Well, after completing a year at Southern Illinois University, I thought what better way to celebrate
then to take a long herping trip. Mike Steffen agreed, so planning began for what would turn into a 10 day jaunt across the
nations midsection. We started to get a rough idea of where we wanted to go, what we wanted to see, and exactly how much we
wanted to spend on gas. The last of the semester finals came and past, and we passed as well into summer vacation. Setting
out as soon as possible, the original plan was to head out to central Kansas, and see some habitat and species of herps that
we had never seen before. With the aid of the great Chad Whitney, we were able to visit some killer spots and see some amazing
reptiles and amphibians before it was all said and done. Without Chad, this trip would have been all exploring unproductive
areas looking for good habitat, instead, he pointed us in the right direction of where to find what we were looking for.
Shortly after leaving, we saw a Box Turtle get hit directly, and shoot off the road like a bullet
and bounce off of a rock. Mike wanted to investigate, and I couldn't beleive it when he said the turtle was fine. It was a
promising start to the trip. Here is that turtle, hiding and startled, but unhurt.
Mike and I met Chad at his place in Olathe the first night, and he led us to our first campsite,
and this Red Sided Garter Snake.Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis
The next morning we woke up early and headed west, past Topeka and into the great plains. The first
herp of the day was a Prairie Skink which made its way deep into a crevice, but later we were rewarded with this Great Plains
It was evident that Mike and I were not in Illinois anymore, we were in Kansas! The bare rolling
hills were a sharp contrast to the wooded ridges of southern Illinois. All the animals we were seeing were quite different
also. There were unfamiliar birds and mammals, and we had never seen many of the reptile species either.
After flipping a few more rocks, Mike found this Speckled/ Desert Kingsnake intergrade.
Lampropeltis getula holbrooki X splendida
My first find of the trip was this Prairie Ringneck Snake.
We really didn't spend much time looking for amphibians on this trip, but we did see some diversity
in species anyway, starting with this Great Plains Narrowmouth Toad.
I was stunned to see how brightly colored the Prairie Racerunners were, like this individual.
Aspidoscelis sexlineata viridis
For weeks Chad had been telling me about all the snakes we were going to see on the trip, most of
all I was looking forward to seeing milksnakes in the numbers that he was sure we would. The first milk we saw was this not
so gorgeous Central Plains Milksnake.
Lampropeltis triangulum gentilis
Not too bad for a morning of herping. We drove through the worst heat of the day and made our way
further west, out to viridis country. That was one of the species that we really wanted to see. After the morning and the
drive, Mike and I were beginning to appreciate just how capacious, and beautiful the plains are. Several hours for me, and
a nap for Mike later, and our surroundings looked like this.
It wasn't long before we found our first creature ambling across the chalky-white road surface. This
would be the first of many Ornate Box Turtles found on the trip, but it was the first of it't kind that I had ever seen.
As you can see, living in the plains can leave you kind of dusty. As it would happen, after this
trip the inside of my car was caked with dust for weeks, even after cleaning it by hand a couple of times.
A closeup of the turtles plastron, showing its distinctive pattern.
It wasn't long before another common inhabitant of the plains came forth, the Western Slender Glass
Lizard. I had seen this species numerous times in Illinois and Missouri, but not in the density that they occur in Kansas.
Ophisaurus attenuatus attenuatus
Here's Mike utilizing his cameras macro mode with the same lizard.
Well before dark we would see about a dozen more glass lizards, but other than a large DOR Masticophis, that was
it, until this Bullsnake crawled onto the road just after dark.
Pituophis catenifer sayi
A little later, another local ventured out in front of the headlamps. It was this Great Plains Toad.