Photo by Matt Ricklefs

Trip Details

Start Time: 9:05 a.m.

Weather: Cloudy in the morning, then clearing. A high around 76 degrees.

Location: Taney County, Missouri

Herpers: Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Account by: Matt Ricklefs

Photos by: Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Thought of the Day: Starting the day (kinda) with an Alice Cooper and Vincent Price reference...what could be better.

Camping the night before turned out to be fairly decent. After a nice dinner we relaxed and talked while drinking a few beers. After a while our starry skies turned cloudy; and it was only when we felt the first few intermittent raindrops did we look up and notice this. Since it was not bad we weathered (pun intended) the rain for a while. The rain would ebb and flow and finally we decided we would call it for the night before we needed to run into the tents. The rain never got too bad but it was a good time to get some rest for the following day.

The morning was gloomy - plain and simple. The clouds had barely cleared off; it was cool and a bit windy. We took our time in eating a nice breakfast of eggs, sausage gravy over multigrain bread and some OJ. After about an hour we could just glimpse our first sign of blue skies. It was just starting to get a little warmer and we began to get optimistic again. We packed up camp and as Jim finished a few things I went and turned a few lumpy rocks about thirty feet from where our tents were. It was my first find of the day, but it was not a herp.

Under the rock was something I had always wanted to see. Ironically the way it was positioned the first thing I saw was it's, or should I say HER telltale sign. Under the rock was a beautiful and potentially dangerous Black Widow (Latrodectus hesperus).

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

She was in a web that allowed her abdomen to be seen and the red hourglass was clearly visible. This was very cool. Now in many forms of media a story like this would be sensationalized that here is this deadly creature only feet away from where sleeping humans could be breathing their last breaths. In all likely hood this spider would not have ventured too far under the conditions and she seemed to be quite comfortable where she was. I got a few shots and then let her be. The reference to Alice Cooper and Vincent Price refers to the song "Black Widow" by Alice Cooper and has the intro narrated by Vincent Price.

In our bathroom in the camping area there was also a bird's nest and I took a picture of a nestfull of eggs she had.

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

One of the things Jim has wanted to find was a Speckled King that was a picture perfect example with no barring in the dots and basically one dot per scale. He had been coming to Missouri for three years looking for this perfect king snake. We ventured to our first spot. It was an area within this location that I had not had time to explore. We walked to an area we had been given some information on and looked around. It was still a little cool but not bad. The sun was beginning to come out now. We had not found anything for a while and we considered moving on when Jim finally found his perfect King.

Photos by Jim Scharosch

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

It was a twenty six inch Speckled King Snake (Lampropeltis g. holbrooki) in great condition and (after we looked it over) showed no barring and really did have one speckle per scale. It was gorgeous. We actually took a fair amount of time finding just the right setting and getting just the right pics.

As we moved out I spotted a Three-Toed Box Turtle (Terrapene c. triunguis) under a rock and got a few pictures.

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

We moved to a spot I had been to several years earlier. Overall this trip the conditions of the areas were fairly dry. This area was about the same. That's why I was a little surprised to find a Pickerel Frog (Rana palustris) out on the hop

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

It certainly must have had a spring nearby.

Jim found a small Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis p. proximus).

My next find was a Flathead Snake (Tantilla gracilis).

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

This was a sub-adult at about three inches.

We kept finding these unidentified bugs and it seemed there was never more that one per rock when found. Jim and I said if we saw more than one we would take a picture. After quite a while we did find two under one rock.

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

This was still the exception for whatever reason.

My next find was a Rough Earth Snake (Virginia striatula) about five inches in length.

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

On my previous herp trip here I was surprised not to have found a Copperhead. This time I was not to be surprised. Under a fair sized rock I got a Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix).

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

As far south as we were it is an area of integration between the Osage and Southern Copperheads and although the range maps show this was likely a Southern, it's hard to tell. Upon turning the rock it sat nicely and the shots you see are in situ. We did need to move the twenty four inch serpent so we could put the rock back right and let it go back under.

Northern Fence Lizards (Sceloporus undulatus hyacinthinus) were very common, but I did get one shot of one.

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

If you want to take a picture or catch one for a picture you need to approach at an angle and not look it in the eye. Use your peripheral vision to approach and then take pictures or make your grab. You can see in this picture the lizard is eyeing me pretty intently.

Jim found a species I wanted to get some good pictures of. A cool little species, the Eastern Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne carolinensis) looks rather like a hopping ball of moss than a toad.

Photo by Jim Scharosch

Jim found another fence lizard and took a photo.

Photo by Jim Scharosch

We were a little surprised not to have found a Milk by this time, but it was rather dry. Near a drainage through the glade we did manage our first Lampropeltis however. We found two Speckled King Snake within a few rocks from each other. Both were about the size we had seen the previous day at about twenty inches.

Photos by Jim Scharosch

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

We moved on and I theorized that our best chance for a Milk would be higher up on the glad near the forest edge so we headed up that way.

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

It did not take long before I turned up a Red Milk Snake (Lampropeltis t. syspila) about fifteen inches long.

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

Soon after Jim scored another one a little bigger at about eighteen inches.

Photos by Jim Scharosch

By this time it was getting late and we had a little ways to go for our next campsite and preparation for our next day in herping. As we were driving, Jim mentioned that for luck, we should start pronouncing Coachwhip as "Coachwhhhip". It was reference to an ongoing gag on the TV show Family Guy where Stewie always accentuates the "WHH" part when saying words like Cool Whhhip, a habit which annoys Brian.

As we drove down the highway we noticed a large board in the ditch. It had nice habitat around it and it was easily accessible and there were no fences. We decided we had plenty of time to stop and investigate. This board was about ten feet by twelve feet and looked rather heavy. It was settled in a little but not un-turnable. With one person there would have been problems, with two it was do-able. Three or four would have been ideal. We knew we had a good shot at something, but what? We strategically placed ourselves and readied ourselves for anything. The next account happened in mere seconds:

Jim mentions that this board could have anything, even our Coachwhhhip.

Turning board - rather heavy.

Snakes! One, Two, Three...COACHWHHHIP!!!!

Coachwhip bolted out the back.

Jim yells to Matt: "You got it" (meaning holding the large board over my head at this point).

Jim runs around the back of the massive board and impales himself in the wrist with a massive thorn from a locust tree

Two snakes stayed put, they were in shed.

One other snake started going out the back too.

I grabbed the two snakes holding tight.

Jim managed to scare the Coachwhip back toward the board and make the capture.

Jim held then board and I went back to find the last snake, I moved out from under the board and I made the capture.

Let down the board. Jim narrowly escapes getting decapitated or at least clunked in the head by a piece of the supporting two by four on the board.

We ended up getting ALL four snakes under the board. There were two forty inch Black Rat Snakes (Elaphe o. obsolteta) a Racer (Coluber constrictor) about twenty four inches and the grand prize, a forty-eight inch Eastern Coachwhip (Masticophis f. flagellum). We really wanted to get a Coachwhip on this trip and we scored one! As it was getting later we took quicker shots with the other species but did take our time with the Coachwhip. It did the droopy dead head game, but we still managed to get a few good shots. We were so excited we never did get pictures of the glorious and monster board.

The coachwhip:

Photos by Jim Scharosch

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

One of the black rats:

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

The other black rat:

Photo by Jim Scharosch

The racer:

Photo by Jim Scharosch

To be quite honest everything happened so fast I can't verify that when Jim yelled "Coachwhip" he actually pronounced it with the "whhhhip" emphasized; but I'd like to think he did. He thought he did at the time and that was good enough for me.

Since it was even later we stopped at a Wal-Mart for a quick clean up and some supplies and treated ourselves to a nice authentic Mexican meal before heading to our campsite. By the time we got there it was dark, but the fire we made was good and the beer tasted a little better with the grand find that day. The next morning would prove to be...exhilarating.

Stay cool and happy herping!

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