May 16, 2016

Squirrels in the Hood

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:46 pm

Baby Red Squirrel 2 photo IMG_2953_zpskcd4w5uc.jpg

For the three people that occasionally read my blog, you may recall that I have a thing about Red Squirrels. I may appear un-naturally interested in them because I’ve featured the little red devils in several blog postings. Be advised, however, that my interest is forced -they have done everything possible to disrupt my life. I, on the other hand, have done little to stop them. In fact I have consistently forgiven them for transgressions such as filling my riding lawn mower with walnuts, nesting within the engine compartment of aforesaid lawnmower and cutting all the wires, shredding every storage box I own, and removing the entire insulating layer under my truck hood for nesting material. I have every right to wish famine and plague upon them, yet I am drawn to them like a hapless moth to flame.

Recently our paths crossed once again under the hood of my truck. Badly needing a muffler job…I said BADLY NEEDING A MUFFLER JOB, I….er, I parked the vehicle in the driveway for just under a week until I could get an appointment at Midas. On the day of the appointment I drove the truck five miles to the muffler shop for repair and returned at the end of the day to pick it up for another 5 mile trip home.

Walking up to my vehicle, parked at the far side of the lot, I spied a reddish-brown lump on the pavement under the driver’s side. “It looks like a baby squirrel,” I thought to myself, “but must be a squirrel-shaped leaf.”  Upon closer approach the lump turned out to be a squirrel-shaped baby Red Squirrel – so young that it could never had made it to that location under its own power. Deducing that the creature must have come with me as a stow-away in the engine compartment (no one else is plagued by Red Squirrels like I am), I corralled the feisty critter into a bag and returned home.

Baby Red Squirrel 1 photo IMG_2949_zps3uuf4owi.jpg

My plan was to plop it out into the yard and wait for the negligent mother to pick it up its long lost youngster with no questions asked. I never left one of my children under the hood of a vehicle, but who was I to judge? I placed the tiny orphan in the back yard next to the squirrel-infested lawn mower shed.

Hours later, I spotted the Red Squirrel baby in the driveway under my truck. The distance was a good 50 feet from where I had placed it. That would, indeed, have been an incredible journey for a barely mobile squirrelet had it of been the same animal but it was not! The original baby was still laying where I put it by the shed. No, this was baby Red Squirrel No. 2.  They were now issuing from the truck like manna from heaven. I put the two nest mates together and they immediately snuggled for warmth.

I banged on the truck hood with frustration and was answered by a muffled chatter from within. Either my oil filter was talking to me or there was a more realistic explanation. Popping it open, I espied yet another youngster of the Red Squirrel kind laying in the space under the air filter. This was baby no. 3.

Baby Red Squirrel 3 photo IMG_2954_zpsyq1ljnxh.jpg

Finding the third subject inside the engine compartment confirmed that the other two must have originated from the same spot. None could have climbed into that place on their own. Mother Red Squirrel undoubtedly brought them there for temporary placement while seeking a new nest hole. I must add that my truck is red, but can’t say if that was a factor in her decision.

Imagine the horror within her peanut-sized brain upon discovering that her children had been taken for a 10 mile joy ride. Imagine my horror upon realizing that Red Squirrel litters are usually larger than three individuals! (In other words how many of them dropped out along the way?)

I left the one baby in the engine compartment for the night and placed the other two on the ground nearby. They were all gone by the next morning and I can only hope that their mother removed them to safer surroundings. A raccoon may have feasted upon the ground babies but the lack of an engine baby points to a natural removal.

You might say that I missed a golden opportunity to rid my yard of three future Red Squirrels. It would have been so easy to hurl them into the creek and be done with it, but again I failed.  These little ones will grow up to be slightly larger ones and continue their legacy as chaos machines. I am a human moth and they are the flame.

Curious Young Red Squirrel photo IMG_2905_zpswjnwaa2i.jpg

April 22, 2016

A Shameful Case of False Advertising

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:21 pm

Cow Seeds photo IMG_2646_zpsq5lqu1px.jpg

I knew it was my moment. I purchased a pack of Cow Seeds at a garage sale. The package looked a bit worn, but thought the black & white contents might still be viable. The 10 cent price tag was ridiculously low, given that they could potentially produce 5 full grown Holsteins and, although I didn’t know exactly how much they were worth, I did know that cows were very expensive items. Keeping cool and poker-faced I boldly negotiated the price down to 5 cents and smugly walked away knowing I had bested the seller (Jack was his name – a beanstalk of a fellow who obviously didn’t know beans about value).

Because the season was late, I waited until this spring before actually planting the bovine seeds. Even though the instructions clearly stated that cow seeds did not need manure, (because they produced their own), I opted to throw them into a patch of manured ground on a small farm located west of Mackinaw City. I had no idea who owned the farmland, but thought that immaterial. My decision was hasty, but not udderly without thought. I’d return soon after and claim my animals – citing accidental planting and exhibiting the torn empty package as proof. I’d offer the farmers a few dollars for their time, feed and care of my stock and drive off with my cows in tow. Good sound reasoning, yes?

I even had it figured out that I could tap the animals for milk every few days using my left-over maple syrup spiles and buckets. If, by chance, any bulls turned up in the bunch they would have to be butchered for market using my Swiss Army Knife tool array.  But, since this package was clearly labelled Cow Seeds I doubted such a thing could happen. If it did then there would be a clear case of false advertising and the courts would back me all the way.

In retrospect, my naiveté couldn’t have been more profound. I could only have wished to deal with a simple bull issue! I suspect now that they were not, and never were, Cow Seeds but instead deliberately doctored knock-offs made to look like Cow Seeds. These seeds did not produce cows, or any sort of bovine – heck, you’d expect an errant pig or two in the mix but the trouble was much darker. Snow Buntings sprouted from the frozen manure when they were planted. Yes, Snow Buntings.

Snow Bunting photo IMG_2509_zpsfu2res6r.jpg  Snow Buntings photo IMG_2488_zpsdqbnfzsw.jpg

I’ll take some minuscule blame here. I’m not a completely ignorant. Perhaps it was a bad idea to plant the seeds on a bitter cold April day. There was always that slight risk that the resulting cows would turn out to be Yaks or Musk Oxen if the temperature was on the cool side. Perhaps Mackinaw wasn’t the smartest location either. They could have emerged as ready-tanned tourist Moccasins for sale in one of the main street shops.  Even cow birds would be on the list of expected potential unlikely outcomes, but for God’s sake who’d expect a flock of tiny flighty Snow Birds.

Trying to make root beer out of the lemons handed me, I started to snap off pictures of the birds. Not only would these be valuable proof in the ensuing law suit but I really hadn’t been this close to live Snow Buntings before. Most of these temporary winter residents were gravitating back north to their high tundra breeding grounds by this time. The males were decked out in their glorious black and white courtship garb.

Snow Bunting photo IMG_2505_zpsadqw8euo.jpg

Snow Buntings don’t molt into breeding colors. They achieve the phase through feather wear. Earlier in the season most of the body feathers were tipped in yellow brown – in which case the males looked like the females. The feather tips deteriorate over the season and leave only the stark contrasting shades intact.

Now, don’t get the idea that just because I got some good photos of these birds that I am not fuming about the whole thing. The ungrateful visitors took off like a gust of winter breeze and vanished before I was done shooting. I was left with a pile of frozen dung and deep regrets. My Five cents was gone just like that. Never again, I said to myself as I snapped the lens cover back on and trudged through the drifting snow to my car.

I will get my comeuppance. I recently purchased some Red-winged Blackbird Seeds at the Farmer’s Market and plan to sell them to Jack as Scarlet Tanager Seeds. Yes siree, he’ll wish he’d never crossed me.

Red-winged Blackbird Seed photo IMG_2650_zpsxvqb0235.jpg

April 20, 2016

Dipsy Doodle at Mackinaw

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:48 pm

 photo IMG_2372_zps5vgf1o6m.jpg

My recent spring trip to Mackinaw turned out to be winter visit. No one should expect the first weekend in April at the Straits to be like Daytona Beach, but three inches of snow and teen-degree weather was a bit extreme. Nothing looks quite so desolate as a summer town in winter. Expansive empty ferry boat lots were blanketed in un-tracked whiteness and the giant wiener atop the closed restaurant on the west edge of town was dusted in a fine coat of sugar. No one puts sugar on a hot dog or goes to Mackinaw in the winter unless they have a reason.

What, you may ask, was my reason? I was invited as a presenter at the first annual Mackinaw Straits Hawk Watch Festival. This is a newly developed spring hawk-watching site and the festival was intended as a coming out party of sorts. Well, the events themselves went very well and the attendance was terrific because the planning was impeccable (and everything was indoors). One of the hawk-watchers later told me on Saturday night that the actual hawk migration count that day was negative 14. “Yes, he said, “all the hawks were heading back south!” Oddly enough, one of those birds was a Black Vulture, which is a southern bird with no business being there. It apparently turned south upon encountering the bridge fee. The Turkey Vultures never warned him of that.

I spent my spare time making tire tracks across the ferry lot. Without interference from pesky tourists, I was able to drive my car right up to the edge of the seawall. Safe and warm inside the heated car compartment I was able to lean out the window and observe the congregation of waterfowl clustered in the blue-green waters of Lake Huron.  The birds were fairly tolerant of my car because it was white and blended well into the spring, er…winter backdrop. The single Red-breasted Merganser swimming before me was a special treat.

 photo IMG_2370_zpseu2dmqif.jpg   photo IMG_2378_zpsi9tmjofr.jpg

Aptly called “Hairy Heads,” the raggedy plumed Red-breasted Mergansers sit squarely in the middle of the saw-billed clan.  The males challenge the bold patterns of the smaller Hooded Mergansers and are close in size to the plainer Common Mergansers. I don’t see them nearly as often as these other two. When I do, I am reminded of the vivid portrait of this species executed by the artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes- an artist of near Audubon importance (see below). One of his specimens was drawn in late March 1909 at Monroe, MI, so naturally his painting is near and dear to my artist/naturalist heart.

 photo Red-breasted Merganser - Fuertes_zpspgqmanio.png

Watching the bird cruise about the near shore beach, it appeared to be engaged in fishing but was, none-the-less, distracted. Repeatedly dipping his head below for an underwater view it often craned its neck as if looking for something and only dove under once or twice. As I clicked another shot, the fancy bird quickly revealed what was really on his mind. He performed a superb “salute-curtsy.”

That aptly named maneuver may sound like something Dick Button would say as part of his Olympic skating commentary, but it is actually a courtship move.  It is intended to impress female Red-breasted Mergansers rather than a panel of judges. It was a 10 (although the Russian judge only gave it a 6). As the photo shows, the bird stuck his neck out at an angle, opened his mouth (thus highlighting the bright orange mouth lining), dipped his chest into the water, rose his rump up high, and folded his tail straight down. The magnificent crest was lowered in this case to streamline the salute – like a saber being thrust in to the air.

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Now, I’ve never seen this move except in books or on videos and surprised to see it here for there were no females about. The bird was solitary, as in completely alone, and without anyone to impress except the freezing naturalist in the white car. The only conclusion I can draw is that this individual was practicing. His mind was on courtship and no doubt getting ready for the big show.

I know the action was not intended for me, but this singular maneuver did put me on notice. In spite of the snow, wind, and cold it was actually spring according to the calendar and the bio-clock. Soon enough the sugar will melt off the dog.


April 10, 2016

One Pic Post: Air Mail

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 2:57 pm

 photo IMG_2302_zpsnlqqad6v.jpg

Although few and far between this spring, a scattering of nice spring days have bubbled up to the surface. On such days, the sun takes the edge off the cool winds enough to call them refreshing – as opposed to the de-fleshing blasts of unfriendly days. Newly hatched spiders, blossoming maples, swelling cottonwood buds, and short-wearing youth clad with heavy coats signal the return of reasonable weather.

It would normally be my preference to focus on the cottonwood or maple flowering part of the season, but since I’ve already addressed them in the past it was a choice of youth or spiders. So naturally I gravitated to youthful spiders. Actually it was trip across the road to get the mail that prompted this post (my first in half a year due to an onset of “authoritus” – meaning the writing of a book and not writer’s block).

Astride the top of the mail box, a tiny spiderling barely 2 mm across scrambled to the highest point. There it paused before assuming a tripod stance and lifted his abdomen high into the air whenever a gust of wind fluttered by. It was attempting to deliver itself as air mail unto the mercy of the postal breezes. I was struck by the ironic mix of duty and place.

Unseen to my naked eye, and to the camera lens, the potential pilot sent out a series of two or three long radiating silk threads from its spinnerets at the tip of the abdomen (thus the stance).  These lines will be grabbed by the wind and eventually lift the tiny cargo aloft. Scientists call this method of travel “ballooning.” It is a primary means of dispersal for young spiders. We are not sure what the spiders call this procedure, although the fictional Charlotte would have been able to write it out in her web. Like the babies in “Charlotte’s Web” my micro-arachnid was seeking new ground via the magic of free air.

Ballooning is a risky means of travel since the spider has little control over its fate once pulled into the air stream. After all, we all know the story of the hapless professor who started his balloon in Kansas and ended up in the Magical Land of Oz. Most spider flights take the passenger a few dozen yards – enough to get it away from its fellow spiderlings and onto new hunting grounds.  Frisky gusts, however, can take a spiderling for miles horizontally or vertically and turn them into what has sometimes been referred to as aerial zooplankton. Certainly some end up tangled in maple flowers, upon swelling Cottonwood buds, and even onto the purple hair of a short-wearing youth clad in a heavy coat.

I do not know the fate of my spiderling because it failed to launch after several attempts. To spare it further embarrassment I left it alone and now imagine that the wee spider ended up in Oz.

August 25, 2015

Whale Watching for Loons

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 8:39 pm

Common Loon photo IMG_0780_zpsq9tvnw9b.jpg

Lake George is a sizable body of water located just south of West Branch, Michigan. Like many small northern lakes it presents two faces during the summer. It becomes a boiling pot of motorboats and Jet skis during the weekend, thanks to the public launch, and a slew of private residences populating half of its shores. The other half of the lake is bordered by wild lands, however, and for most of the week it is calm and serene.

Two of the lake’s residents, a pair of Common Loons, are tied to this wild side and are the epitome of wildness themselves. It is hard to image how the birds put up with all the hub-bub – perhaps they leave for calmer waters during peak activity and then return after the last wakes die down. One could imagine that such birds would be a bit on edge.  Imagine my surprise when a recent encounter with these Loons was both up close and personal.

When my wife and I first pushed out into the Lake George water with our kayaks there was no sign of life.  The weekend boaters were gone and the lake surface was as glass reflecting a clear blue summer sky. As if entering the world for the first time, a loon magically popped up out of the water immediately ahead of my kayak. It eyed me severely and I expected it to immediately disappear from whence it came – never to be seen again. Indeed it did dive again but bobbed back up in the same place. It continued to do so as if we were not present.

Common Loon photo IMG_0639_zpsy0dkmrzp.jpg   Common Loon photo IMG_0659_zps4xxe2jai.jpg

Another bird soon joined in, also appearing to ignore our presence, and the two cavorted about, around, and under our kayaks for well over 20 minutes. Both birds were actively fishing and engaging in completely normal behavior. Swimming with their heads dipped under the surface they eyed the depths for quarry before taking a plunge. Every now and then one would open up it’s wings and send a spray of golden water droplets into the air.

Common Loon photo IMG_0625_zpsynsd5jmq.jpg  Common Loon photo IMG_0651_zps0coc9lww.jpg

It was impossible to tell where they would pop up again after a dive and, more often than not, they’d surface even closer than the point at which they disappeared.  The only wildlife viewing experience I could equate this to was whale watching off the coast of Maine. Although the scale was dramatically different, the quality was in the same category. Upon re-surfacing they even audibly expelled air! And frankly, there really is nothing to compare to the look of those fiery red eyes with mere pin-prick pupils.

Common Loon photo IMG_0789_zpsbc7oyy3r.jpg   Common Loon photo IMG_0787_zpsc7y3ghtl.jpg

At the time, the event seemed a “once in a lifetime” thing and we were willing to accept it as so. Upon returning to the lake a week later, however, the sequence repeated itself and the only limiting factor turned out to be our available time on the water. We were the visitors to this lake and the loons, well, were residents operating within the limitless bounds of wildness.

Common Loons astride a Kayak photo IMG_0617_zps0ggipkdh.jpg

July 23, 2015

Flight of the Sphinx

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 9:17 pm

Spurge Sphinx pupal skin photo IMG_0090_zps65so1n5y.jpg

Last summer I brought you some incredible views of a Spurge Sphinx caterpillar from Northern Michigan. Later in the month, after the leathery burrowed into the soil to complete its third stage of metamorphosis, I peeled back the moss to reveal the equally fascinating pupa at the end of the tunnel. The adult emerged last month, after a long frigid winter at the bottom of a dirt filled coffee cup, and it was worth the wait.

I was afraid of missing the moment and came close to doing so. One can never tell when the moth will emerge after months of non-activity. There was even the possibility that the winter would prove too much – especially given how low the thermometer plunged at times– and that the pupae would perish. Let’s just say that it was an incredible relief to finally peel off the lid last month and see the empty pupal skin (see above) and its former occupant clinging to the side.

Spurge Sphinx Pupal Skin photo IMG_0082_zpskyy9za97.jpg  Spurge Sphinx Adult photo IMG_0076_zpswxewsx8r.jpg

I missed the actual emergent moment by a day or so and could see that the moth had been out for at least one night of activity within the container. Many of the scales were worn off the back of the thorax and the ends of the wings were slightly worn, but it was in pretty good shape otherwise. Spurge Sphinxes, like most of their clan, are subtle beauties to behold. The rosy flush evident on the body and undersides was especially magnificent on this individual.

Taking it outside for a better look in the low evening sun, it began to vibrate its wings in preparation for takeoff. Moths need to raise their body temperatures up to near human levels in order for the thorax muscles to work and they do so by shivering. This one began with a staccato flutter of the wings (see movie here) which evolved over the course of a few minutes into a blurry all-body tremor (see second movie here).

Just before takeoff, the thing was shaking so much that it was perpetually out of focus – or appeared so. With a final wipe of the eyes and a twist of the head it rose off my finger and flew off (see final departure here). Yes, it did seem to motion with the foreleg, as if giving a wave, but I won’t go there. I’m the one that eventually waved, saying “it’s been good knowing you.”

July 13, 2015

What Do the Skinka Do?

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 8:35 pm

Five-lined Skink Sunning photo IMG_0348_zpsqsefxcqk.jpg

The skinka – the five-lined skinka to be precise –do what it hasta do to stay alive and healthy. A big part of this survival strategy involves keeping the inside fires burning and because lizards like skinks don’t have inside fires they depend largely upon the generosity of the sun. For them life is all about generating warmth, keeping it, and turning it down when necessary.  An overly warm or dangerously cool skink is a lifeless skink. Cold-blooded creatures are not held hostage by solar power and ambient air temperatures, however. They can play the micro-habitats within a habitat like a fine-tuned instrument. A deeply shaded spot will allow for cooling, a lightly shaded location permits a slight elevation in body temperature, and a bright patch of open sun will, well, you get the idea. They move around quite a bit over the course of a day, an hour, and even a minute to exploit the mini spots within their macro domain.

The word to cover this life skill is behavioral thermoregulation, is only slightly shorter than the length of the creature itself. I promise not to use it again except in passing.

My Dollar Lake dock is part of the range of a cluster of Five-lined Skinks who use it from time to time for sunning. I never know when I’ll spot one and will go many months between sightings. Last week I nearly stepped on one. The individual, an adult male, was only slightly perturbed by my presence. Adult Skinks lose the five line blue-tailed look of youth as they mature and attain a bright reddish hue about their heads – looking as if they were victim of a head cold.

Five-lined Skink Sunning photo IMG_0347_zpsygxupvbw.jpg     Five-lined Skink Sunning photo IMG_0345_zpsgeh3hzdl.jpg

The skink did a surprising thing within my view. Rather than run off, it pressed its belly and chest flat against the dock wood and folded his feet back as if in a strait jacket. In this legless pose the thing absorbed heat from the warm surface. Within a moment or two it rose up and flitted across the dock and jumped into the shoreline weedery.  This being the first time I’ve actually observed a behavior other than fleeing I was fascinated by this deliberate little act of thermoregulation. It was a tiny peek into the skinkas daily do…ings.

July 2, 2015

Woodpecker Watering Hole

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 9:16 pm

Red-belly at the Tree Bar photo IMG_0173_zpstnyihoz1.jpg

Woodpeckers will come to earth, so to speak, for the purpose of getting liquid refreshment but many of them avoid this potentially dangerous trip by frequenting tree top watering holes. Certain shallow tree cavities regularly accumulate rainwater and serve nicely as natural reservoirs. One such drinking establishment exists on a Red Maple overhanging my shed at Dollar Lake.

Red-belly at the Tree Bar photo IMG_0175_zpso2dwlusv.jpg

I managed to catch a Red-bellied Woodpecker in the act one fine late June morning. It spent several minutes dipping into the reservoir and raising its beak to let the refreshment obey the laws of gravity and slide gently throat-ward. Based on the obvious look of satisfaction the bird’s time was well spent. It left with a red(dish) belly full.

Such tree water probably has a strong “woody” taste in the best of conditions but this might be a preferred essence for discriminating woodhammering fowl.

Red-belly at the Tree Bar photo IMG_0177_zpsbltkkhsp.jpg

June 28, 2015

A Midge with Mites Upon’em

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 4:32 pm

Midge with Mites photo IMG_0198_zps5neiliim.jpg

A midge with mites upon ‘em

might be covered top to bottom.

Though small the midges are,

Their mites are tinier by far.

Let me start out by saying that Chironomid Midges are not Mosquitoes.  Similar looking to their blood-sucking dipteran cousins, they do not, and cannot, bite humans. I figure that knowing this will enable you to reserve your slapping energy this summer.   As larvae, midges live in the water and glean a living off microscopic plant matter and detritus. As adults they emerge and engage the world as flying beasts – seeking sap and each other.

Several of these critters landed around me one afternoon. All of them were males seeking refuge from the wind under the porch eaves. I was reading a book about making moonshine whiskey but I doubt that had anything to do with my sudden attraction.  Male Midges have hairy “plumose” antennae which make them easy to separate from the narrow-antennaed females. Heeding my own advice I did not try to shoo them away. Instead, I did the opposite and carefully observed them through the lens of my camera. When several revealed that they had passengers in the form of tiny red mites I was, as they say, “engaged.” Those ensy-weensy flies had ensy-weensier cargo attached to their legs.

Without getting into details, there are probably dozens of species of mite that infest midge flies alone. I found at least nine species over the course of my cursory review of the subject and all are members of a group known as Hydrachnidia. Like the midges, the mites are aquatic in the very first stages of life. They attach to the midge nymphs and transfer to the adult when it emerges. While attached they feed on the body fluids (aka blood) and eventually drop off into the water to resume an aquatic life. While their young are parasites (specifically ecto-parasites – which means they stay on the outside of the body), the adult mites are aquatic predators. Mites are related to spiders and possess eight legs when adult.

Midge with Mites photo IMG_0194_zpsawidav81.jpg

Given the amount of mites glomming onto the two midges I photographed it is amazing that their host could fly, yet all flew with ease. The mites were concentrated on the legs and thorax and left the wings unencumbered. There is no way I could identify the specific mite species involved here because even on an enlarged image they looked like fuzzy views of the planet …er, excuse me…the planetoid Pluto. Researchers, however, have done some work on this topic and discovered that some feed exclusively on the thorax while others concentrate on the long segmented abdomen.

Midge with Mites photo IMG_0181_zps8semsyz9.jpg

My small, along with their smaller, visitors would take flight after a few minutes and leave me to ponder several final thoughts. First, I assume that it is bad taste among midges to mention, or otherwise point out, the presence of mites on their fellow midges much in the same way as it is verboten to point out pimples or warts on humans. Secondly, it is imperative that these midge mites return to the water. It is their duty, therefore, to suck just enough blood out their host to live on but leave enough so that they can return to the lake. The idea is for the male midges to assemble with the females in huge midge clouds for the purpose of mating. I am guessing this is the moment chosen for the mites to drop off or forever regret their decision. There is much I do not know about midge mites, but for the moment this will have to do. Moonshine whiskey sounds a bit more fascinating for the time being.

June 18, 2015

Queen Among Snakes

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 9:14 pm

Queen Snake photo IMG_0135_zpssncjkewt.jpg

I was at the Huron River boat launch waiting for my group to show up and had time to kill (and no problem killing it because the rain clouds were still a half hour away). Looking over the edge of the board walk at the water’s edge I spied an interesting snake draped on the grape vines below.  It literally looked as if was carelessly tossed onto the greenery.

Small and dusky blue gray in color, the creature lacked the expected mottling or patterning of a Northern Water, Garter, or Fox Snake – the common local species of record. A creamy yellow side-stripe bordered by a chocolate stripe pegged it as a Queen Snake and a truly interesting find. I’ve only managed two sightings of this unique critter over the past 30 years or so.

Queen Snake photo IMG_0146_zpslukecwmd.jpg  Queen Snake photo IMG_0140_zps7qwvao5v.jpg

Queens are only found in southern and southwestern part of the state and are never common within their range. In fact, these water snakes are becoming a bit scarce because of their sensitivity to polluted or heavily silted waters. They specialize on crayfish as prey and seek freshly molted individuals as a way to prevent hard shells and pinching claws.

I am at a loss to completely describe the background meaning of the Queen Snake’s name and the scientific name is of little help. Dubbed Regina septemvittata, the whole thing can be translated as the “seven-striped Queen.”  Only young snakes exhibit the seven stripes of note. The adults darken in color and only display four real stripes. While King Snakes are snake eaters, and thus rule over all snakes, I can’t come up with a good generality about Queens other than they tell everyone to eat cake! In the long run, it really doesn’t matter.

The rain clouds traveled faster than expected and a heavy cloudburst eventually propelled the reptile back into the water after a few minutes. Fortunately, I got a good viewing of the Queen and was happy for the opportunity to share it with you.

Queen Snake photo IMG_0144_zpsccliya83.jpg

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