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    Pinelands Wildlife: Reptiles

A large number of snakes, turtles and lizards live here in the New Jersey Pinelands, and many can be observed right here in Jackson, NJ on the grounds of Howling Woods Farm or in the adjacent Colliers Mills Wildlife Management area.

Below are photos and descriptions of reptiles found here on the farm, many of which we personally photographed and released. Content provided below is based on personal observation & knowledge and from the NJDEP Online Field Guide for Reptiles and Amphibians.

Southern Ringneck Snake Diadophis p. punctatus

The southern ringneck snake is told apart from the northern ringneck snake (both found in Ocean County) by the incomplete neck ring and the series of half-moon patterns lining the underside. This small snake, reaching no more than 15 inches, is found around the farm frequently, hiding under woody debris or in mulch piles during the day. The ringneck snake is active mostly at night, feeding on earthworms, invertebrates and amphibians. This particular individual was found hiding under a piece of plywood in our driveway.


Eastern Box Turtle Terrapene c. carolina.

The eastern box turtle is seen most often on the farm in the middle of June, when the female turtle is active in the late afternoon, beginning to dig a nest where she will lay eggs later on in the evening. Like all turtles, box turtles make their nests in areas exposed to the warmth of sunlight, such as the sandy trails around the farm. The center photo depicts a female shoveling out a depression for a nest on a trail right outside one of our wolf pens.

We have observed this terrestrial reptile all over the farm, from inside our garage to the back of the farm, where it forages on low bush blueberries. Sometimes they venture into the pens, and the furbutts pick them up and carry them around as a trophy, until they get bored and let them go. The turtles are safe within their shell, which can be completely closed to protect their soft tissue. I believe the woofers could easily crack the turtles shell if they needed to....but they don't need to, and do not.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection identifies the eastern box turtle as a species of special concern.

Northern Fence Lizard  Sceloporus undulatus hyacinthinus

When I lived in Arizona, fence lizards could be seen as frequently as butterflies. Here in the New Jersey Pinelands, fence lizards are quite common, but rarely observed. They do frequent the farm, however, and can usually be seen on a warm day basking on a stump, rotting log, or the side of a tree as seen above. If you get too close they scamper away to safety, either up the tree or under a log pile. They are the only lizard in New Jersey that you will see out in the open, and the only one that has keeled pointed scales.

Video of fence lizard found at Howling Woods Farm

Eastern Hognose Snake  Heterodon platyrhinos

The hognose snake is one of the coolest animals on the planet. I never observed this special creature in the wild until I moved to Jackson, where I came upon one while digging holes for our wolves' fencing. This absolutely harmless snake is a genius at disguise....when first approached it will mimic a rattlesnake by vibrating it's tail, which has no rattles but in leaves and debris makes a similar sound. If that does not work, it will flatten it's head like a cobra, inflate it's body and lash out with fangless strikes to imitate a venomous predator. Lastly, if all that mimicry does not work, it goes into convulsions, rotates it's body over and over, regurgitates food, defecates, and finally settles onto it's backside, still as a stone, it's mouth open, imitating death. The third photo, taken myself of the animal on the farm, is an example of a hognose snake imitating death. If you reach down to turn it over, and the snake immediately turns upon it's backside....you can't be dead if you're right side up!

This wonderful reptile earned it's name due to a upturned nose which it uses, like a hog, to dig and uproot it's food, fowlers toads and eastern spadefoots, which are common in the sandy soil of the pinelands and all around Howling Woods Farm.


Eastern Ribbon Snake    Thamnophis s. sauritus

The eastern ribbon snake is primarily an aquatic species, scouring our ponds in search of aquatic invertebrates and amphibians. This particular individual was found under the hose bib on the side of the house, which is frequented by it's favorite prey, the fowler's toad. The ribbon snake it told apart from it's relative the garter snake by the small neck and body relative to head size and the long tapered tail. This extremely docile snake is rarely seen due to it's quickness to avoid detection and nocturnal habits.


Eastern Worm Snake    Carphophis a. amoenus

I had never seen a worm snake until I moved to Jackson. I was moving mulch with my front-end loader, dumping piles around shrubs and spreading mulch around shrubs. While raking mulch I noticed something moving, and looking closely discovered a ringneck snake. I placed it aside to safety and continued raking. Something else moved, looking like a large night crawler, but moving and burrowing much more quickly. I had to move quick to catch it, and upon close observation realized it was a worm snake. Very appropriate name, I saw. This particular individual, in the second and third photo, had milky eyes, indicating it was about to shed it's skin. After photographing it was released back into the mulch.

The first photo is from the web. Notice the narrow pointed head relative to it's body, which helps the snake burrow and search in loose forest litter for prey, such as grubs, worms, and other invertebrates.

Eastern Garter Snake    Thamnophis s. sirtalis

The biggest garter snake I've ever seen lives right here on the farm, approaching four feet long. I see it about two or three times every summer, but never have a camera when I do. (photos above are from the web). Closely related to the ribbon snake, discussed above, the eastern garter snake is perhaps the most common snake in New Jersey, inhabiting a variety of habitats. We see them around the home, around the ponds, and even in the wolf pens. They feed on earthworms, frogs, toads, fish, tadpoles and large insects. I vividly remember holding a garter snake wondrously in my hand as a child, gazing in amazement at the exquisite layout of the scales on it's head and the rich patterns and texture lining it's dorsal region. It was simply a perfect creature to me.

Common Snapping Turtle    Chelydra serpentina

Having no natural wetlands upon our property, I never thought I would see a snapping turtle on the farm. Then one of our volunteers called me over to look at a dead turtle just outside the wolf pen. Approaching I could see it was a large snapping turtle, about 14 inches long, but I wasn't sure it was dead. Touching it with a stick, the turtles head shot up out of the shell with a loud hiss and snap. I'm not sure what it was doing out here, at least a quarter mile from the nearest body of water, but I had seen snapping turtles far away from water before.

In any event, the turtle was a danger to our canines, so we carefully guided the turtle into a large plastic bin and brought him to Turn Mill lake in Colliers Mills. Photos above are from the web...the first photo is about the size of our visitor.


Northern Black Racer    Coluber c. constrictor

While black racers are not venomous, they are extremely alert, agile and, unlike most other snakes discussed here, quick to strike with intent if cornered. However, they rarely get cornered as they are extremely fast and avoid people easily. Most often they are seen crossing a road or path. We often find young racers (above right) on the farm, in mulch piles and under wooden debris. They usually take off and disappear before you have a chance to take a photo. First two photos above are from the web.

They are most common in overgrown fields and open woodland, where they feed on a variety of prey including mice, rats, bird eggs, amphibians, worms and insects. They look similar to the black rat snake, and can be told apart easily by their quick movement. If you happen to get close enough to observe one (like, maybe...a road kill), they have smooth scales compared to the weakly keeled scales of the rat snake.


Eastern Painted Turtle    Chrysemys p. picta

This common turtle is found all over the State, most frequently seen basking on logs and other objects in lakes, ponds and slow moving streams. Baby painted turtles (right photo) are often seen basking on foot trails along bogs and ponds in the Pinelands on the first warm sunny days of Spring.

The turtle can be identified by the two bright yellow streaks pointing back to the eye and the bright yellow lines across the side of the jaw, and red or orange marks on the edge of the carapace (upper shell). They eat a wide variety of foods.


Northern Pine Snake  Pituophis m. melanoleucus

The pine snake is an absolutely stunning animal, growing to over 8 feet long with a rich creamy background, dark bold blotches, and textured keeled scales. Though when threatened it will defend itself with loud hisses and faux strikes, it calms down quickly once handled. Such temperament and fine looks helped lead to it's demise. It's docile manner in captivity lead to over-collection for the pet trade, which along with habitat destruction and off-road vehicle use have reduced the snakes numbers such that it is now considered a threatened species in New Jersey. Though we have not seen this snake on the farm, it does exist in the adjacent Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area. The snake in the middle photograph was found basking in the middle of a dirt road off Route 539 in Manchester, NJ. After photographing, we placed the snake to the side of the road, for it's own protection, watching it slide off into the brush after being let go.

The northern pine snake is found only in the Pinelands of New Jersey, where it feeds on rodents and other small animals by constricting them before consumption. It is most often seen crossing roads & trails in early mornings and late afternoons during summer and all day long during the first few warm days of Spring.

Please don't collect this snake as a pet, or for that matter any other wild reptile. You are not only removing the individual animal itself, but all the offspring the animal could potentially produce.....and no matter how well you take care of it, it will die before it's time in a glass cage. In addition it's illegal....though only for the protection of native snake populations. If you really want to have a snake or other reptile as a pet, purchase a young captive bred animal from a reputable breeder, and make sure it was not collected from the wild.

Redbelly Turtle    Pseudemys rubriventris

Here in New Jersey you rarely see any 'red' on the redbelly turtle, as in the first photo. The local population is highly melanistic, especially older individuals, and they usually appear as seen in the second photo...a big black turtle. Much larger than other basking turtles, the redbelly reaches over 15 inches....only the snapping turtle is larger in our area. However, the snapping turtle doesn't come all the way out of the water to bask, so if you see a very large turtle basking as depicted above, is it almost certainly a redbelly. Baby redbellies (third photo) are easily identified, looking like map turtles due to the green background and folded lines that look like the contours on a topographic map.

Redbellies are very common on the ponds and lakes in Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area, where they are often seen basking on logs rising from Colliers Mills Lake, Turn Mill Lake and Lake Success. These lakes provide basking areas and sunny banks for breeding, as well as their favorite foods....fish, tadpoles, aquatic vegetation, worms and insect larvae.


Northern Water Snake    Nerodia s. sipedon

One of my favorite snakes as a child, the northern water snake is aggressive when confronted but calms down quickly after being handled. Very warm enriched markings on the dorsum and very cool checkered chestnut & white markings on the ventrum (underside). Babies have a black and white alternating pattern. Nearly always found in, next to, or basking above the water. A very common snake and likely every pond and bog in the pine barrens has one swimming about. They feed on frogs, tadpoles, fish, invertebrates and other small animals.



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Content and photos provided by Michael Hodanish
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