A Partial Answer To Gulf Sea Snake Mystery

The réponse to my blogs about sea snake sightings in the Gulf of Mexico has been tremendous. I have received nearly 200 reports dating back to the 1970s ranging from Cuba to the South Texas Coast.

Some have included photos that were misidentified eels, yet other reports were more mysterious.

Sea snakes are not indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic so these reports are quite controversial to say the least.

I recently received an email with an interesting and (fairly) clear photo of a snake caught on Galveston Island, TX.

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A Gulf salt marsh snake caught on Galveston Island in Texas. (Photo submitted by Ashley Moore)

The people who caught it thought it might be a sea snake.

After all, it was on the beach and did not look like snakes commonly seen by most citizens in the region.

The snake in the photo however is a Gulf salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii clarkii).

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Naturalist and wildlife photographer Cody Conway was kind enough to let us use this photo of a Gulf salt marsh snake he photographed on the Texas coast. Conway noted there is some hybridization among the nerodia snakes in the region and some variation in patterns in salt marsh snakes. (Photo by Cody Conway)

I never thought of these being the source of some Gulf region sea snake sightings until receiving this photo.

It does makes sense for numerous reports I have received in open bays and beaches in the region.

Very few people know of this snake and they are very aquatic.

According to officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), the Gulf salt marsh snake grows to a length of 15 to 30 inches.

Distinguishing characteristics include two longitudinal tan or yellow stripes on each side of the body, making up the dorsal (top) pattern of the snake. It has a reddish-brown or grayish-black ventral (bottom) color with one to three rows of large pale spots along the center of the belly. This snake is flat headed.

They added that as a way to avoid predators, salt marsh snakes are nocturnal (active at night) and often hide in shoreline debris and in crab burrows in the mud or sand.

The Gulf salt marsh snake does not have salt glands to help rid itself of the salt it eats so it must be very careful not to drink salt water. It gets moisture from rainfall and from the animals it eats.

Interestingly, their name is Nerodia clarkii, but it is a subspecies of this group so the actual name is Nerodia clarkii clarkii according to the University of Florida 

The other two subspecies are found in Florida.  The Mangrove salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii compressicauda) is found from central Gulf coast of Florida, around the Keys to Indian River County on the Atlantic coast.  The Atlantic salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii taeniata) has a very small range.

These snakes are nonvenomous but will bite if handled.

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An illustration of a true sea snake, a banded sea krait. If you are vacationing or working in their Pacific and Indian ocean range do not pick up. Sea snakes are the most venomous snakes on Earth despite generally having a calm disposition.

It’s best to leave them alone especially noting that TPWD officials and other researchers believe their numbers are on the decline.

These unique snakes will not account for all of the “sea snake”sightings in the Gulf region but I now believe they are part of the equation.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Panther Encounter Makes Wild Wishes® Come True

Reannah Hollaway was hesitant to put the piece of raw chicken in her hand.

“It feels gross,” she said.

But as she brought the chicken toward the fence and a Florida panther gently took it, a big smile came across her face.

“Wow, I just fed a panther!”

Lauren Scott was up next and was blown away the Florida native cat not only took the food but gave her a “high-five”.

Lauren gets to feed a panther with the help of Bertie Broaddus.

“Amazing,” she said.

These encounters were part of a special Wild Wishes® project at Bear Creek Feline Center in Panama City, Fla.

A Florida panther named “Thatcher” checks out the visitors at Bear Creek Feline Center.

Wild Wishes® grants wildlife encounters for children who have a terminal or critical illness or have lost a parent or sibling. It’s a project of Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center® based out of Pinehurst, TX (Orange area).

Since 2014 the organization has granted 92 of these wishes and also works with children in the foster system and families who have children struggling with various issues.

“This was a very special encounter because these two girls have been part of our program for a year and a half. They are both volunteering as interns this summer, and this was the big send-off before college classes begin. We have been teaching them how to promote wildlife conservation, and this is an incredible inspiration for them,” said Lisa Moore, co-founder of Wild Wishes® and Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center®.

The other co-founder, her husband Chester is an award-winning wildlife journalist and said the story here is the ability to learn about wild cats so intimately.

“These girls got to interact with Siberian lynxes, Florida panthers, bobcats and servals and each time Jim and Bertie Broaddus educated them about these great animals and their place in the wild,” Moore said

“Since coming into our program Reannah changed her major to wildlife conservation and Lauren is getting an education degree to become an elementary teacher. We believe they will have a major impact on wildlife and wildlife education in the future and a catalyst for that will be these experiences.”

Bear Creek Feline Center is one of the few facilities in America to house jaguarundis.

Sometimes called the “otter cat” because unusual, low-profile look, these cats were of particular interest to the girls and they spent extended time photographing them.

One of the jaguarundis at Bear Creek Feline Center.

“The photos will be used for future writings and social media activity where we will not only mention this great facility but also the conservation status of jaguarundis, which is a bit mysterious. We think featuring them will be an engaging way to educate people about wild cats in the Americas,” Chester said.

Safe, interactive wildlife encounters are crucial to inspiring people to appreciate wildlife and become advocates for species and habitat conservation.

“We’re appreciative of our partners at Bear Creek Feline Center for helping us take our mentoring program to a new level and for in a big way make Wild Wishes® come true for some special young ladies,” Lisa said.

In a technology-driven world where man seems to get more disconnected to nature by the day, opportunities like this can cause one to pause and ponder Creation.

Sure, the girls might have been taking cell phone photos of the cats and posting to Instagram, but they exposed people to wildlife in inspiring fashion in the process.

That’s a win for wildlife and young people facing challenges alike.

To connect with Bear Creek Feline Center click here.

 

 

Wildlife Journalist Giving Away Free Wild Sheep Curriculum

Award-winning wildlife journalist and conservationist Chester Moore and his wife Lisa are giving away a month-long North American Wild Sheep curriculum to any educator whether home, private or public school. 

“We are fully committed to wildlife and sheep conservation is right there at the top of the list for us. We want to do our part to see young people get an engaging education on wild sheep. They need to understand these great animals and know the role hunter-conservationists have played to ensure their future,” Chester said.

Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.

The curriculum will be available beginning Aug. 15.

“We love wild sheep in the Moore household, and we want to educate young people about these great animals. This is our gift to wild sheep and to kids who love wildlife,” said Lisa Moore, a certified teacher of 22 years.

The Moore’s said they have been inspired by conservation groups like the Wild Sheep Foundation, Texas Bighorn Society and others that have contributed so much to wild sheep. This curriculum is the first step in their forthcoming Conservation Campus that will bring cutting-edge wildlife conservation to home and private schools.

“We decided to do this while at 10,000 feet photographing bighorns in Colorado on our 20th anniversary. It was a dream come true moment for us, and we wanted to do something to inspire young people to get involved in sheep conservation. It’s a great privilege to contribute even a small bit to help secure the future of wild sheep,” Chester said.

To get the free curriculum email chester@chestermoore.com.