Twigs, snakes, or scat?

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New uses for a leaf blower during Hogtober

It’s ARC’s seventh Hogtober in the Francis Marion National Forest. If you recall from our last email, October, known as Hogtober, is one of the three months of the year during which southern hognose snakes are less difficult to detect, making it ideal for surveying. During Hogtober, southern hognose snakes are venturing out from their underground homes to fatten up for the winter. Additionally, hatchlings are making their first appearances, as females lay eggs in early summer.

Southern hognose snakes inhabit as little as 4% of the Francis Marion National Forest, and while that sounds small, it amounts to 10,000 to 20,000 acres! It’s quite a big job for ARC’s team of three, so we are thankful for help from our interns and scientific advisors who also make things more fun while we’re working hard!

In addition to the vast area that we need to cover, temperatures can get warm and the persistence of flies can be bothersome. Finding southern hognose snakes can still be challenging even during peak detection months, as they are small snakes that can be hard to spot, making surveying tedious and tiring work. ARC’s team sometimes uses a leaf blower to clear roads to make sure that we are able to distinguish twigs or coyote scat from possible snake sightings.

Of the southern hognose snakes that we’ve been fortunate to spot, some are recaptures that we’ve already tagged. Even more exciting are the new snakes that we’re finding and adding to our database!

ARC’s survey efforts will help us understand how the southern hognose snake population is distributed, but we still need more data. We look for differences in trends from year to year based on information such as CPUE, or captures per unit effort. CPUE calculates the average amount of time spent and distance covered to find each snake. This data is provided to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources so they can monitor species status. The results of our work will help us make sure that the southern hognose snake remains in its habitat long into the future.

While we are here, ARC is documenting every single piece of information that we can, including other species that we encounter, making this the most comprehensive data set ever created for the Francis Marion National Forest.

Left: Southern hognose snake hatchling, Right: Eastern hognose snake hatchling (Photo courtesy of ARC intern Devin Welch)

Pretty cool, right? Happy herping!

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