Friday, September 14, 2012

It's a Jungle Out There

Friday morning dawned beautiful, as it as all week here at Myrtle Beach. On vacation we watch the Weather Channel faithfully every morning as we plan the day's adventures. I sent this photo to Abrams and Bettes at the Weather Channel, and they showed MY PHOTO at 8:20 am!! The studio crew ooohed and aaahed on the air, and Mike Bettes praised it with "Score!" (I think they liked all the clouds.) Thousands of people who are absolute strangers heard "Kathy Dennis" on national TV! WHOO-HOO!

We love the National Wildlife Refuge system, and always look for one nearby when we go on vacation. Waccamaw NWR isn't too far from Myrtle Beach, so we put the address in the GPS and headed down the road. When Gabby (our GPS) said we had arrived, we knew we hadn't because we were still in the middle of Georgetown, SC. Luckily, a guy at a small gas station knew what we were talking about and told us to drive another 17 miles down the road. We discovered that we left out one digit in the street address, so it wasn't Gabby's fault. The visitor's center was outstanding but there weren't many trails. Located in portions of Horry, Georgetown, and Marion Counties, Waccamaw NWR's acquisition boundary spans over 55,000 acres and includes large sections of the Waccamaw & Great Pee Dee rivers and a small section of the Little Pee Dee River. A volunteer at the center directed us to a recreation area at the other end, closer to our starting point, so off we drove again.

The trail went off into the swamps, and as we walked I kept remembering all the alligators we saw in SW Florida. That time we were riding in a car, however, not walking down a path in the middle of no where.  I lookied around anxiously. Are you supposed to run from a 'gator or stand still, I asked, knowing that if it were important to make that decision, it would be too late. How would we describe our location to 911? ACK!

Then I gasped, and stopped before stepping on this slender brown stick, that turned out to be a snake about 15 inches long, not a stick. "What a cute little hognose," I said, zooming in and out, snapping the camera shutter. "See his little upturned nose?"

Well, after we got back, and I started to go through the photos, I noticed that his head had a triangular look to it. This isn't good.

"Dick, do venomous snakes have vertical pupils?" He agreed that they do. OH MY GOD! Look at this closeup of his face!  See the pit between his eye and nose? A pit viper!  This is a venomous snake after all!!!

Google found a website from the Florida Museum of Natural History with a great comparison of cottonmouths and copperheads, which bear a close resemblance to each other. Copperhead: The dark bands on the side have no dark spots in them. Cottonmouth: The dark bands on the side have dark spots in them. See the dark spots on this guy's side? It's definitely a cottonmouth.

Although he raised his head a little, he didn't actually open his mouth, or we might have known earlier.

Being polite to nature, we stepped aside when he started to move, and watched him slide into the leaves beside the trail, where he became much harder to see. Since ignorance is bliss, we strolled on down the trail.

A little farther, we noticed a large red and black ant, busily running back and forth, making it hard to take a photo.  An article in South Carolina Wildlife magazine identified this as the red velvet ant.  The red velvet ant isn’t an ant; it’s a wasp. The females do pretty good ant imitations, though. Three-quarters of an inch long and wingless, their black bodies tufted on the thorax and abdomen with dense orange-red hair, they look amazingly like very big ants. But wasps they are, and, like other wasps, they can inflict repeated stings that pack enough wallop to spur their common nickname: cow killer.  Dick tried to steer the ant back into range for a photo by putting his foot in front of its path. Good thing it didn't get really p_ssed with him, or it might have crawled right into his shoe!

Just remember, boys and girls, it's a jungle out there!  And we call ourselves naturalists!


Anonymous said...

that is a copperhead. the color bands on the body give it away. Plus if it was a cottonmouth the bands around the eyes make more of what is commonly known as a "zorro mask"

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous comment that the snake pictured is a copperhead, not a cottonmouth. The Florida Museum of Natural History comment about dark spots is confusing. I think it refers to the fact that the dark bands of cottonmouths are more irregular. Copperheads have distinctive, smooth-edged hourglass (or Hershey Kiss) shaped bands, exactly like the one in your photo. Copperheads also lack the distinctive dark band running through the eye that cottonmouths have. If you actually look at the photos on the FMNH page, you'll see how closely your snake resembles the copperhead, dark spots aside. And in the second link below, you'll see a photo of a copperhead with dark spots much like the snake you saw.

Phil Baer said...

Definitely a copperhead. There's a collection of photos on a "trending today" link, 2 are cottonmouths, the rest are copperheads.