Sunday, April 10, 2011

Herp Glory

"And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good." Genesis 1:24-5

Yesterday we went herping (hm, yes, I guess Jordan was right, that does sound pretty weird. Yet it is a real verb). Herpetology is the study of Reptiles and Amphibians, and I'm taking this elective from Dr. Gordon Wilson, our resident scientist. Kenny headed up the expedition, and with Kellen, Lindsey, Stephen, Noai, Dr. Wilson and his nephew Rory, I went a-herping in the hills around Moscow for the entire afternoon. Here are a few finds.

Western Skink (Eumeces skiltonianus)
This is the second skink we found (#1 had lost his tail, and wasn't as pretty). Fiery little fellows, quick as snakes and quite frightened of us, but would settle down as soon as they'd scurried up onto the black shirt of Kenny or Kellen. Then they'd wait, completely still, as if successfully hiding from us there in the dark. Their golden-brown-black striping, fine cycloid scales and stunning blue tails make them quite handsome.

Rough-Skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa)
Reading Wodehouse for years before meeting newts, I've been tempted to think they were his brainchild - like Finknottles or Black Shorts. But they're completely real. This fairly calm fellow lived under an old stump. His underside was brilliant orange, his costal grooves obvious, his nubbly back almost purplish brown, hands pudgy and childish, and his throat would move up and down quite a bit as he breathed.

Long-Toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum)
Catch #2 (the first was badly enough injured that Dr. Wilson thought it better to not let him loose to suffer in the wild). This one was dark, his green dorsal stripe not as easy to see. His tail was flattened, almost like a newt. It was easy to identify him as a Long-Toed rather than a Coeur d'Alene, simply because of his long 4th toes on his rear feet. I love how salamanders walk, and the way their little elbows stick up above their splayed front feet.

Columbia Spotted Frog (Rana luteiventris)
Mr Frog (the only specimen we found) was small. The field guide tells me they are avg of 1 3/4 to 4 inches long, and I would guess he was at the very smallest end of that range. His belly was pale yellow, his ear drums small, his back covered with small spots and insignificant warts. Frogs are always a bit difficult to convince to stay on your open hand, but we did get him to hang around long enough for a few pictures before we let him go again.

(Northern?) Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea)
Can you tell why he has this name? Look at his head, short legs, general configuration, scale pattern, ect. This one didn't try to bite (unlike one last year), but he really wanted to go back home rather than be a celebrity in the midst of our admiring circle and cameras. You might be able to see the fold of skin along his side, between belly and back scales, which expanded and folded thin again with every breath he took.

Wandering Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans vagrans)
The only snake we found, this fellow was pretty tiny. He was content to wind slowly around our fingers as we talked and took photographs. The wandering is a lot plainer looking than the common garter, lacking its nice red-orange spots, but is still pretty captivating. He has keeled scales (running your finger down his back, you feel more texture than a smooth-scaled skink). His tongue flicks in and out, darting dark and sinister looking.

The way of a serpent upon a rock was one of three things too wonderful for the wisest man of all, King Solomon. And we have this glory, to seek out in the world those things which God has hidden for us.

"It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter." Prov 25:2


  1. Awesome assortment! I miss herping. You write about them so well.

  2. Enjoyed your post. :-)

    My Grandpa's property is covered in newts and salamanders. Catching newts has always been a competitive activity at our church camp too!

    No lizards around here though... :-)

  3. This looks cool, but I would have totally freaked!