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OUTDOORS COLUMN: Spending a day at Reptile Central

Bob Kornegay

Bob Kornegay

I’m writing from the Florida Gulf Coast today. Been doing a lot of nature-nerd stuff down here around Sopchoppy. It’s 4:30 a.m., and it’s already hot. Yesterday was worse.

I took a seven-mile hike at Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge and walked up on a raccoon wearing Bermuda shorts, sunglasses and a tank top. He was sitting in the shade drinking beer from an Igloo cooler.

“Howdy,” he said.

“Hey,” I replied.

“Want a cold one?”

I declined the gracious offer. Not wise to let fellow hikers see you carrying on a conversation with tackily dressed wildlife mirages, let alone drinking beer with one.

I moved on, thinking of other hot days I’ve lived through. I have many hot-weather stories. None, however, compare to a summer day last year and the wildlife encounters experienced by a buddy of mine.

Not having any particular plans and not wanting to spend the day vegetating in a lounge chair, my friend decided to go out and putter around in his garden. Plenty of chores to do in the shade, he thought.

Out there among the trees, flowers and shrubs, it seems, there are some critters that are not put off by muggy air and stifling heat. On the contrary, they apparently enjoy the sweltering conditions. I guess they missed that lady on the Weather Channel who said exertion and physical activity should be kept to a minimum this time of year.

Despite the fact that the bird and squirrels were conspicuous by their absence, there was a veritable reptile convention going on in my buddy’s backyard.

The scaly critters were having a ball, a large portion of their entertainment no doubt stemming from a penchant for scaring him witless with each sudden appearance.

One of his bird feeders, for example, was closely guarded by a huge gray rat snake that “playfully” struck at him when he quite accidentally put his hand on him (or her, who knows?). At almost the same instant, he heard frenzied noises, somewhere between a high-pitched bark and a howl, emanating from his dog kennel. Rounder, his Heinz 57, was expressing a grave disdain for the Eastern king snake he’d just discovered beneath his suspended water bucket. The yellow-and-black intruder refused to move until my friend nudged him (her?) with his foot, at which time the snake beat a hasty retreat beneath the storage shed. Rounder kept barking, even after he was told snakes are deaf and he was wasting his time.

Undeterred, my pal continued gardening, paying little attention to the dozens of Carolina anoles fleeing from his snapping pruning shears. The little green lizards, too, were out in force.

So were the skinks, sleek blue-striped ones and the big redheads and broadheads as well. Skinks are just plumb full of surprises, especially when they appear, seemingly from nowhere, to dart across one’s shoe tops or up one’s britches leg. Unlike the little anoles, they got a reaction from my buddy, though they refused to hang around and join him in his energetic and entertaining dance through the pine straw mulch.

All this snake/lizard/human activity went unnoticed by the box turtle the guy rudely awakened from its nap beneath the American beautyberry bush. The venerable old reptile just seemed bored by the whole state of affairs.

Toward dusk, my longsuffering acquaintance put away his hoes, rake, and other implements of “destruction” and went back inside.

There was still plenty of daylight for a few more garden tasks but, hey, he thought, why press his luck?

They way things were going, there could have easily been a big diamondback sleeping in his compost heap. Considering the day, the scenario seemed more than likely.

“Worse still,” he lamented, “there’s a pond just a couple hundred yards from my house. I’d have hated like heck to rake a 12-foot alligator out of my flower bed. Nobody’d ever believe it!”

Questions? Comments? E-mail Bob Kornegay at cletus@windstream.net