Thursday, October 8, 2015

Beauty and cruelty, all in the same place

(Warning to my sister Mary: This post contains a photo of a snake.)
It has been some time since I have been able to join in an outing of the Thursday Naturalists, those intrepid and knowledgeable trekkers of our local woods and fields.
But today, the schedule worked out for me and the planned outing was near by in Malta's 100 Acre Wood. With Ed Miller in the lead, we set off to see what we might find and identify along the woodland trails.
Wildflowers are nearly all gone by October, but a few berries and many fungi were spotted throughout our walk. Fungi are tricky to identify and I am not an expert. However, I am happy just to admire the varied colors and shapes we find.

Above, Jackie Donnelly, of Saratoga Woods and Waterways, was photographing some of the fungi to identify when she returned home. 
We encountered some plants that are familiar to me, like the partridge berry, above. I am especially fond of partridge berries, a cheerful and diminutive denizen of the northern woods in winter.
But this plant, above, I did not know before. It is Pipsissewa, a Cree name, or Chimaphila umbellate. "Chimaphila" from Greek means: cheima 'winter' and philos 'lover', hence 'winter lover'.  What a great name.
Another new-to-me plant was this rattlesnake plantain, which is actually a native orchid: Goodyera pubescens. Online sources tell me it is one of the most common orchids native to eastern North America. The flowers were long gone this day, but oh how the leaves glowed in the filtered light of the woods. Such pretty leaves.  "Pubescens" in Latin means "downy". 
And speaking of snakes ...
Our group of eleven was making our way back to our cars, with me scuffing along toward the back when I suddenly spotted this snake lying very still near the side of the trail. It was a pretty chilly morning to see a snake about and I didn't recognize this one. I called the group back and we circled around. What was it? Was it dead or just in a cold-induced stupor?

None of the eleven of us could identify the species. There are only seventeen species of snakes native to New York, and among this group are decades-worth of woods and gardening experience. That we couldn't name it seemed odd. Jackie wondered if it could be an exotic species that someone had let loose and suddenly, that seemed like the right explanation. Gently, she moved the snake to a sunny spot so that it could warm itself. Not knowing for certain what the snake was, we left it safely off the trail and continued on.

Once home, I googled "exotic pets" and quickly found an answer. I am pretty certain our poor snake is an abandoned ball python. Ball pythons are native to central and western Africa and thrive in warm, tropical areas. The Internet tells me that pythons like basking temperatures of 88 to 96 degrees and that pet owners should never let the temperature in a python's enclosure fall below 75 degrees. Sadly, our guy is probably a goner by now.

While I am not a huge fan of snakes, I don't approve of animal cruelty. Shame on the pet owner who left this poor creature to die of cold in the woods. Surely, the SPCA (or even Craig's List!) could have found a home for it.

Rest in peace, Mr. Python. I am sorry some humans are such jerks.