Elms Environmental Education Center

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Critter of the Month

Every month we highlight a different local animal.

April 2018: Northern Copperhead

 Copperhead

Northern Copperhead
Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen

Who am I?

Oh, you know me. I am the only poisonous snake in St. Mary's County. You are probably scared of me but truly I am a laid back kind of critter. I will definitely bite you if you step on me or try to touch me but otherwise I am not bothered. Because I am so laid back I have a dangerous reputation -- I am well camouflaged and will not warn you when I am about to bite. I'm sorry, it just happens so fast. I get scared. As far as snakes go I am not so big, kinda fat, but usually less than 3 feet long. I can be easily identified by my plain brown triangular shaped head. My body has a pattern of light diamond shapes. April is the month when I and my friends usually come out of hibernation. I ma look for a mate in the spring or the fall. I will incubate my eggs in my body and after a few months will give birth to up to ten babies. Watch out for my babies, they are still poisonous, just as poisonous as the adults. As a young-un I do not look like my parents, I am more grey and have a slightly yellow tipped tail. I can live up to 18 years old.

Where can you find me?

 Look for me in sunny patches in the forest. Watch where you step, I blend in perfectly with the brown leaves of fall. I can be found on the east coast of the United States from Florida to Massachusetts. 

What do I eat?

 I eat things that can fit in my mouth. Since I can't really chew, I have to swallow my prey in one piece. This includes mice, rats, birds, toads, frogs. My babies will eat mostly insects, using their yellow tails to attract their meal.

What might eat me?

 Lots of things, especially when I am young. These include other snakes like kingsnakes and cottonmouths as well as bullfrogs, crows, hawks, opossums, and wild cats.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  •  Like all pit vipers my eye slits are vertical. But then, if you can see that you are probably too close.
  • Some would say that I give birth to my babies alive, which I kinda do. I just don't lay my eggs in a nest like most reptiles. I keep them in my body until they hatch.
  • I am the cause of many snakebites but I am rarely fatal.
  • I have heat sensing pits on my head which sense warm blooded critters. Makes it easier to find lunch.
  • Like all reptiles, I am cold-blooded which means I cannot regulate my body temperature.

March 2018: Spotted Turtle

Spotted Turtle

 

Spotted Turtle
Clemmys guttata

Who am I?

 I am a small, well, spotted turtle you may find in forest wetlands or wandering about from one wet area to another. Generally I like slow moving, clean water with soft bottoms where I can hide if something is trying to eat me. Like many turtles it is easy to tell if I am a male or a female by the curve on my belly (the plastron). Females have flat bellies and males have dented bellies. You can tell I am a male from the picture too -- my eyes are are dark and my chin is tan. Females would have orange eyes and yellow or orange chins. Anyway, I live in mud puddles and am one of the first reptiles to emerge in the spring. Since there are not many of us you may not notice. My mate will make a nest in May and lay a clutch of rarely more than 8 eggs. My babies will usually emerge in August or September. 

Where can you find me?

 My range is becoming smaller and more fragmented every year. The pools of water in forests and meadows where I live are often drained by people. Still, I can be found from southern Canada to Florida, usually along the coast. Another group lives just south of the great lakes from Michigan to New York.

What do I eat?

 I am an omnivore which means I will eat just about anything -- except dead stuff, I don't like dead stuff. But young tender plants, mollusks, worms, amphibian eggs are all up for lunch.

What might eat me?

 Raccoons and muskrats are especially adept at eating me.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  •  Like many other reptiles the sex of my babies is determined, in part, by the temperature of the soil. Warmer temperatures produce females and colder temperatures produce males.
  • You may find my shell dented and nicked up from other critters who have tried to eat me.
  • The spotted turtle is currently under study for possible inclusion as a federally listed species.

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