What are the "do"s and "don't"s while herping for snakes?

I just recently started going herping and I haven’t found anything so I’m thinking maybe I’m doing something wrong.

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Welcome to the forum, @Blackprincess!

I don’t have the answers because I find myself herping by accident (Oh, cool a snake/ turtle/frog!) but here is this topic (doesn’t really answer your question directly but may have other useful information if you’re developing an interest in herps):
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/herping-etiquette-and-opinions/1955

I live near some water I can visit each day so I try to look for female turtles moving about going to or from a scrape around the appropriate times of year and I generally look for sunning snakes but other than that, I’m useless :)

I’m sure @tiwane’s interest in herps might be helpful?

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Welcome to the forum @blackprincess!

I’m honestly terrible at finding herps, even though I love them so. It’s usually my wife who points them out while we’re hiking. She even saved me from accidentally stepping on (my lifer) speckled rattlesnake in the middle of a trail, even though it was the species I was looking for!

What kind of herps are you looking for? Advice for turtles or salamanders will be quite different than for snakes, for example.

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Try starting in the early morning hours when snakes are likely to be basking or hunting. I’ve been more successful coming across snakes during this time. I usually don’t need to pick up snakes, but when I do, it’s to relocate them.

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I’m still not great at it but I’ve found a couple in rotting tree stumps, and water snakes in rivers and streams. Mostly it’s wandering around in likely habitats and nearly stepping on one just when you are convinced you’ll never find anything. :wink:

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Welcome! I’m glad to hear you are interested in learning about reptiles in your community. I don’t really have the time to go in depth regarding your question at the moment, because it would take a long time and I’m at work right now. Lol. I may come back in a short while to try to help more. There are A LOT of "Do"s and "Don’t"s, though, first of all. For such a niche interest, the herping community has a bizarre amount of culture present. There’s honestly more going on than I even know about, since I was taught primarily by graduate students and professors. The amateur herp community is even weirder.

The first thing I would say is that you’re going to want to make sure that you are doing things legally. Each state has different laws regarding what you can and can’t do. In Texas, for example, herping is actually regulated as a form of hunting. So, you have to have a license, and follow “rules” for how you are allowed to herp. So, let’s start with which state you’re in and go from there. That’s probably a good starting point, since there might be some important things to read up on first so you’re not intimidated if someone accuses you of doing something wrong.

The second most important thing I would recommend would be finding a person or organization that you can learn from. There’s just so much subtlety and nuance both to actually finding the animals, handling them, and to the “etiquette” of herping. Without help from others when I was new, I never would have figured out what I was doing. Depending on where you’re located, there might be herping events or clubs that you can look into and these are fantastic places to learn.

I hope this isn’t intimidating for you because, let’s be honest, we need more black herpers and birders. It’s a very white space, but it shouldn’t be, and that makes it more difficult for non-white newbies to get started. If you’re interested in efforts to increase diversity in these fields, then definitely check out this link:

https://linktr.ee/blackafinstem

Also, you can look into the organizers of Black Birders Week, which just had its first campaign this month. Here is the Wiki for that event:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Birders_Week

Anyway, welcome! I’ll try to get back on later to get more specifics, once we know which state you’re herping in.

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It all depends upon what you want to see. Are you into snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, or salamanders? You have to target them or you could spend all day finding very little. I could tell you two things that would help you get started well. 1) find a community of herpers near you to learn the ropes from. If there’s any club or organization near you, it’s very helpful to get experienced people to go into the field with. 2) Use iNaturalist to search for what species interests you (or just look at what lives near you), and then see when and where people are finding them.

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Apparently I didn’t read the whole title of the topic, which is about snakes. Sorry about that!

@bennypoo gave a lot of solid advice, so I’ll just add a few more things:

  • I’ll often hear a snake before I see it, usually as it’s escaping the trail and going into cover then out of my life forever. They have a very distinctive sound (a continuous rasp through the brush, unlike the patter of lizards, mammals, and birds) that you’ll start getting attuned to.

  • snakes do like to hide under cover objects, like boards, logs, and rocks, especially if there’s still some moisture underneath them. So carefully lifting those up (put your hands on the opposite side of the object and lift toward you, so if it’s a venomous snake it can escape) can sometimes work well. But make sure to put the object back the way you found it, and do your best to not harm any other animals under the object when doing so. Not returning cover objects degrades habitat for all the creatures out there.

  • if you plan on grabbing a snake, make sure it’s legal to do so, and make sure you know which snakes are venomous in your area. In the bay area, where I live, rattlesnakes are the only dangerous snakes and they’re pretty distinctive. In other parts of the world things are a lot trickier.

  • Remember that being held by a giant human is probably pretty stressful for the snake. I only rarely handle wild snakes anymore, but when I was younger I was much more into grabbing them. Everyone has their own thoughts on this, but for what it’s worth I’m much less likely to touch one these days.

  • Finally, if you’re already out in nature, remember that there are so many other amazing things to see! In the past I wasn’t happy if I didn’t find a snake while out hiking, which made for a lot of unsatisfying hikes. I realized I would be a lot happier if I just enjoyed my time in nature and started looking at plants, insects, birds, and everything else. If I found a snake, hey, even better. Using iNat is a great way to start learning about an entire ecosystem while you’re out looking for snakes.

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As others have said, looking under cover objects such as boards, logs, or rocks is a good way to find many snake species. Snakes can often be seen basking on sunny days on exposed rocks, infrequently used roads in rural areas, and on and in vegetation near wetlands. On cloudy or rainy days it’s much easier to find them under cover objects. What you may find largely depends on what region you’re herping in and how much the habitat has already been disturbed by humans.

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i would just add that you should make sure the object you’re moving is something that you can safely move – not just for you, but also for the critters that might be living there. once, i started to roll over a medium-sized log only to have its bark come loose, causing the log to roll back into place and squashing a copperhead underneath. (sorry copperhead.) when putting the object back in place, make sure you don’t squish anything below. also if you’re living a place where temperatures get cold enough, i might avoid turning over logs on colder days, since it may be hard to return the log back a position that protects the immobile animal from the cold, without squishing the animal in the process.

i totally agree with this. i’ve come across folks who’ve totally trampled the environment where the snakes live, just to see the snakes. that strikes me as similar to visiting your friend and destroying her whole neighborhood in the process. everything’s connected.

also, paying attention to other creatures and changes in the environment may help you find the snakes. examples:

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Where and how to find them depends tremendously on where you live, and often, the time of year. Here in Sonoma CA in the spring and fall they are mostly under cover objects, in the winter they are too but are harder to find because so many of them are underground. In the summer, I much more often find them basking on paths or rocks or just moving around in the grass. In New York where my parents live, I’ve only found snakes in the summer and early fall, and whether they are under cover objects or out and about depends on the time of day. Looking up who are the top snake observers in your area and messaging them would be a quick way to get local insight.

I agree with previous comments: the more you’re out in the right habitats, the more you’re likely to find snakes!

Being discreet and patient helps a lot, paying attention to sound cues, and being attentive about other organisms.
Sometimes, knowing how to interpret other animals’ behavior might be very useful. For example, eavesdropping on blue jay alarm calls led me to this eastern ratsnake, which was itself completely out of sight and earshot.

For herping tips and strategies, I highly recommend the field herping guide, by Pingleton & Holbrook, which provides excellent advice regarding every aspect of herping, from how to find them, to safety and ethics. iNaturalist is even mentioned! :-)

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OK, I am finally off work and back to perusing the iNat forums. I just want to let you know that you can post here or PM me for any questions you might have. My herping experience is primarily in the southern states and the Bahamas, but I do have friends that have worked in more northerly climes, so if you are located in a colder climate than I’m familiar with, I’d be happy to get you in touch with researchers in the appropriate region, as long as it’s East coast. I have very few contacts on the West coast, unfortunately. I have a lot of expertise in Texas, and East to Florida and I have contacts who have worked extensively North to Maryland. Outside of that, I am unfortunately close to useless.

So, I hope you are located somewhere where I can help and if not, I hope there is someone here who can get your started on your journey!

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We just have little garter snakes here in Illinois but I can tell you they usually hang around the edge of a pond or lake…most are napping in the cattails. Be careful you don’t step on them, they get annoyed. I hope that helps!