The Repticon event in Orlando featured several presentations, one of which was an hour-long lecture by field herpetologist Daniel Parker of Sunshine Serpents. The lecture, “Snakes of the Southeast,” was the most informative talk/demonstration of its kind that I’ve attended. It was the opposite of fright-night snake demos and it answered a number of questions I had about reptile behavior.
The first part of the lecture had Mr. Parker explaining how he finds snakes, a job he calls by the industry lingo “herping.” As I can personally attest, you can find a lot of snakes on roadways. Using a Powerpoint presentation, Mr. Parker spoke of the “hot time” one hour after dark, when Florida’s paved roadways are ideal places to find the reptiles. The roadway shouldn’t be too well traveled, which to my mind includes most roadways outside of major cities that are not interstates. I saw my first Eastern Diamondback in a bike lane near the Gainesville airport one night, which reinforced the idea that one should never step casually out of a car on Florida’s back roads. Mr. Parker’s lecture also had me making a special note to change the burned-out lightbulb outside my front door.
Another important method of finding snakes is “flipping,” which involves turning over debris to see what is underneath. You might also peel back the bark of a tree. The lecture told me what I already knew, that snakes are everywhere in Florida. Mr. Parker offers half- or full-day field trips to find snakes that had me wanting to sign up until I realized that I still had not shed my chickenshit skin and perhaps never would. However, when Mr. Parker brought around a small hognose snake I reached a finger out to touch it and I imagine that one of these days I may decide to write a feature about Mr. Parker.
Despite a poor staging area and a rumpled screen, the lecture was an excellent introduction to the region’s snakes. A section about “imitators” discussed differences between king and coral snakes and between banded watersnakes and cottonmouths. We also learned that coral snakes don’t, as legend would have it, aggressively chew on their victims as if eating a human hot dog. That mental picture had been terrifying me for months, even as I realized it was probably sensationalized in a newspaper report about a man who had been bitten (or munched on) by both a coral snake and a pygmy rattler while throwing garbage into a bin at a cheap motel near Tampa.
Mr. Parker didn’t volunteer how many (if any) times he’s been bitten, unlike Albert Killian of Everglades Outpost Wildlife Rescue who recounted the story of being bitten by a rattler while giving a demonstration to a group of schoolchildren. Compared with Mr. Killian’s “snake pornography,” Mr. Parker’s was a family-friendly “G.” I took from it improved identification skills and a mental note to avoid reaching into anything into which one cannot clear see, including a bathroom cabinet. You never know.
I highly recommend Mr. Parker’s presentation and give it five stars. Not only is it educational, it is also entertaining. Both Mr. B. and I felt that Mr. Parker was an excellent public speaker. Please visit Mr. Parker’s Web site for some great snake photography, too.