 3-foot long barracuda that made me piss myself as I plunged into knee-deep water as the very first thing I saw right in my face) the turtles were the highlight of the trip.

Caution: Nightmares may be closer than they appear.
Those are but a few documented herping encounters I've had when I was supposed to be doing tourist-things in places I've never been before. Vacation priorities, people.

"You blew this opportunity. No bueno. Adios, fuckface."


  1. This is a fantastic idea... when we can't get to the herps, lets let the herps get to us... in wonderful memories! I've been thinking of a "History of Herping" type thing for a while but have been too lazy!

    Oh, and thank you for the plug!

    1. yea I'm jonesin' to get out there. I'm thinking a balmy 40 degree damp night in mid/late March may yield some early active finds. Stop being lazy and do what I did: take pictures of pictures!

      as for the plug: I always support my fellow herpers. Just spread the love! haha