Trip Details

Location: Buchanan county, Iowa

Weather: 82 degrees, humid, cloudy

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Herpers: Josh Otten, Don Becker, Laura and Jim Scharosch

Account by: Jim Scharosch

Photos by: Jim Scharosch

Josh has a site where he has been surveying and studying Iowa smooth green snakes. He told us that the Fourth of July holiday marks the sweet spot for when green snakes in Iowa are laying their eggs, and he wanted to go up and note clutch locations and sizes. I asked if we could tag along and he said that was fine. Laura had never seen a green snake, so I thought we would have a good chance to get her a lifer.

Josh told us this site has a lot of snakes, but low diversity. He said that he had only ever seen four species here, eastern garters, plains garters, brown snakes and green snakes. Under the first board we checked we knocked out two of the four species, starting with this Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis).

The second species was the Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi)

This one was very pretty and was obviously ready to drop her babies. We ended up seeing A LOT of eastern garters and browns.

The second board we checked held our first Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis) of the day. It was a big female preparing to lay her eggs.

Soon we started to turn up green snakes eggs under the boards. They were scattered throughout the rest of the site, but I will group the photos I took here.

I only took a couple of photos of egg clutches, but all told, we saw 66 green snakes eggs! Clutch sizes varied from three to thirteen, though it is possible that the thirteen could have been two separate females laying in the same location. It was amazing seeing that many snake eggs.

We also found a few adults, and a number of nests of baby Masked Shrews (Sorex cinereus)

Freshley metamorphed American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus) were hopping around in good numbers...

and this Chorus Frog (Pseudacris maculata) was on the trail.

We picked up the last snake species from this site when we flipped our only Plains Garter Snake (Thamnophis radix) of the day.

It was a somewhat unique looking plains garter, with quite a bit of red on the sides of the body.

In an area of the site that had soil that was more damp, Josh pointed out some Pale Green Orchids (Platanthera flava). This plant is endangered in Iowa.

This eastern garter had a lot of red compared to the rest we saw.

As we neared the end of the day, we ended up in a mosquito infested area with a small grove of willow trees. We found a large female green snake who was preparing to lay her eggs.

Back in a more upland habitat, we found our last green snake of the day, this one in the process of laying her eggs!! We didn't want to disturb her, or agitate the ants that shared the board she had chosen to lay her eggs under any more than necessary. I grabbed a quick cell phone shot and we set the board back down.

It was a really amazing day. I never thought I would see that many snake eggs in a day, much less seeing a green snake nesting. It was a humid, sweaty, mosquito infested mess, but completely worth it! It was also fun to get back out with Josh, a huge thanks to him for making the trip possible.

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