We are about to embark on our second week of fieldwork. Students have had the weekend at home to do laundry and regroup before we head off to Barber County and the Alexander Ranch. I’m told that this will be the first KU party to visit the ranch in 40 years.
Our hope is that with a little rain we might also be among the few to ever hear a chorus of the Red-spotted toad in Kansas. Our second stop will be Baxter Springs in Cherokee County, home to a number of salamanders found nowhere else in the state.
Last week was a great success. I’m so proud of the students! Many are pre-health care students headed for careers as nurses, doctors, and physical therapists. Perhaps unlikely participants in a field biology course, but here they are catching lizards, snakes and frogs. While handing a prairie king snake at the end of last week, one student remarked “If you’d told me a week ago that I’d be wrangling snakes for a photo session, I’d have told you that you were nuts!” Yet, here she was, pillowcase held over the snake on a picturesque rock set against a landscape of sandstone, mixed grasses, and desert plants at Wilson State Lake.
Our most exciting finds last week were the abundance of Collared lizards in central Kansas, the grass-swimming Glass lizard (which has no legs), some “horned toads” (really lizards), and two 5’ long Coachwhip snakes. Who knows what this week will hold.
-David McLeod, instructor
Today was cold. Very cold. Too cold to find any herps — except one. Perry brought a tiny snake from the genus Calamaria that he found near his tent.
Up until now, I had avoided handling any of the snakes. I don’t mind holding domesticated pet snakes, but I’m still hesitant about wild snakes. I asked to hold the snake. Anthony handed it over. Rafe could see my nervousness and reassured me — “Don’t worry. Calamaria don’t bite.” Right as he said that the little snake decided to sink his vicious little teeth as hard as he could into my finger, right above the knuckle of my right index finger. I yelled out in surprise “Yes they do!”
Rafe had to pry Lil’ Jaws of Death off me. Specimen RMB 13503 actually made me bleed. So be warned — although Calamaria survive on a diet consisting mostly of earthworms, their bite can pack quite a punch. I’m currently sporting on my hand a bloody bite mark the exact size and shape of a 12 point font parenthesis mark.
I’ve discovered on this trip that one of the most satisfying things for a herpetologist is for them to spot and catch a herp. I was a bit mopey yesterday because I failed to spot AND catch a single thing the night before. The boys, trying to help out, would point out a frog or gecko to me and let me catch it. But it is much more satisfying if I actually spot it myself and make the capture on my own.
Last night I had my best night yet, spying and catching four Rana similis by myself. This was my biggest contribution yet. I also learned last night that although I can be utterly giddy with the successful capture of four Rana, nothing can satisfy the boys more than catching a snake. Definitely the “trophies” from last night’s collecting would be the two snakes. And the skinks come in on a close second on this trip for most satisfying to capture. Man, those skinks are hard to find!