Authored by Amanda Newsom
This July, the Orianne Society would like to recognize one of our valuable volunteers, Matt Moore.
Matt became an avid herpetology enthusiast at a young age, growing up in rural South Georgia where wildlife is abundant in its sandhill habitat. Matt says he “has always found wild animals that many people tend to marginalize or malign to be more interesting than the more cute and fuzzy animals that tend to make the covers of wildlife magazines.” He has a fondness for all herps but particularly for snakes and turtles.
The Eastern Hognose Snake (Herterodon platirhinos) soars to the top of his list though. “The first snake I ever caught was a Hognose when I was a kid. These snakes are completely harmless to people and their pets, yet when frightened, they will often spread their necks out similar to a cobra, hiss loudly, flatten their bodies out and feign-strike at whatever is agitating them. If this intimidating (bluff) threat display fails to scare off whatever is bothering the snake, it will often roll over onto its back and play dead. The Hognose Snake’s theatrical behaviors have evolved to help repel predators but are unfortunately often its downfall when they are encountered by uninformed people. Hognose Snakes are frequently killed because of people misidentifying them as being dangerous snakes. I am not in favor of killing venomous snakes either, but I feel it is especially sad when a harmless snake is killed due to simply being misidentified.” Just as Matt is drawn to the Eastern Hognose Snake, his herp dream is to find the elusive Southern Hognose Snake (Herterodon simus) in the wild.
Matt’s love for herping fits perfectly with the Orianne’s mission. When he came across the Orianne Society in 2012 during an internet search, Matt clicked the link and soon realized that one of his long-time friends was actually a scientist at the organization—Dirk Stevenson. He reached out to Dirk and began volunteering for Orianne soon after. Over the past couple of years, he has helped with field research, naturalist outreach with student groups and Orianne field events, public outreach at events such as the Claxton Rattlesnake Festival, road cruise surveys for Florida Pinesnakes (Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus) and Southern Hognose Snakes, and wildlife photography. He has also contributed significantly to Orianne studies of the Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi), Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) and Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata).
Matt enjoys the opportunity to work with expert herpetologists in the field and to make a meaningful difference in their conservation efforts. He says, “I am so glad that the Orianne Society focuses a great amount of effort on conservation of rare snakes and other herps native to the southeastern United States. I am very concerned for the future survival of these animals that are found right here in the southeast.”
Now, you certainly can’t have a volunteer spotlight without sharing a memorable experience from the field, can you? Matt tells us, “There have been quite a few experiences I’ve shared with the Orianne Society in the field that are exceptional, but I would have to say tracking and finding my lifer Florida Pine Snake would be it. Dirk and I were working in the field, and we heard a squeak in the wire grass. We knew it was the sound of a small mammal that had been grabbed by something. We split up and searched the wire grass, and I found my very first Florida Pine Snake at the base of a clump of wiregrass wrapped around the same Hispid Cotton Rat that had let out the squeak we just heard.”
We’re extremely proud to call Matt an Orianne volunteer, and we appreciate all of the hard work and dedication he’s given to support reptile and amphibian conservation. Dirk says it best when he says that “we are fortunate to have Matt’s friendship and support in herp conservation, and we extend him a huge ‘THANKS, MATT!’”