The Hunt for Okanagana with Elias
News Category: Cicada Projects
The Hunt for Okanagana with Elias
Back in 2007 when I discovered Okanagana in Massachusetts I was excited and had to tell my good friend Elias - who's from New York - all about the area and habitat. Elias and I met through email correspondence when he discovered Massachusetts Cicadas during the Brood XIII Periodical cicada emergence back in June of 2007. Since then, whenever cicada season rolls around we are in constant contact with each other discussing cicadas and bouncing ideas off of each other as to where to look for species.
We've gone on several cicada hunting trips over the years but have never had the opportunity to hunt Okanagana and while I have sent him several pinned specimens, he really wanted to try to obtain live specimens of his own for study.
When Opportunity Knocks
Elias' areas of interest really spans the gammot. A cardiologist by profession, he holds a 5th degree blackbelt in Karate, hunts meteorites, studies astronomy and studies other insects as well as reptiles, snakes and amphibians. Elias took his vaction this week while attending a 2-day karate seminar in Massachusetts. Since he was in the area he decided to take the opportunity to come for a visit to hunt Okanagana at the Montague, Ma. site.
I knew they were here given my recent success in catching a male specimen in a scrub-oak tree back on May 31st, 2010. I felt very optimistic that we would have great success.
Though the day was warm, it was cloudy and overcast when we arrived at 9:00 am. I told Elias that our best strategy for hunting Okanagana would be to try to catch specimens either when they started calling in the small brush or possibly spotting them by eye on the branches of small pine saplings.
Hog Nosed Snake Discovery
So off we went making our rounds in the low-lying scrub area underneath the powerlines at Montague Plains. I was diligently inspecting the pine saplings in an area with a soft moss flooring when all-of-a-sudden I heard a strange "hissing" sound. I backed off immediately not knowing what made that sound. I walked forward again and the hissing sound returned. I turned and said to Elias that there was something near this tree that is hissing at me. Watch when I walk forward. Sure enough the hissing started again. Elias came forward and said "Look down. There's a snake right at your feet!" I looked down and there it was a snake half way out of its underground burrow. It begain to flatten its head like a cobra and continued to hiss. I know for a fact that we do not have poisonous snakes here in Massachusetts but I immediately thought that someone may have had it (a cobra) as a pet and released it into the wild. For a second there, I really didn't want to go anywhere near it.
With Elias' experience with reptiles and snakes he knew immediately that it was an Eastern Hog Nosed snake. If you look at the accompanying photos you will see the distinctly upturned nose that has given this snake its name. Apparently it uses it's nose to help dig in sandy soil which it prefers to make its home. It also feeds on toads of which here at Montague Plains there are plenty.
As demonstrated by this video link, the Hog Nosed snake has other unusual defense mechanisms. It hardly ever strikes and if threatened goes into a unique defense posture where it plays dead by turning over on its back and letting its tongue hang out of its mouth. It also defecates and sometimes regurgitates a recently consumed meal.
Elias and I spent some time taking photos next to the snake. While I have experience in handling snakes (whenever I come upon a snake, I always treat it as if it were poisonous) Elias decided that he would be the one to pick it up. When he did, the snake defecated all over his hands! Better him than me I always say. The smell was extremely foul. As we inspected the snake closely we could see that the eyes were extremely opague indicating that this snake was just about ready to shed its skin.
If you look at the two photos below (click the thumbnails for a larger view). You will see that as Elias holds the snake you can see how it flattens its head thus resembling a cobra. I'll bet if you see something like that coming at you, you would fear the worst, like I did there for a second. But it was all just "posturing".
Snake Heaven - More Snakes!
While Elias was in his glory, holding the snake for close to 30 minutes, I on the otherhand started to get bored because I knew what we were there for and that was to hunt cicadas. I began to wonder off to see what I could find in the way of cicadas or other insects and photographed this rather large Harvestman (Opiliones) probably from the palpatores suborder. As Elias began to videotape the Hog Nosed Snake, I began to explore other areas.
Walking through the high grass and plant thickets making ones way around pine saplings can be tricky because you never know what you're going to find or accidentally step on. I suddenly decided to look down and it was a good thing I did because there was another Hog Nosed Snake right in my path. I yelled to Elias that I had found another one.
He dropped the snake that he was video-taping and came running over. This particular snake's eyes were more opaque than the previous snake as you can tell by these photos. It was almost assuredly blind and ready to shed it's skin. It didn't really go into any type of defense posture
Exuvia found at Montague - First Time
Elias and I did a lot of walking this day and for the first time ever - and as I was inspecting the pine saplings for live specimens , Elias was walking along a trail at the forest edge. He yelled "Bingo!" when he found the first Okanagana nymph shell. I have never found one here even though I have caught many specimens in the past. I was hoping for the same success as I had a few weeks ago at the Ossipee Pine Barrens where I managed to find 8 in total.
While the day was cloudy and overcast, Elias was feeling pretty good what with the snake-handling bit and now finding an exuvia he indicated that if we didn't catch any live specimens that he was still pretty satisfied with the trip.
Last Year's Cicadas Found
While faithfully inspecting pine saplings I got excited for a split second when I noticed a cicada clinging to a small pine branch. Upon closer inspection it actually turned out NOT to be Okanagana rimosa, nor was it alive for that matter. It was actually a long dead Tibicen canicularis female, of which there are plenty here in the summer months. It lost all of its pruinosity and color and was basically an empty shell.
When doing a cicada killer lek survey with Professor Chuck Holliday back in 2007 we discovered that the Cicada Killers were only bringing in Tibicen canicularis cicadas and not any other species. When Cicada Killers emerge around the middle of July, Okanagana rimosa have long-since died off for the season. Still though, this would be a good thing to check further north in New Hampshire where the Okanagana season seems to run later well into July and August. Of course, there is the problem of finding Cicada Killers.
While the majority of the day was overcast, it was still warm and humid. The sun managed to break out a few times and during those periods, Okanagana rimosa males began calling in the trees. Unfortunately there weren't any calling in the low scrub. On a different note, I did manage to find my own Okanagana exuvum on a small scrub oak tree but I decided to let Elias have it since I already have actual pinned specimens in my collection.
More Wildflower Photos
I'm getting pretty good at identifying our native wildflowers thanks to this new cool site. I really enjoy photographing flowers and other insects and if you haven't noticed yet, my blog articles and photo galleries are loaded with them. Below are a small series of photos I took this day around the Montague Plains area.