Herping the Florida Cane Fields

Herping in the Sugar Cane Fields around Hendry County

Melissa Coakley, Ph,D

Florida is a great place to live if you love snakes.  In fact, as I sat down to write this today my husband Bill came into the house to tell me there was a snake in our front yard.  It was already gone when I went outside, but according to Bill it was a black racer – one of the more frequently spotted snakes of the area.  We live in a large rural community and have regular opportunity to view several common wild snakes.  Of course, since Florida is such a large state there are quite a few places we can drive to if we want to see some different species or just some different scenery.  One of my favorite places to herp in Florida is in Hendry County in and around the sugar cane fields near Lake Okeechobee. 

I have to drive a few hours to get to Hendry County – but, during any given weekend throughout February or March this is where I will likely be found.  There is a decent variety of Florida snakes in this area and if you know where to look you will find any number of them.  This past spring I found yellow rat snakes, normal and anerythristic corns, pygmy rattlers, ring-necks, black racers, an indigo, garter snakes, cottonmouths, an abundance of water snakes (quiet often breeding), and of course Florida kings.  The snakes are found under trash and debris, boards, carpet remnants, and fallen signs.  They are also seen in trees, in water or along the banks, and quiet often in roads. 


There is also a large quantity of gators and many frogs and turtles – cooters and softshells mostly - to be seen.  I usually find a few legless lizards and lots of skinks.  I am especially fond of the cool looking broad-head skinks that are plentiful throughout the area.  Sadly, not everything we find is alive.  In addition to DOR snakes, Bill and I have found bones from several animals including deer, alligator, and hog.  We have also, unfortunately, found many shells from turtles who were clearly victims of human predation. 

One never knows what she will find in the sugar cane fields and this is one of the most alluring aspects of hunting there.  I often find snakes loaded with scars from controlled burn.  Last year Bill and I found one badly burned yellow rat snake that seemed to be doing quite well despite the burns.  One of the worst finds was a huge pile of dead frogs – there had to be several hundred – all missing their legs.  I have also found piles of dead fish and other trash and debris of just about every imaginable type.  The sugar cane fields seem to be a magnet for strange garbage – everything from beds to boats. 

One of my favorite memories in the Cane fields is from Halloween weekend 2009.  Bill and I were coming back from the Everglades and we stopped in Hendry County to see if we could add to our overall weekend snake count.  We had just found a very large cottonmouth deep in shed (who was not happy to be disturbed) when Bill started poking around in a nearby large bush with his snake hook.  Then, my heart stopped for a moment as I watched Bill – already 6 ft 2 inches tall – jump to about an 8ft height.  I didn’t know what happened until a few seconds later when I spotted the offending party: a small brown rabbit.  Still thinking about the angry cottonmouth, Bill had stepped in the wrong spot and frightened the rabbit out of the bushes.  He was paid, in turn, by his own frightening moment when the rabbit ran straight at him.  Like I mentioned above, one never knows what one will find in the sugar cane fields of Florida.  It is possible that one might find a beautiful rare indigo snake – or, something that can be laughed about for a long time.  Either way, the cane fields always produce fond memories.  I can’t wait to get back out there next spring. 

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