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Herpetology Weekend: A Review

By Jim Horton

One of the most beautiful natural areas within a four-hour drive of Indianapolis

is a place called Red River Gorge. The gorge is located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. This jewel in southeast Kentucky was formed back in time when the Red River carved a 600-foot-deep gorge through 300 million year old sandstone. Within this area, there are dozens of waterfalls and naturally formed rock bridges, and arches. There are many microclimates and ecological zones here.

It’s home to a plethora of plants and animals. The plant diversity is amazing and many are rare and or, found only in this region. Mountain dwelling species such as umbrella magnolias, rhododendrons, and mountain laurels welcome you with their beauty.

The gorge area is also home to 66 species of amphibians and reptiles. Twenty-two species of salamanders are found here. Several represent mountainous regions such as duskies, spring, and red salamanders.

Herpetology Weekend is an event held in the area each year. Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Slade hosts the weekend proceedings. This popular gathering of herpetological professionals and enthusiasts has been going since 1994. Friday and Saturday evenings offer presentations from national and regional researchers and herpetologists. Saturday is filled with an array of hikes in the gorge with choices in both morning and afternoon.

The Kentucky Reptile Zoo is also located in Slade. It’s the perfect complement to a herpetological event. The facility is home to one of the largest collections of venomous snakes in the United States. The non-profit zoo collects venom for medical research. KRZ offers daily tours and views of venom extractions. Herp Weekend visitors receive free admission to the zoo with event registration.

HHS members have been attending this event for more than 25 years. Each year, many of our members look forward to HW as a mini vacation in the forest. This year was no different. We had the largest showing of eager herpers in the room. Eighteen HHS members made the trip for the weekend! Some great talks started at 7:00 featuring “Homes for Herps” and “Herping Costa Rica” Dan Dourson discussed some great ways to attract amphibians and reptiles to your property. Les Meade brought us along on a trip to the jungles of Costa Rica. His photography was stellar!

Saturday field trips were tailored to snakes, amphibians, or even kid activities. Our larger group chose “The Wild’s|” This is a long hike up a 650 foot slope in search of Green salamanders. On the way, we found a myriad of beautiful plants and ferns. My favorite were the yellow ladies slipper orchids. As for the salamanders, we weren’t disappointed! A total of about 26 green salamanders were found in the dark crevices of the sandstone boulders and cliffs. At the top of the climb, we found a timber rattlesnake basking in dappled sunlight. This was only the second timber found in the 30 years of this event!

Timber rattlesnake at Red River Gorge in Kentucky
Timber rattlesnake

Saturday evening presentations included a PowerPoint interactive herp quiz followed by a live reptile program. Staff from the Kentucky Reptlile Zoo showcased lizards, turtles, and venomous snakes. Afterwards, a heavy downpour drenched the forest just in time for our night hike. Some of our target species were spring and red salamanders. They all showed up along with longtail, cave, and slimy salamanders! This gorge area is home to some of the largest American toads! These anurans are incredible in size and I never tire of seeing them.

The next day was a short hike on a familiar trail. This trail runs along side a small book. Sculpins, two-lined salamanders, and dusky salamanders were found on this trek. We spotted some more cool plants again as well. Showy orchids were almost done blooming for the year but we managed to find some in flower.

1 Comment

Great article Jim! I wish I was able to make it there this year! We have had some cool finds in years past.

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