2009 in Southeast Ohio

I report here some of the critters I've seen in southeast Ohio this year, through mid August 2009. It's been a remarkably good year, which I attribute to luck, a cool and wet summer, and some quality areas which I have stumbled across. I've spent time in the field with many people this season, particularly my son Ryan and Brian Folt.

I'll start with a little history of the area, which I find interesting and has consequences today for the reptiles and amphibians. From about 1830 until around 1900, the Hanging Rock Iron Region (a 100-mile stretch in southeastern Ohio and northern KY) produced the majority of the iron in the U.S. It is said that the raw materials for the famous Civil War "ironclads" the Monitor and the Merrimack came from this region. During this time there was a large influx of people and nearly complete deforestation -- the iron furnaces were fueled with charcoal. Eventually, superior iron ore deposits were discovered in the Great Lakes region and the iron industry in southeast Ohio shut down. The last furnce "blew out" in 1916.

Many of the old iron furnaces are still around. Here's one:

Looks like good habitat for copperheads and fence lizards to me...

There are many little old cemeteries in the area:

This one is on a ridgetop, above one of the abandoned furnaces. All of the graves are over 100 years old. It looks like somebody comes through with a mower every once in a while. Some that are indicated on topo maps have been completely reclaimed by mother nature, as far as I can tell. The late afternoon sun that caused problems for the previous photo hit this tombstone just right so that the inscription could be easily read:

"ELIZA Wife of W.KNOX DIED SEP.26,1881 AGED 27Y.5M.7D"
There are also plenty of other interesting abandoned things around here, e.g. homesteads, railroad grades, and railroad tunnels. Brian and I checked out one such tunnel this spring that has been abandoned for about 90 years. It's starting to collapse, pretty spooky. I wish I would have taken some pictures of it...

As the iron industry was fading, coal mining was starting to take off, bringing more people to the region. The names of many of the towns in the area reflect this mining history: Ironton, Bessemer, Oreton, Carbondale, Carbon Hill, Coalton... Historical markers are always interesting:

Coal mining remains an important industry in Appalachian Ohio to this day. Coal is still mined in large quantities, but due to mechanization the number of people employed by the industry is only a few percent of what it once was. The lack of economic opportunity remains a challenge in the region:

Source: Appalachian Regional Commission.

The poor economy does have a nice upside in that we have definitely not experienced the population boom over the past 100 years that many areas of the U.S. have. Having lived in southern California and the North Carolina piedmont, I can appreciate this! Roger Conant's autobiography (A Field Guide to the Life and Times of Roger Conant, Canyonlands Publishing Group, 1997, ISBN 0-9657446-0-4) is a great read if you ever get the chance. In it he recounts his time in the early 1930s when he was surveying the herps of Ohio. He notes that by this time many of southeastern Ohio's forests had already largely recovered. He also relates this amusing anecdote:

Once when we had stopped at McArthur, the tiny county seat of Vinton County, someone asked, "Doesn't this town every grow? It always looks the same. Aren't any babies every born here?" To that the prompt response was, "Ever' time one's born some son-of-a-bitch has to leave town."

Vinton County is one county west of Athens County, where I reside, and is a frequent herping destination. The really funny thing is that I doubt McArthur has changed much since Conant was there in the 1930s. This map shows how consistent (and low!) the Vinton County population as been:

Source: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ohvinton/vinton.htm

Coal mining has left behind several lasting negative impacts. Acid mine drainage has left many streams sterile. Piles of coal refuse remain where essentially nothing will grow. These problems are only somewhat fixable and then at great expense. Modern mining operations still effect the landscape:

I believe this one is a limestone mine. Now that is some serious habitat destruction. It is sobering to see the extent of these operations using google earth.

I feel fortunate that today southeast Ohio does have quite a lot of public land that is protected (at varying levels) from development and exploitation. I've lived here 8 years and am not close to running out of new places that I want to explore. Since most of the public land tends to be land nobody else wanted, the majority of it is rugged hill country. There is a distinct lack of protection for larger rivers, floodplains, and wetlands.

I will wrap up the historical introduction with another Conant quote: "Southeastern Ohio was unquestionably our favorite collecting area." Now on to the herps, in more-or-less chronological order:

A spring-fed pool on March 15.

Dipnetting the pool with Brian yielded some Mud Salamanders.

I collected this one.

Another look at the previous animal.

Same animal on July 6.

Another look.

Eft, as found under a log.

Mountain Chorus Frog (P. brachyphona).

Mountain Chorus Frog (P. brachyphona).

Hatchling Pseudotriton larva. Most likely a Mud Salamander, but I'm not going to try raising one which is this small... [Note added April 2010: I am now certain this animal is a Mud Salamander.]

Longtailed Salamander.

Closer look at the above animal.

Ryan spotted this garter in late March (photographed in situ).

Mud Salamander (March 28). I also collected this one.

Same animal as above.

Same animal, July 6.

Same animal, July 6.

Mountain Chorus Frog (P. brachyphona).

A very fat Mud Salamander larva dipnetted by Brian on April 4.

Another look at the above animal.

I collected this one as well. After a couple of days it defecated a great deal and then no longer looked like the Michelin Man. I wonder what it had eaten...

Same animal on July 6.

Same animal on July 6.

Some other goodies dipnetted along with the above Mud Salamander: hatchling Pseudotritons and Twolined Salamander larvae.


Northern Spring Salamander (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus porphyriticus).

Due to my work and an out-of-state vacation for spring break, I pretty much missed out on the early spring amphibian breeding activity. During this time, many amphibians can be seen by roadcruising on rainy nights. I finally was able to cruise in the rain on the night of April 19. I was about a month late, but had to give it a shot.

Wood Frog.

Spring Peeper.

Green Frog.

A rather red American Toad.

I was doing quite well with anurans, but did not see any salamanders. After midnight, the rains tapered off and I started to drive home. On a lark, I decided to check one more little area, and headed down a side road. While I was stopped photographing a toad, I noticed what looked like an Ambystoma on the road ahead. This is the animal I saw:

Ambystoma sp. It was found 2 counties from the known range of both A. barbouri and A. texanum. It was collected and analysis is underway. Definitely one of my better finds. Amusingly, it is a lifer for me, either way it turns out (I need to travel more).

Another look at it. Here's the habitat:

A wide spot in a creek in an agricultural area with a railroad nearby. No rocks anywhere (except some cobble supplied by the railroad). Based on this, I'm betting on texanum, but we'll see. [Note added April 2010: Genetic testing showed that this animal is in fact A. barbouri.]

Worm Snakes -- 3 found under one rock.

Marbled Salamander.

American Toads.

Ryan. He always winds up in the water.

A weak attempt at the "Fourtoed Salamander on the mirror" shot... Among other things, I need to clean the mirror first.

A large Northern Spring Salamander (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus porphyriticus).

Young Pseudotriton ruber larva.

Older Pseudotriton ruber larva.

Somewhere between "young" and "older" Pseudotriton ruber larva.

Tiny Longtailed Salamander larva, 17 mm TL.

Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera).

Here's some interesting eggs:

The were found attached to the bottom of rock slab, underwater in a small creek in late April. Exactly the situation and timing one would expect for Twolined Salamander eggs. But that's obviously not the answer. The eggs were around 2 mm in diameter. It turns out they belong to the Mottled Sculpin (Cottus bairdi).


Did some more roadcruising in the rain on the night of May 8.


Grey Treefrog. It appears we only have H. chrysoscelis down here.

More Grey Treefrogs.

No surprises this time.

A young Milksnake working on a meal. I like the pattern of the galvanization on the tin.

Black Kingsnake, a little rough looking.

Box Turtle, in situ.

A Black Ratsnake, as found while hiking on a steep hillside.

A young Box Turtle, I believe born the previous year. I don't see the small ones very often. It is shown as found, after lifting a piece of carpet.

A Pickerel Frog, hanging out on the sump pump in our swimming pool.

I found this shed skin of a Hognose Snake under a sheet of tin. I haven't seen a live one in a couple years now.

A Copperhead found under a rock.



A DeKay's Snake posed on a roofing tile.

A young Racer, starting to lose its pattern.

A ventral shot of the above animal.

A Painted Turtle, as Brian found it in the weeds.

Black King.

DeKay's Snake.


One day Brian and I went on a long, hot, sweaty, uphill both ways, tick- and greenbriar-infested hike. All we had seen was one Worm Snake and a Racer which got away. When we returned to my vehicle, I noticed this:

Fence Lizard, in situ. The funny thing is that this is the only one I've ever seen in this area.

Closer look.

Rough Greensnake. I saw it on the shoulder of a busy highway as I passed by. I found a place to turn around and looped back for it. By the time I returned it had moved into traffic, but remarkably had not been hit. This photo has exposure problems. I have never achieved good results attempting to photograph this species using direct sun as the primary light source.

Redbellied Snake. I was very pleased with this find, as I had not seen one since 2005.

Ventral view of the same snake. Note also the lip curling.

An attractive Box Turtle, photographed in situ.

One day Ryan, Brian, and I were walking along a little-traveled road on a cool, overcast day. I was checking rock slabs on the hillside and I believe Brian was doing likewise. At one point Ryan says "I can't believe you guys didn't see this snake!" At that instant I was actually looking a Ringneck Snake that was under the rock I had just lifted. But from the tone of his voice I didn't think that was what he was referring to...

Timber Rattlesnake, chillin' in the weeds along the side of the road. It appeared to have freshly shed and looked very sharp and velvety. The area where this snake was found is not a well-known locality for them.

Another look. The snake never budged.

Copperhead, as spotted in a hollow log.

I was motivated by a friend to try something which I had not done before: dipnet for Hemidactylium larvae. Usually by this time of the year I have given up on salamanders and turned my attention to reptiles. It turned out to be not too difficult to turn some up.

Fourtoed Salamander larvae, July 5. As you can see, they're pretty small.

Fourtoed Salamander larvae. They kind of look like a cross between the larvae of a Twolined Salamander and an Ambystoma.

A couple more.

Curiously, this little guy turned up in my dipnet along with the Hemidactylium larvae.

Rough Greensnake. This is how I most often find them, DOR. This one was gravid. Photographed in situ.

While we were checking out the above dead Opheodrys, somebody noticed this on a barbed wire fence:

A dead bat. I did not realize that there are shrikes in Ohio, but that is what I figure must be behind this bat jerky.

Smooth Earth Snake, with spots.

A Racer, as spotted on a steep, wooded hillside.

Roadcruising after dark for snakes in Ohio is often slow/unproductive, but it does have its occasional moments. I had recently returned from a trip to west Texas, where similar comments apply. I think that trip helped me get into better mental shape for cruising and it also reinforced the "Stay The Course" attitude which is necessary. The following animals were from more than one night.


Breaking in my new hat with its namesake. My old one was inadvertently left on a road cut somewhere near Sanderson, TX.



A nearly patternless Fowler's Toad.

If you're really good you can spot these on a rough gravel road:

Ringneck. We, however, only noticed it when we stopped to check out something which turned out to be a stick...

Bigger game:

Timber Rattlesnake.


That's it for the roadcruising.

A young Box Turtle. This one appears to have hatched in 2007.

Smooth Earth Snake, without spots.

Same snake as above, doing its Gene Simmons impersonation.

An attractive Milksnake, as found under tin. I saw the same snake last year. Look here, about 1/3 of the way down, just after the Sandhill Cranes. Got to love repeat customers.

While illegal dumping is unfortunate, the opportunities it creates for finding reptiles cannot be overlooked. In the present case, somebody had dumped a large pile of old insulation (nasty stuff) and then covered it with a swimming pool liner. The pile was about 3 feet high. Upon peeling away the pool liner, Brian and I saw this:

Three Copperheads and a Black Ratsnake (one of the copperheads cannot be seen from this angle).

That's all for now. The end: