SNAKES, TURTLES, SALAMANDERS, AND INSECTS


Many types of animals are found in our area.  Most are obscure, rarely observed.  Insects are
an exception to this.  They are, however, difficult to identify on sound.  Of course, only experts
are really good at identifying them by any means.  Don't let it, er, bug you.  Just identify what
you can.

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INDEX TO ANIMALS




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Snakes


First, let's begin by saying that there are no poisonous snakes in this part of Maine.  In fact,
only rare reports of timber rattler come from the extreme southwestern part of the state, a couple
hundred miles from here.  It is possible that someone could bring one here and drop it off, but
so far people have refrained from doing so.  Still, unless you know what you are doing, it is
not a good idea to handle snakes.  Even if not poisonous, bites can hurt.

Snakes are reptiles that are well known to be long and skinny, somewhere between arm-shaped and
spaghetti-shaped.  They are generally warm and dry to the touch, though most have no internal
temperature regulation mechanism like that of mammals and birds.  They warm theselves by lying in
the sun.  Of course, some humans do the same. There are some 2000 species world-wide and are found
in most areas of the world from the arctic to the tropics. Of these 2000, only five are found
in our area.

All these critters are obscure and hard to detect.  We'll give you just a brief description of the
few found in our area so that your understanding of the fauna will be more complete.  Also, if
anybody asks you, you can impress the dickens out of them by giving an identification from their
description.  Of course, that assumes the description is good enough.  If somebody describes to you
what sounds like a python, take it with a grain of salt - a big grain.

  1. Red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) is 8 to 10 inches in length, brown on top, red underneath. Occasionally found in upland areas.
  2. Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis). 18 to 26 inches, stripped like an old fashioned men's sock garter. Rest of pattern variable. Found in a wide variety of habitats.
  3. Northern ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsi) is a 10 to 15 inch dark slender snake with a golden collar. Found in woodlands and cutover areas with abundant hiding places.
  4. Smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis) is 14 to 20 inches in length. Guess what color it is? Right. Found in upland areas.
  5. Eastern milk snake (Lamphropeltis triangulum triangulum) is 24 to 36 inches, slender and blotched in brown or reddish brown and black. Some people swear that this snake milks cows. Of course, some people also swear that the earth is flat. No evidence supports either belief. Found in a wide variety of habitats.



Turtles

Turtles are reptiles with shells. The upper shell is called the carapace. The lower is called the plastron. In most species these are joined. Turtles are widespread and found in a wide variety of habitats from desert to open ocean. Of the 200 or so species worldwide, three occur in our area. Two are almost entirely aquatic, the other is primarily terrestrial. Even aquatic species come ashore to lay their eggs.

  1. Snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). 8 to 12 inches long with large head and long saw-toothed tail. Carapace rough and keeled, plastron small. Very bad tempered. Lives in ponds - here found only in the beaver pond. Eats invertebrates, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, carrion, and some vegetable matter. Usually innoffensive in the water, if approached on land will accept donations of a finger. Generally found only when it comes ashore to lay eggs because it rarely basks on rocks or logs.
  2. Wood turtle (Clemmys insculpta) is 5 and one half to 7 and one half inches long. Rough shell, orange on neck and limbs in adults. Most terrestrial species in our area. Often found crossing roads, not always successfully.
  3. Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) is 4 and one half to 6 inches long. Light bands on carapace, bright yellow spots on head. Plastron yellow with spots or blotches. Most colorful shell of any of our turtles.



Salamanders and newts

Salamanders are as slimy as people mistakenly think snakes to be. Newts, though closely related, are not as slippery. They are four-legged and tailed amphibians that look something like lizards. But we won't confuse them with lizards here because there are no lizards in our area.

These creatures breed in water where the larvae remain until they change to adult form.  Some adults
also remain in the water.  Even terrestrial species are found only in moist areas. One group,
represented in our area by the red-backed salamander, breaks this rule by laying eggs in moist
logs or moss, and full development takes place inside the egg.

According to the Peterson Field Guide, there are more species of this group in the Americas than in
the rest of the world combined.  Of this abundance, six are found in our area.  They will be 
described very briefly. Measurements in descriptions do not include tails.

  1. Blue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale) is 4 to 5 inches long light and earth-tone spots on blue back.
  2. Red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens viridescens). Land stage is red eft, 1 and a half to three and a half inches long, usually orange red. Adults return to water and become yellowish or greenish brown with red spots and increase in size by about one quarter.
  3. Northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus fuscus) 2 and a half to four and a half inches, gray or brown with slightly darker markings. Belly somewhat lighter and mottled.
  4. Red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus cinereus). 2 and a quarter to 3 and a half inches long. Red or gray backed with black and white (or yellow) salt-and-pepper speckled belly.
  5. Four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) is 2 to 3 and one half inches long. White belly with large black spots, darker on top, marked constriction at base of tail.
  6. Northern two-lined salamander (Eurycea bislineata bislineata) is 2 and one half to 4 inches in length. Yellow with two darker lines on either side of back.



Insects and other invertebrates


Insects belong to the phylum Arthropoda, the Arthropods.  The name means that the members of this
vast group all have jointed legs.  Some of the earliest land animals probably belonged to this
phylum.  Millipedes, centipedes, crabs, shrimp, barnacles, lobsters, horseshoe crabs, mites and ticks,
and spiders are also classed as Arthropods.  We will not try to give even an overview here; the
numbers are too vast.  Estimates of the number of species, even of insects to say nothing of the 
other groups included, run into the millions.  Here we will include only a few of the most noticeable
examples.







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GENERAL INDEX




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July 12, 2003