Field herpetology is not an exact science, even when practiced by actual scientists (just ask Bob Mount).
Its truest practitioners showcase a faith unseen in even the more exuberant ecclesiastical congregations – that is, if they show up in a place where creatures should be and look in places they might be, said creatures will appear.
Through bramble, in briars, they endlessly trek, looking for any sort of habitat hospitable to their prey.
Reptiles and amphibians must be sought out and discovered, surprised from their grounds inside of bushes and under forgotten stumps and logs.
The utmost care must be taken in this disruption, as one could just as easily uncover a harmless marbled salamander as easily as one could a venomous copperhead or timber rattlesnake.
The moment one is flipping a log or checking a stump, anything is possible.
One could run the gamut of species, and find a seldom-seen snake or lizard, or one could find nothing but the odd bug or strangely colored fungus.
One imagines it is hope, the eternal search of the new and interesting or the common and familiar, that gets these people to mill about in the forest or alongside forgotten creek beds and ponds for hours upon end.
In the early mornings, in the dead of night – they are there, chatting about what they’d like to see and exalting in any thing they do find.
Even if a relatively common species, perhaps a mole salamander, appeared, it was photographed and celebrated with a triumph that would seem superfluous to those uninitiated with “field herpers” and their ways.
There is no agony in the defeat of not seeing anything – one still had a nice bit of exercise out walking with a pleasant group of people, people at their happiest, getting to engage in one of their favorite activities.
The enjoyment was undoubtedly contagious; one cannot imagine squishing around a frog pond at midnight would suggest otherwise.
The weekend’s snake of choice was the indigo snake, a once prevalent south Alabama species now decimated to a small number reintroduced to the Conecuh Forest since the mid-2000s.
Researchers have seen promising signs of mating and the sight of juvenile snakes was possible, so all hope is not lost for the beleaguered species.
During the weekend, only two specimens were found by the four groups, a true showcase to the disappointing results that can come from herping expeditions.
One of the indigo snakes had clearly been injured, as the base of its tail showed signs of struggle and showed a hint of bone.
Researchers can attempt to protect the species as best they can, but they cannot undo the laws of the natural world – a place where “Eat or be eaten” is still the governing natural maxim.