Explore, Experience and Enjoy the Beautiful Smith River in Southern Virginia

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mushrooms, Turtles, and Snakes, Oh my!

Article and pictures by: Brian Williams
Edited and posted by: Vicky Thomas

The Virginia Environmental Educators Conference was held here in Martinsville back in September at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. The museum staff combined forces with area groups to provide a fantastic conference. The schedule of events included; great speakers, displays, presentations, a party with bluegrass music, and of course some neat field trips.

Our own Jennifer Doss led a group of 15 conference attendees to Gravely Nature Preserve for a guided hike and discussion on how this park was developed, and how it is currently being utilized as an interpretative preserve combining historical and natural wonders. Every season is different at Gravely, and no matter how many times you have been, the very nature of the forest provides a new experience each time. This hike proved to be notable not only for Jenn's outstanding interpretation of the local area history, but also for a few unexpected surprises that lay in store. We headed across the parking lot to our first stop at the old tobacco barns.
Just around the corner from the barns we enter the woods and stopped at the forest succession sign. A pungent smell was lingering in the air that I immediately recognized it as snake musk. Some of the group thought it was something dead but a few others recognized the smell too and we began searching the area. Soon enough one of the ladies had found the source...a nice little dark phase Hognose snake (heterodon platyrhinos) The hognose snake has a fascinating arrayof defense mechanisms and this "musking" is its first line of defense...but that didn't work on this group.

Next we were treated to it's second defense plan and this one did not hesitate to show us first why it is also nicknamed the "spreading adder."

Once again, this had no effect and it quickly realized that this crowd wasn't buying the whole "Hey, look at this triangle shaped head....I'm really a deadly snake ...really," so it turned to its final trick....the dramatic "death" sequence, complete with mouth agape and tongue hanging out.

"They'll leave me alone now...I'm dead...no one wants a dead snake! They should be running away any minute now...I'll just lift up here and take a quick peak."

"Man, this is a tough crowd, they are just not falling for it...Uh oh, here comes the hand....that's ok, I'll really prove to ‘em that I'm dead now..."

(Engage limp body sequence.)

"Ok, this ain't working either. Just play it cool...keep that mouth open..maybe they'll think I'm a cottonmouth now !"

We really didn't harass the little guy too long, and eventually we all moved on up the trail. (I imagined the hognose meeting another snake later that day and saying..."you won't believe what happened to me. I really got to get a new act.")

Another surprise of the hike was the incredible display of a wide variety of mushrooms.

I won't even attempt to identify all the varieties represented but there was a wonderful article in the Martinsville Bulletin on the mushrooms at Gravely by Holly Kozelsky with great photos by Mike Wray and some mushroom ID's by Richard Hoffman of the VMNH.

Our group couldn't get enough of the fabulous fungi. We stopped for lots of ‘shroom photo op's.

Further up the trail we encountered one of the many resident box turtles (Terrapene carolina) that call Gravely home.

While not as exciting as the "death display" of the hognose snake, the turtles own defense of "I'll just be in my shell" technique was just as effective.

We hiked through the sun-dappled forest over the Jones Cliff Trail and Burgess Loop then back to the cemetery where Jenn shared the history of the Burgess Plantation.