A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

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VanAR
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A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by VanAR » October 15th, 2011, 9:30 am

Since finishing my Phd in Arkansas I've been working on a project investigating turtle reproduction in Tennessee. Living in the upper Tennessee valley all summer gave me the opportunity to herp some areas I hadn't been in before, but the 24/7 schedule of trapping turtles from April to July made it difficult to get out very much. Also, for a variety of reasons I'm not at liberty to share much info or photos regarding the turtles in the project. Here are some highlights from the year:

Before trapping really got heavy, I put in some time looking for salamanders on the Cumberland plateau.

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Ozone falls- no herps, but I did spot a pair of Homo sapiens stoneri hiding in a nearby rock crevice!

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Acris crepitans were everywhere, as usual.

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This post is going to be desmog-heavy, and I'm not 100% sure on some of the IDs, so feel free to chime in. Pretty sure the first I saw were D. fuscus

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Another D. fuscus

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While looking for my primary amphibian target, I saw a number of these snails.

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After several tries, a trip out with my techs netted about 20 Aneides aeneus, the #1 species I'd wanted to find.

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Saw a number of Nerodia sipedon on the banks of the Tennessee River and its tributaries.

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Graptemys ouachitensis were pretty abundant in the area, including this big female

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The local population of Pseudemys concinna are very strikingly patterned. Every individual we saw had brilliantly blue-green eyes.

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This Sternotherus minor peltifer was a highlight of the summer. They don't seem to be particularly common in the valley.

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Apalone are my favorite turtles, and the big female spinifera in this area are beautifully patterned. Their dorsal markings remind me of the new Marine Corps camo pattern, and their feet are just stunning.

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Despite their reputation for being bitey, we found them surprisingly easy to work with. They were more tractable than snappers by FAR.

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After trapping one day, one of my techs spooked up this massive, ancient, and sickly Regina septemvittata, the first I'd seen in the wild.

When we weren't exhausted from work, we did a little roadcruising in the area. Surprisingly, we didn't see many copperheads. The highlight was a DOR mole kingsnake.

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Lampropeltis getula were far more common, and seemed to like crapping on camera. We also picked up some ratsnakes and cornsnakes, but that was about it.

Roadcruising in Tennessee can also acquaint you with some strange local pastimes:

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Go HAWGS!

Once trapping season was over, I decided to make my way back to Blacksburg via the smokies and blue ridge parkway. My primary goal was to see some of the highest peaks in the Appalachian chain, but I also herped along the way.

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Smokies in the distance!

My first stop was Clingman's dome, the highest point in both the smokies and on the appalachian trail.

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Looking southeast

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Looking west

Driving to Cherokee for the night, I stopped at a few spots to look for some of the montane endemics. In the process, I think I came across rock faces covered in Desmognathus monticola (I think). Not the most exciting desmog, but cool to see the differences between these populations and the ones in Virginia.

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Saw this fuzzball wandering on the side of the road. I saw no sign of any adults, but I hope he wasn't on his own.
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Found one of my targets in abundance, just out and about on the forest floor:

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Plethodon jordani

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The next day, I hit the parkway to start making my way north. A wet seep on the side of the road revealed another desmog:

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Pretty sure this is a D. ocoee or carolinensis.

I stopped at a creek not far from Asheville and a frog nearly hit me in the face. I photo'd it in the crevice it stopped in.
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I made a stop at a creek known for Hellbenders, but people were all over it and I didn't see any, unfortunately.

My next stop was the highest peak in eastern North America:
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Nearby, I found yet another desmog, D. carolinensis?

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I also made the unfortunate decision on a couple of these hikes to not bring much water. I didn't plan to hike very far so I could keep on the road, and the consequence was that I wasn't able to wash debris off some of the salamanders I came across. They're all gonna be a little dirty from here on.

Crashed in Boone for the night and got up early to check out Grandfather Mountain. It was pretty well socked in by clouds.

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the swinging bridge

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The rock face near where Weller fell to his doom while collecting salamanders

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visitor's center

Nearby, I found salamanders to be both diverse and abundant:

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Plethodon welleri

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Not sure on this desmog- another monticola?

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Finally, one I CAN identify! Desmognathus wrighti

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quick little buggers

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Another wrighti?

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D. fuscus?

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in situ

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after spooking


Once back to Blacksburg, I've made a few forays into the local hills. My first find was yet another desmog, D. fuscus (again??)

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Towards the end of August, I checked a couple of timber rookeries with a local biologist. I really liked the black head trait that some of these animals had. Completely different from the animals I've seen previously in Virginia.

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There were also a bunch of pregnant copperheads around

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The only timber we disturbed was this smallish male that was hanging out at an empty rookery.

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Van

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Ames
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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by Ames » October 15th, 2011, 11:11 am

I really enjoyed this post! Thanks for sharing it.

That Apalone is off the charts, I had no idea they could have such patterned dorsal plastrons. Aneides is top of my amphibian targets, great shot, seems I am never in their habitat during the summer. Those welleri sure are sharp looking. No muds or springs?

Good luck with the Desmog ID's, in my opinion they are a tough nut to crack.

- Ames

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by gretzkyrh4 » October 15th, 2011, 2:11 pm

Great stuff Van! Glad your first year working in TN has gone well.

Chris

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by Msteffen » October 15th, 2011, 2:57 pm

To me, it doesn't look like you got any monticola. They first few that you think may be monticola, look more ochrophaeus like to me. So my guess is D. ocoee.

The desmogs from Mount Mitchell are D. carolinensis for sure. The division for carolinensis and ocoee is the French Broad River with north of the river being carolinensis and south being ocoee.

The wrighti there I think are considered D. organi now also. I love how they jump. Like little amphibious grasshoppers.

Your questionable wrighti looks like another ochrophaeus thing to me. And right after that is a quadramaculatus.

Your blacksburg fuscus looks right.

If others disagree with my IDs, I wouldn't be too surprised though.

Mike :thumb:

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by mikemike » October 15th, 2011, 4:01 pm

Great post, Van. A. aeneus are at the top of my list for sallies to find, for sure... and have been for years. Looks like you're doing pretty good out there.

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by Eric East » October 15th, 2011, 5:27 pm

Great post Van! Those black headed timbers are awesome!

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Sam Sweet
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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by Sam Sweet » October 15th, 2011, 6:31 pm

Almost all of your desmogs are identified incorrectly. Good going on that first D. wrightii, though. Start from there and work on 'em.

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by DaneConley » October 15th, 2011, 7:05 pm

Loved this post, your photos are out of this world.

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by -EJ » October 16th, 2011, 2:16 am

Nice post.

That softshell is amazing. I've never seen anything like it. Are they protected?

I need an excuse to visit there. I'm hoping I get some visitors next year to give me that excuse.

Side note... who took over Bern Tryons studies?

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by mfb » October 16th, 2011, 5:21 am

Very nice stuff!

The site of Weller's fall is a place all herpetologists should visit.

Mike

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by justinm » October 16th, 2011, 9:35 am

Good stuff Van, I would like to see more about your research but I understand the competitive nature of getting published. The Desmog's are super tough, I would use Dodd's book as your best bet on getting them sorted. So can we call you Doc yet?

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by VanAR » October 16th, 2011, 4:00 pm

Thanks all!

Ames- no muds or springs. I know their general habitat preferences, but the few places I visited like that never produced. I also hoped for 4-toes in similar places, to no avail.

Mike/Sam- thanks for the IDs and motivation. I trust your judgment and will try to figure out how you were able to make those IDs.

EJ- to my knowledge, softshells are not protected. I think they are harvested in pretty large numbers for the Asian food market, if nothing else. Phil Coclough is the new curator of herpetology at Knoxville Zoo, but I'm not sure what his research interests there are.

Justin- yes to your last question, and thanks! I've got several books to crack on these IDs but haven't had the time to put into them yet (and I know I can get free ID help online heh). I wish I could talk about the work going on here, but if you follow the local news for recent "events" in east Tennessee you might be able to figure some of it out. Happily, this work is for the benefit of local turtles, and everything we find will be put to use in their best interests.

Van

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by ksuglennj » October 16th, 2011, 6:01 pm

Great stuff. Good to see the harry one being productive. I thought the Aneides would be my favorite, but dang that welleri is cool looking.

Glenn

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by -EJ » October 17th, 2011, 1:01 am

Bern was working with Bog turtles for many years. I was wondering what happened to that project.
VanAR wrote:Thanks all!

Ames- no muds or springs. I know their general habitat preferences, but the few places I visited like that never produced. I also hoped for 4-toes in similar places, to no avail.

Mike/Sam- thanks for the IDs and motivation. I trust your judgment and will try to figure out how you were able to make those IDs.

EJ- to my knowledge, softshells are not protected. I think they are harvested in pretty large numbers for the Asian food market, if nothing else. Phil Coclough is the new curator of herpetology at Knoxville Zoo, but I'm not sure what his research interests there are.

Justin- yes to your last question, and thanks! I've got several books to crack on these IDs but haven't had the time to put into them yet (and I know I can get free ID help online heh). I wish I could talk about the work going on here, but if you follow the local news for recent "events" in east Tennessee you might be able to figure some of it out. Happily, this work is for the benefit of local turtles, and everything we find will be put to use in their best interests.

Van

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by azatrox » October 17th, 2011, 6:17 pm

The only timber we disturbed was this smallish male that was hanging out at an empty rookery.
It's a good thing you didn't find that horridus in Az Van....if you had disturbed it here, you never would have heard the end of it! :lol:

Excellent post!

-Kris

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by VanAR » October 17th, 2011, 8:14 pm

EJ- I know some people are working on bog turtles, but thats outside of my realm and I'm not sure who they are or what they are doing, besides some kind of conservation/mapping stuff.

Kris- If I'd harrassed a horridus in AZ, getting flack on here would have been the least of my concerns!!

Van

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by incuhead2000 » October 18th, 2011, 3:46 am

Awesome post! Love the softshell it's amazing :beer:

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by Paul White » October 18th, 2011, 4:48 pm

That spiny is off the frigging charts! Though the map turtle is cool too--I guess you trapped it?



The hog and coyote...that was a bit creepy. Did you hear banjos?

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Re: A summer in the Tennessee valley and Appalachians- DUW

Post by Mulebrother » October 18th, 2011, 6:32 pm

Nice stuff buddy...i especially liked the jordani.

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