I may have bent the Internet a little lately by posting a photo of some Cottonmouths. I’ll discuss that as an addendum to this initial post. Cody and I, doing one of our usual excursions, decided to wander over to Hawn State Park in Missouri and look around for the usual mix of reptiles, amphibians, birds, weird insects and plants that make up our average adventures.
On the roadside we ran across a large patch of blooming Rose Vervain, a floriferous plant of dry open rocky areas.
Once at Hawn we swiftly discovered this Goatweed Leafwing, or as I like to call it the Flying Dorito, accompanying a few other butterflies.
As we rounded a corner, the third of my most-wanted butterflies came into view (Goatweed Leafwing, Pipevine Swallowtail, and now this:)
Falcate Orangetips, lifer butterflies for me, are locally common Southern butterflies that only emerge early in the spring. This beautiful male (only males have orange wingtips) stopped its near-constant flying to show us its intricate side pattern. Unusual fact about these butterflies- unlike most butterfly species, the larvae of Falcate Orangetips are cannibalistic.
Another unusual insect in the area is the Bess Beetle. Bess Beetles are social to an extent, often living and raising young together, even communicating with squeaking noises (which they will also do as an alarm call when handled.) This Bess Beetle decided to go up and wave about on a log, for reasons only explicable by beetle logic. While taking this photo, something scurried noisily in the leaf litter behind the log, my lifer…
Southern Coal Skink! Missouri has tons of lizards, compared to any state I’ve visited outside of Florida. I don’t know what it is about the Ozarks that results in such a plethora of lizards, but I definitely like it. Coal Skinks use their brown and black coloration to hide in plain sight among leaves, as shown above quite readily.
Among the most common is the Prairie Lizard, the more abundant replacement of the Eastern Fence Lizard west of the Mississippi, and we found several of these guys head-bobbing on nearby logs.
Skinks can be quite hard to ID so many of the lizards we saw remained unidentified. After a bit, we decided to climb up into the hills and look for things under the rocks.
A lifer Western Slimy Salamander was a highly welcome surprise under a rock I flipped. Slimy Salamanders used to all belong to the same species but someone decided that there needs to be 13 different species of Slimy Salamander, based mostly on range and genetics. This is my second member of that complex… eleven to go.
Nearby, a Common Gartersnake cruised about hungrily. If I was writing a nature documentary like all the BBC ones, I’d cut back and forth with ominous music between the Western Slimy Salamander and the Common Gartersnake, until nothing ends up happening because the two individuals are widely separated by distance and edited to look closer together. Unfortunately, I don’t have the BBC funding me, so this is as good as it gets.
Cody and I continued to flip rocks, and we managed to find a decent number of lizards in between all the ants and wolf spiders.
As this is Missouri, there’s a few things present here under rocks that aren’t in Illinois and are more typical of the Southeast or Southwest. One of those is scorpions, specifically Striped Bark Scorpions. Cody was treated to the suprise of five scorpions under one rock, an individual of which is below. Flipping rocks is like gambling- you never know what your luck is going to be and sometimes you hit a jackpot (of scorpions).
The sun began to set more and more, so we moved off to home, strolling back through the filtered sun of pine-scented woods (that made Cody sneeze nonstop from the pollen.) Etc. etc. drove home the end.
Alright, now I’ll get to the Cottonmouth story.
I enjoy wandering about the Shawnee National Forest, and I found a location that looked good for plants, potentially- a pond deep in the hills. I ended up getting lost multiple times and stumbled across the pond, looking down to this sight below. Words were said, to the tune of “Holy s–t!” I then proceeded to put my hand down six inches away from Cottonmouth #31, coming in to join the pile.
Since I’d never seen a thick pile of Cottonmouths like this before, I figured I’d post the image online. It blew WAY up. I presume they’ve just emerged from a den I didn’t know they had. Since juveniles and adults were mixed in together, I presume it’s more communal basking and not the proverbial “mating ball of Cottonmouths”. This presumption was supported by a few commenters on my online posts. Well, time to send it back out once more into the net, with the statement that this is very rare to see, none of the Cottonmouths chased me or anything, and you’d have to be well off the beaten path to find this. Don’t ask for locations. Have a good day!