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The day looked promising. From the forcast the weather looked like it would cooperate and give us decent temperatures for finding snakes under rocks on a Missouri Glade. I had been invited to go on the adventure by some guys on FieldHerpForum.com. The plan was for Mike, John, and I to meet up with Brian Willy, who like the rest of us goes to SIU. Brian was in St. Louis for the weekend so Mike, John, and I met up with him after a wholesome McDonald's breakfast. It looked to be a great day in the field. It ended up being a tragic one, both for our small group and for millions of nature lovers around the world.

We arrived in the late morning hours, and after getting as much OFF! out of a broken can as we could, we set out to lift rocks and find snakes. Almost instantly we started finding scorpions. Arachnids were everywhere.

Striped Scorpion (Centruroides vittatus)


Before too long the first snake was uncovered. It was a Lined Snake. These little snakes are a drab brown or olive color, with a bright white ventral surface, with little black semicircles running down the length of the belly. Throughout much of its range, the Lined Snake is very uncommon, however at a few localities in Missouri it is abundant. While some don't waste their time with the "little snakes," I think finding and photographing Lined Snakes is very enjoyable.

Lined Snake (Tropidoclonion lineatum)




After the first few Lined Snakes were found, a different, but still very common species showed itself. The Prairie Ringneck snake is a small snake, and in my opinion is quite attractive. It is a slate grayish color with a yellow ring around its neck. The ventral portion of this snake is bright orange or yellow, and fades to red near the tail. With as striking as these colors are, I find it hard to beleive Ringneck snakes aren't more popular.

Prairie Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus arnyi)

We continued on, lifting slabs of rock and usually finding nothing but black widows and scorpions, with the occasional Lined Snake mixed in. I lifted a rock, saw nothing, and dropped it back into place, just like I had done to dozens of other rocks. Just after I let the rock go, I saw the unmistakable glimmer of sun on scales, and I knew what had happened. I didn't see the hatchling Speckled Kingsnake before it was too late, and I killed it. I was mortified at what I had done, not to mention the realization that the rest of my group would never let me live this down. I felt bad, but it was an accident. Call it careless behavior, but I messed up and there is nothing that can change it now, and the only thing to do is to be more careful next time.

After the little mishap, Mike found a large tarantula that John was able to wrangle it for some pictures. John wanted to put it on his face but it was a little uncooperative. Then someone talked me into holding it.

Missouri Tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi)



All day we had been seeing racerunners living up to their name. Most of the time a glimpse was all one of us would see before the little lizard would become invisible in the grass. I was able to catch one that was under a rock, and get it to stay put long enough to snap a picture. I took this one shot, and before I could look back up from my camera it was gone.

Six Lined Racerunner (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus)

After the first couple hours of fairly productive herping, the heat of the day slowed things down greatly. We did find a few more Lined Snakes, and a Three Toed Box Turtle. The idea arose to go to another location and try to find a Collared Lizard, and off we went.

Brian was the only one amoung us who had been to this place, and every time he had come, he had seen two Collared Lizards. Hopefully the trend would continue. The four of us trudged over the rocky terrain looking for lizards. The sun was starting to set, so once again the process of lifting up rocks would probably bring us the most luck in finding Collared Lizards. After about 45 minutes we came across another Three Toed Box Turtle. No one said it, but we were all thinking that we wouldn't find a lizard when Brian calmly said, "collared." I looked over to see him not chasing a lizard, but croushing and looking under a rock. We all figured he was joking, but sure enough a Collared Lizard shot out from under the rock. I caught it, and it bit me, which is a pretty even trade in my book. As John and took pictures, Brian was ready to catch it again if it ran. As the lizard disappeared into the distance, Brian just looked on and said, "there it goes..." Probably the funniest line I had heard all day. Fortunately Brian and Mike recaptured it and it was a little more cooperative.

Eastern Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris collaris)



Well as the sun set, and after a taste of prickley pear cactus, we headed home. Despite a small accident in the field it was a fun trip with good company. The death of a kingsnake seemed insignifcant when compared to the news I recieved when I arrived at home. I was shocked to hear that Steve Irwin had been killed by a stingray. At first I thought it was probably a joke but I soon found that this was not the case. I really didn't know what to think or feel. If it wasn't for "The Crocodile Hunter" this website would probably not exist since he sort of sparked my interest in herpetology. I already had sort of an interest from my dad, but Steve showed such enthusiasm in what he did that you just had to admire it. Not everyone agreed with his tactics, but I don't know a soul who would say that Steve Irwin didn't love wildlife. Through his show he reached millions and shared the message of conservation with them. He had a passion for what he did that may never be seen again in this type of work. I wish there was a way I could thank him for inspiring me the way he did.

A sad ending to a pretty fun day. This was really like a precursor to the fall herping season. In the next month or so there would be some great herping opportunities, including the famous snake migration in the shawnee hills of southern Illinois!

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