Illinoi’s rare rattlesnake – the Eastern Massasauga

Herpetology and ornithology are two awesome topics that I had really been looking forward to, and I was not disappointed.

We learned all about the different kinds of herps from turtles to crocodiles, which are sex determined by the temperature of the eggs, by the way. I was also surprised that I’d never actually seen a salamander in person. We have a lot here, and I will need to go rooting around under logs until I find one. I swear to photograph the evidence once I succeed.

Fox snake eggs that feel all soft and leathery – way cool

My favorite part was all about the snakes, their three different kinds of fangs and how no snakes are poisonous. To be poisonous you have to ingest it. To be venomous is to inflict your poison onto something else. How did I not know this? In Illinois we have 4 venomous snakes – the copperhead, cottonmouth, timber rattlesnake and eastern massasuaga.

The second portion of the day was led by what appears to be a world famous ornithologist. Ok, maybe not, but he was a professor at our university and seemed to have something to do with everything around the world! He had fascinating stories about his research and the people involved with it. I can’t help it, but I love a good story.

He told us about a study of the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Someone got the hair brained idea to look in the stomachs of sharks that like to hang around the rigs, and found them full of birds. Apparently, the lights disorient the migrating birds and they stick around the rigs until they run out of steam and become fish food!

And wow, those amazing migrating birds! Apparently, they can shut off parts of their brain so they can pay attention to guide birds and still get some sleep while they fly.

He took us outside and pointed out all the birds and told stories about them. It was great, and he was so good at it! I totally need to learn to identify their calls, so I know what to be looking for.

I just love birds. I started learning and watching birds when I was in grade school. We always pay attention to birds on our hikes and just saw a coopers hawk AND a belted kingfisher the other day. I’m not really a birder, though – but I suspect that I’d like to be. I know there will be a sharp learning curve, but I think I might join our Audobon Society and tag along with all the bird experts.