More Virginia Critters (I Need a Better Field Guide!)

Last year I posted about the interesting creatures we encounter around our home in central Virginia. This spring is proving to be just as much of an adventure. In fact, we have several mason jars circulating as temporary homes for some of the ones we find. So far this year we’ve caught several different moths, including the caterpillar of the Tussock Moth that we identified using our National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders.

We also recently caught a neat looking frog that was snoozing inside an open bag of potting soil. (I wondered why the soil moved after I scooped a shovel full into a planter, then took another look and found him.) We only kept the frog for a half hour or so, but found one just like him (maybe the same one) the next day hanging out on our back deck. We caught him again and D had fun watching him for a while. He also liked putting the frog, in the container, in the little compartment on the back of his tricycle so he could take it for a ride. 🙂 I think this frog was the same kind we found hanging out by our grill last summer. According to my National Audubon Society Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians, it may be a Cope’s Gray Tree Frog.

This weekend we discovered several new critters, starting on Saturday when the kids wanted to ride their jeep in the driveway and were waiting patiently for Daddy to clear a dead tree he had cut down out of the way.They helped him clear some of the wood and were checking out the ants and other bugs that were in the dead tree trunk.

Finally, Daddy got all of the big pieces out out of the way and the kids could rough-road it over the rest of the debris.

Along the side of the driveway we found a skink that seemed like he was a bit dazed. Perhaps he was hanging out in or around the dead tree when Daddy cut it down? The skink stayed in the same spot for quite a while, allowing me to get a few pictures. I looked it up in my field guide and I think it’s a Five-Lined Skink. These guys usually move really fast, so I think this one was definitely out of it.

Later on the kids were playing and just as I was taking a photo of my son, he looked up at the side of our house and calmly said “Mommy, there’s a Black Widow spider over here.”

“Mommy, there’s a Black Widow spider over here.”

Sure enough there was.

I took a look around and found another one nearby.

I’ve told him before to watch out for the black spiders with the red dots, and to let us know if he sees one. Obviously, he was listening. 🙂 These critters were definitely too close for comfort, so I got rid of them.

The last interesting critter of Saturday was a colorful millipede that we found walking across the driveway. Not sure where he came from or where he was headed, but he was neat. We didn’t touch it, but we did observe it for a little while. Based on an online search, this millipede appears to be an Apheloria virginiensis. Good thing we didn’t touch it; according to some sources, it can secrete a cyanide compound as a defense. (Yikes!)

On Sunday, it was the same story… more animal encounters! Most of them were spotted by my son, and again, he was quick to point them out to me. First, it was a black snake hanging out in our driveway. (May 8 update: Based on my online searches, I think this was a young black rat snake. Still not 100% sure, though.)

Then, there was another skink hanging out in a flower bed. I looked this one up too, and apparently it’s also a Five-Lined Skink. The other one is a juvenile and this one is an adult.

Lastly, as if the two Black Widows perched on the side of our house wasn’t alarming enough, D spotted this monster on the house in the same area the following day. Its legs spanned about four inches, front to back. I wasn’t able to positively identify this spider using my field guide, but I think he was probably a wolf spider. He made me nervous, being on the house and so close to where the kids play, so I got rid of him too.

I have much respect for, and enjoy, the National Audubon Society Field Guides, but I think I need to get something more specific to Virginia, or at least the mid-Atlantic, rather than all of North America. The NAS field guides just don’t seem to be comprehensive enough. The frog, Black Widow and skinks were in the field guides, but the millipede, snake, and brown spider were not; at least, I didn’t find them. However, I suspect the snake we saw may have been a subspecies of one shown in the book. Nevertheless, I will be shopping for some additional references. If you have a recommendation for a good field guide, or another resource for identifying animals (or even plants), I’d love to hear it!

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8 responses to “More Virginia Critters (I Need a Better Field Guide!)

  1. Pauline Grady

    LOVE your blog….pics are beautiful….the kids are adorable….xoxoxo

  2. Wow, really good shots! Love the snake ones and the spiders–well done!

  3. Hope I don’t see any of them in Pa. Maby you should think of moving back home. Ha Ha great pic’s How close did you have to get to get the pic’s I cought some shots of a Paileated Woodpecker he was huge.

    • Yeah, all of this reptile and insect activity has me a little nervous! I left the house just before dawn this morning and there was a big ‘ole meaty wolf spider on my front porch, carrying around its big egg sac. :/ I’m definitely a bit more comfortable with the Pennsylvania wildlife. Plus, the ticks are terrible here.

      For the millipede, I got pretty close… within inches. I was using a wide-angle macro lens I just bought (cheap off of Amazon) and you have to get real close for the macro shots. I took a couple of the striped skink with that lens too. All of the other shots were taken with my 100mm/f2.8 macro lens, so I had a little more space. I probably got within 3-4 feet of the snake, and within 1-2 feet of the orange-headed skink and the spiders.

  4. emily lehman 10-21-11

    Wow!! It must have been creepy crawler day. But I am sure Declan was having a great time with all of them–He gets so excited about all these insects and what not.–Maybe it is the time of year for them to be out and about. The pictures were just great and so clear–enjoyed seeing all of you!!!

  5. First I wanna say……eeewwww….but then I wanna say…Education is the best route to take to understand what is around you…..and it seems there is a lot around you, you have to think about, for sure. You are teaching them the right approach….look from a distance…don’t touch…..it is amazing what you discovered on that colorful millipede….still…..eeewwww….but the pictures are great!

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