Past Meeting, Nov 2020: Bob Ferguson – Snakes of the Pine Barrens


November 22, 2020 by lancasterherp

The Lancaster Herpetological Society (LHS) wants to thank everyone who attended November’s digital meeting on Friday!

The Society was pleased to have Bob Ferguson return for another year to talk about some of his recent herping adventures, accompanied by his exquisite photography. This year he spoke about the snakes found in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, which is an ecosystem that consists of acidic, sandy soil that occupies around 1 million acres of land in the state. For snake enthusiasts, the Pine Barrens is a destination to seek out, and it is only one state away from us here in Lancaster!

Just because there are lots of different snakes in the Pine Barrens does not mean you will see them all without a search. Bob says that you can spend a whole weekend exploring the Pine Barrens and only come across 3 different snake species, which he calls the Pine Barrens Trifecta, the 1) Eastern Wormsnake, 2) Ringneck snake, and the 3) Black Racer.

The Eastern wormsnake

The Eastern wormsnake is fossorial, meaning they live primarily underground and are excellent at digging. Since the Pine Barrens does not have lots of rocks, you will find them by flipping over garbage that people leave behind.

Northern Ringneck snake
Southern Ringneck snake

The Ringneck snake is a snake that every PA herper is familiar with. They are small black snakes with bright yellow/orange bellies and a distinctive ring around their necks. There are two subspecies of Ringneck snakes that intermix in New Jersey, the Northern Ringneck snake and the Southern Ringneck snake. They are generally differentiated by their bellies, with the Northern having a pure yellow/orange belly and the Southern having black dots interspersed on their yellow/orange belly. Most of the Ringneck snakes in the Pine Barrens are Southern Ringneck snakes.

Black Racer

The Black Racer is often confused for the Eastern Black Rat Snake, as they are both nondescript black snakes. If you compare their faces, the Black Racer has a more pointed snout and a sinister look, whereas the Black Rat Snake has more rounded features and cute, puppy dog eyes. The demeanor of the two snake species is distinct, as well. Black Racers are very defensive (though they will always prefer to get away from danger) and Black Rat Snakes are much more laid back and chill. While you can find both snake species in the Pine Barrens, the Black Racer is much more common than the Black Rat Snake.

The Black racer looks like it is up to no good, whereas the Black Rat Snake looks like it wants to snuggle.
Eastern Hog-nosed Snake

One of the most unique snakes that calls the Pine Barrens home is the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake. They are another fossorial species, with an upturned snout that is built for digging. As a defensive mechanism, they will play dead in a very dramatic fashion, mouth splayed open, tongue lolling. Bob does not like getting them to play dead, however, as they will sometimes vomit up a meal in the process. The Hog-nose snake has a very mild venom that is not medically significant, though if you are allergic to it, a bite can result in some swelling.

A hog-nosed snake playing dead
Timber Rattlesnake

The only venomous snake that is medically significant in the Pine Barrens is the Timber Rattle Snake. Interestingly, a mother Timber Rattle Snake will stick around with their new born young for a few days, which is not common with other snakes. They are an endangered species of snake in the Pine Barrens.

Those are just a few of the 17 species of snake that live in the Pine Barrens!

Bob has been producing calendars with his amazing photographs for the past 9 years and giving all of the profits to wildlife conservation. For the past few years, he has donated the money to the Rainforest Trust, which is a non-profit organization focused on the protection of tropical lands. Over the calendar campaign’s history, it has totaled over $19,000 in donations and saved over 20,000 acres of land! You can find his calendars on his Etsy page. Make sure to buy a few and help protect threatened habitats. They make great gifts. Even if your relatives are not fans of snakes, he has a plethora of other calendars, including the birds of Brazil and the animals of Africa.

It was an extreme pleasure to have Bob Ferguson speak with us again at the Lancaster Herpetology Society. Thanks again for all who attended the meeting. We will not be having a meeting next month, as the ongoing Pandemic prevents us from having the customary potluck event. Happy Holidays and stay tuned for word of upcoming events next year.

-Gregory Wier


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