The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Tag Archives: snake

House of Herps #5: Slime Poetry

Slam Poetry is a fairly recent artistic phenomemon, where composers (“slammers”) recite passionate and emotionally-charged poetry in a competitive arena; it’s usually a raucous and stirring event.   I propose that, given the range of intense emotion our scaley and slippery friends can invoke, it is high time the Slime Poetry movement took centre stage.  For centuries writers have captured those fleeting moments of fear, awe, sadness and, of course, beauty we herp-happy folk appreciate so much.  In this installment of House of Herps #5: Slime Poetry, we explore the passion of herpers through the posts of our contributors and the kindred hearts of poets.  

I suggest you stand to recite the verses, and be sure to speak loudly.  


We start with Kay’s encounter with a “narrow fellow in the grass” at Arroyo Colorado River Blog

Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality
But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.

From A Narrow Fellow in the Grass, Emily Dickinson (1965) 

Kay is a lover of poetry, especially the works of Emily Dickinson.  That said, she does NOT share the authour’s evident fear of snakes.  Instead she shares her joyful encounter with one of nature’s people,  a “narrow fellow in the grass”: a beautiful Texas Indigo Snake

Lucky Amber Coakley at The Birder’s Lounge has encountered an absolute bonanza of springtime herps, one of which was a tiny skink, first seen as a speedy flash of panicked blue:    

Porter of  readiness, miller of  the
steady shudder, peripatetic
rectitude, run by the power
of   the sunlit rock, it fortifies
Darwin and the idea of   being late
and the missed appointment.
With its blue tail, it reminds us:
it will go on. It will not stop.

From Skink, Rodney Jones (2008) 

Her little discovery calms enough to permit photographs…and displays an interesting colour change!  


Seabrooke Leckie and Dan Derbyshire tag-team to share photos and info of the threatened Blanding’s Turtle at the Marvelous in nature.  Dan’s photos inspire Seabrooke to recall last summer’s encounter with a Blanding’s Turtle, which was performing the common but perilous act of crossing the road.

He went right through a Stop-sign on the wrong side of the road.
He didn’t see the great big truck with overburdened load…
. . . . .    . . . . . . . . .    . . . . . .
These dotted lines are kinder than some vivid words to show
What happened to the trailer, compact and neat . . . but slow.
Some mangled flesh, some bits of shell were wreckage to explain
Why this dusty little turtle will not cross a road again.

From Tragedy of the Road, Don Blanding (1946)

Happily, Seabrooke’s Blanding’s Turtle did not share the same fate as Blanding’s turtle; her simple act of kindness – moving the critter from harms’ way – spared it an untimely demise. 

Joan from Anybody Seen My Focus? found a small Musk Turtle  in a place far more sensible than on a road: a shallow lake.  After a proper photoshoot, she replaced the reptile back in its watery residence.

A helmet worn by no one has taken power.
The mother-turtle flees flying under the water.
From National Insecurity, Tomas Tranströmer (1997)

The speed at which the little turtle darts for cover is impressive, as are the resulting photographs!

Speaking of musk, Bernard Brown at Philly Herping had a hankering for just that: “the sweet smell of success”…a successful snake hunt, that is! 


A back road pungent with musk and mint.
So beautiful, that snake. . .

From The Flower Snake, Midang So Chong-ju (1941)

He shares with us TWO beauties, and provides some excellent notes on the natural history of both species.

Snakey goodness seems to come in twos…Ted MacRae at Beetles in the Bush was fortunate enough to encounter North America’s smallest rattlesnake not once, but twice!  

I found him asleep in the heat
…coiled in loose folds of silence
…I saw the wedged bulge
Of a head hard as a fist…
…(I) heard the loud seethe of life
In the dead beads of the tail 

From Rattlesnake, Brewster Ghiselin (1939) 

Even though this snake is small, Ted respectfully keeps his distance after the snake kindly informs him he’s too close for comfort.  

Buckeyeherper (from the aptly named “Buckeye Herps” blog) is on a mission: to find the beautiful Spotted Turtle that has eluded his searches in Michigan.  Spring is in the air, which means that amourous turtles should be out and about.

The silver mist engulfed.
The golden sun does heat,
The dainty spotted turtle,
In smooth pursuit of his mate,
The quiet world returns with sounds,
With blue vibrations does life continue.

Clemmys guttata, Lou Reeves (date unknown)

I think it’s fair to say his mission was accomplished, with gusto.  Other reptilian beauties abound as he takes us with him on a tour of the feys.

Michelle at Rambling Woods finds herself asking, What Kind of Frogs are These?  (That post title sounds like a poem itself, doesn’t it?)  Frogs never fail to fascinate, and their presence in watery places seem completely integral, as noted in a classic Japanese poem: 

Furu ike ya/The old pond;              
kawazu tobikomu/a frog jumps in —
mizu no oto /The sound of the water. 

Frog Haiku, Matsuo Bashô (1686) 

Her readers help her solve the mystery of these frogs’ identity, and meanwhile, we get to enjoy some lovely photos of these beautiful pond-dwellers. 

And lastly, for a touch of comedic poetry, we get to enjoy Jason’s encounter with a rather…er…furry Red-eared Slider over at xenogere.

A red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) with algae on its shell (2009_06_21_024620)

She asks me why…I’m just a hairy guy
I’m hairy noon and night; Hair that’s a fright.
I’m hairy high and low,
Don’t ask me why; don’t know!
It’s not for lack of bread
Like the Grateful Dead; darling!

From Hair, James Rado & Gerome Ragni (1967)


As for this Geek, spring has finally been ushered in with the Anuran arias I associate with the new season.  The songs of Spring Peepers sound like poetry to these ears, even if they are unseasonably early!


May’s edition of HoH will be hosted by Bernard Brown at Philly Herping … submit your herpy contributions by May 15!

This is ridiculous

Thirty. Five. Fracking. Degrees.

This is insane.   It is just not meant to be thirty-five fracking degrees on April 3 in eastern Ontario.  It just isn’t.

Everyone is confused.   I’ve seen two garter snakes this weekend.  I had to swerve on a dirt road to avoid smucking a hopping toad.  I…I…well,  just LISTEN to this:

Does that sound like April 3 to you?  Nosirreebob, it does NOT.

I fear that, if we get another cold snap (which almost certainly will happen) all the temperature-sensitive critters are going to suffer greatly. 

Peepers, go back to bed!!!!

The Howler Monkey Story

So I just enjoyed a good laugh over some DAMN, NATURE, YOU SCARY-type stories.  (It’s always funny when it happens to someone else.)

I’ve been super-lucky so far with my bug-collecting…other than the praying mantis incident, I’ve escaped relatively unscathed, mainly because I try to stay away from bugs with stingy-looking bits. 

That’s not to say I haven’t had run-ins with nature.    I have, as a matter of fact, been bitten by a pretty good portion of the larger mammals of the province of Ontario: fox, raccoon, skunk, squirrel (both red and grey), groundhog (ohhhh, that one HURT), porcupine, otter, bat…  when one is an intern at a wildlife rehabilitation centre, one’s #1 workplace hazard tends to be “wildlife”.

I’ve been nipped by a handful of snakes (non-venomous thankyouverymuch) and numerous times by one particularly cantankerous bullfrog…did you know frogs have teeth?  They totes do.  It’s WEIRD.

Oh, and my left pointer finger once got slashed by the incisors of a very pissed-off vampire bat (I had it in a bag so I could weigh and examine it).  The wound bled and bled and bled (thank you, anticoagulants) – which was cool because it allowed me to go around to everyone within earshot going, “DUDE, I totes got bit by a vampire bat!!!”  for hours and everyone was like, “OMG no way!”,  and I was all like, “Way!”, and they were all like, “Whooooaaa.”   Yeah, that was cool.   Trying to explain the situation to an ER doc back in Canada after deciding I should probably get a rabies booster was not so cool.  It’s very obnoxious to have to say, “Yes, doctor, it was a vampire bat.  Yes I’m sure.  Desmotus rotundusROTUNDUSWill you stop looking at your flow charts and just give me the damn shot?!?!?!”  Honest to god, doctors have big text books with flow charts about bat bites to determine whether a rabies shot is warranted.   Yeesh.

Although many of these experiences made me uncomfortable (in the ow ow owie ow sense) none really scared me much.

I think my only truly DAMN, NATURE, YOU SCARY moment was in Belize.  I was there with a small group of undergrads for a three-week crash course of the ecology of tropical bats; we were in the heart of the small Central American country, nestled along a freshwater lagoon and surrounded by largely unexplored Mayan ruins.  It was our first night in the rainforest.   It was remote and dark as hell.  There were three of us (me and two other students) stationed next to a mist net we’d set up along a clearing in the jungle.  Our head lamps were off.   Leaving them on would mean scaring the bats, which would be bad for bat research-type activities. 

Picture if you will: three completely green city kids with combined field experience of  “zero” .  It is nearing midnight.  Pitch black except for the bazillion stars that blanket the sky all the way down to the flat horizon.  Deafeningly noisy from all the jungle critters that don’t sleep.  We cannot sit down because there are tarantulas and scorpions and poisonous snakes and ants the size of my head.  Plus jaguars.  If you sit down you waste about 2 seconds of perfectly good running-away-from-jaguars time by having to stand back up.   We are pretty much scared shitless.  

Then, nearby, we start to hear a troup of howler monkeys talking amongst themselves.  And by “talking” I mean “making otherwordly freaky utterings and moans and roars”.   We’d seen and heard quite a few monkeys earlier, during daylight, and although they were unnerving they were more interesting than anything.    At night it’s a whole different story. 

The monkeys noisily made their way over to our net station and parked themselves directly overhead.  They chattered and rummaged and banged around up in the canopy while we held our breaths and waited for them to move on.    After about ten minutes, they did, roaring as they went.  We started to relax.

What we didn’t know was that one bastard monkey had stayed behind.  And that he had quietly snuck down a tree until he was a mere few feet from the ground.  And the tree in which he was hiding was about 5 feet behind me and my nervous compatriots.   And what did that bastard monkey do?


And we screamed.  Literally shrieked and clutched eachother in the pitch blackness and screamed our fool heads off, convinced we were about to be eaten or at the very least messily rent limb from limb.

Our PI (who was neither young nor sleek nor athletically inclined in the slightest)  came “running” over from our main base about 1 mile down a narrow jungle path.   He stopped, doubled over into a near-fetal position with his hands on his knees, and managed to gasp out, “What happened?”   

Our story was met with a withering look that screamed “EPIC TROPICAL FIELD WORK FAIL” and he stomped back down the path to his own station.

It’s funny now.  We quickly got quite used to monkey visitors and even mustered up the nerve to sit on the forest floor at night (just keep your pant legs tucked into your socks and you’re good to go).   The PI eventually forgave me for being such a wuss; he took to calling me “Jungle Jane” by the end of the trip and even shared his carefully guarded bottle of scotch with me on our last night there – a truly memorable evening of geekery, tasty drinkables, sitting on a rickety dock that stretched out over the lagoon and basking in the light of a million stars which twinkled off the still, black waters where they mingled with the red glint of crocodile eyeshine.   

A life-changing experience  to be sure (and totally worth the  thinking I was going to die for a few minutes).    I kind of hope there will be other opportunities to experience the sublime terror of DAMN, NATURE, YOU SCARY in the future.  Hm.  I’m pretty sure there’s a line item in my new research budget for “guys with guns to keep polar bears from eating PhD student”, so a Geek can dream, yes?

%d bloggers like this: