Dirk Stevenson

A natural history column by Dirk Stevenson. More about ...                


In Praise of Heterodon

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The Hognose Snakes of North America, owners of colorful patterns and personalities, are beloved by most. There are four species in the genus Heterodon which means “different tooth,” a reference to the enlarged teeth in the rear upper jaw of these snakes. If there was a show business for serpents, the Hognose Snakes wouldn't have trouble finding work. When faced with the snout of a canine, the talons of a hawk, or a human capture, the Hognose Snake engages in a series of remarkable behaviors, including hissing and hooding the scales on its neck and upper body like a cobra.


Spotting Spotted Turtles


As you may know, the southeastern United States is recognized for its extraordinarily high species diversity of turtles—a number of muds and stinkpots, snappers, softshells, cooters and sliders, to name a few, inhabit this region. Complementing our efforts specific to protect the Gopher Tortoise, Orianne Society staff are now directing some serious energy toward the conservation of a small, mostly-aquatic species, the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata).


Pretty Cool (no pun intended)

On a recent cold morning-- overnight low of 30 degrees F, windchill at dawn 25--I climbed the remains of an old windrow, a small knoll of earth and pine logs , and spotted a big diamondback from a good twenty feet. It was exciting and unexpected in this cold.

Sure, it was sunny, but the wind came in mini-Arctic gusts. I had just sampled the ambient temp with my loyal Schultheiss, which read a hair under 8 C (ca. 45 F) at 1100 hours.


Natural History Treats


South Georgia has experienced temperature swings of 50 degrees over the last couple weeks, prompting lively battles between my wife Beth and me here at home— as the “thermostat wars” resumed in earnest. (Yesterday, with the high temp topping 80 F, she had the unmitigated audacity to scold me when she spotted my twitching finger on the AC dial)


Momma's Boy


I stood motionless in front of the large tortoise burrow apron, my front teeth working my lower lip, pondering the very fresh shed skin of an indigo snake. Stretched its full length, a good couple of meters, the shed seemed to be glued to the ground.


Interview with Carlos Camp


Carlos D. Camp, herpetologist, is a Professor of Biology at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia. He has been on the faculty at Piedmont College since 1983.


Snake Fauna of the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve

Elizabeth Schlimm with Florida pine snakes (Pituophis melanoleucus)

From my very first visits I realized I was experiencing something special. The Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve (2,530 acres), a little piece of paradise in the Coastal Plain of southeastern Georgia, is a beautifully unique natural area and a snake lover's paradise.

An on-site buttonbush pond is home to a little blue heron rookery and a Mama alligator we've known for a long time. In wet years, the gator's "pod" is often seen swimming this swamp. Faces splotched green with duckweed, they "chirp" steadily.


Water Taxi Hunt

Redbelly Watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster)

By way of a few muscular breast stokes, and tennis shoe-pushes off the sand bottom, I enter the main channel of a great stream, the Altamaha River. Pronounced "All-ta-mahaw" — 137 snaky miles of emerald water.

As far as I can see, only the slow-flowing river, fringed by massive cypress and hardwoods. Yellow-white sandbars shimmer in the sun. No sign of our fellow species, no boats, no tents, no buildings or powerlines.

Only the river, endless.

I'm at home. I melt into the cool water.


On the Road: Alabama Turtle Survey

Loggerhead Musk Turtle (Sternotherus minor)

I spent part of last week assisting with field surveys for a remarkable river turtle.


What's on the Menu for the Commander?

Eastern Indigo takes on an Eastern Diamondback

On a remote pineland in south Georgia, I was helping a University of Georgia doctoral student with her radio telemetry study of Eastern Indigo Snakes. We were following the radio signal from the transmitter of a gorgeous 6-foot female indigo snake, when apparently our efforts to pinpoint her location disturbed her; she fled deep into the burrow of an armadillo. This was around noon on a very warm summer day, so to the drones of cicadas we broke for lunch, checked for ticks and then got back to work.