Going out into th e field to find herps is
fun and can be enjoyed with a minimum of expense. However, many
people take this hobby very seriously and want to make sure that they
have the best gear to maximize results and enjoyment. When going into
the outdoors you should always dress appropriately and bring along
any essential items that you would ordinarily need during the day.
Also, if you are going further than you would like to walk, be sure
that you have reliable transportation and that your vehicle has a
spare tire and any other emergency equipment. Packing a lunch is
another good idea, but, of course, that is discretionary.
There are different techniques for field
herping (Road Cruising, Flipping, Habitat Hunting, etc.), and each method can call for
special equipment. Some snakes can be very dangerous, and many herps
can be very hard to find. Having the right gear can help make your
trip safe, successful and rewarding. Listed below are the different
types of equipment you may require. This is meant to describe the
different types of equipment that are frquently used. You must decide
for yourself which items are right for you and your activities.
especially important items when searching for herps. Many
herps hide in dark places, and many herpers like to road
cruise at night. If you are herping during the day, you
may find youself looking in tree hollows or in holes in
the ground or amongst large rocks. For these things, a
simple flashlight is sufficient. When selecting a
flashlight, select one that has some power. Cheap
flashlights malfunction and usually do not put out much
light. Also, make sure that the batteries are fresh
before you go out. I have had many animals get away
because of inadequate lighting.
cruising, the vehicles headlamps are the primary
lighting. However, animals on the road are often seen at
close distances and are often passed. This means
you will be running back to get them in the dark. How far
back is often misjudged, and depending on what it is, it
can get off the road quickly. Even with a good
flashlight, it may be difficult to find the animal. When
road cruising, I prefer a hand held spotlight. When I get
out of the car and run back, I bathe the road in
3,000,000 candlepower (500,000 is sufficient but I love
overkill). With this amount of light, I can see a good
distance back and see the road right of way. Having more
is good for photography as well. When using lights that are
this powerful, you must be very careful where you point it. You
can easily blind another motorist, or flash nearby residences,
and even damage the animals vision. Remember, with great
candle-power come great responsibility.
herps that come out at night, do not cross the roadways.
So, often, the field herper will have to walk along canal
banks or forest edges to find them. In these circumstances,
a flashlight is woefully inadequate, even a good one. The
field of view that they provide is very narrow. The
spotlight puts out more light, but has two problems: they
blast a lot of light in a narrow area (which forces you to
focus only in that area), and they are heavy. For
this kind of searching, I prefer a portable flourescent
lamp. The florescent lamp is good because it weighs little,
and although it puts out less light, it puts out light in a
more even, wider area, which allows you to use peripheral
vision. Be warned, though, they are very expensive.
looking for snakes, snake hooks can be very useful. These
simple devices are nothing more than a metal stick with a
recurved end. The tips are flattened for scooping, the well
of the hook is shaped to allow a snakes body to rest there
|without sliding off and the end portion is usually straight so
it can be used to pin down the head (not a recommended practice).
Before these items were commercialy manufactured, they were
fashioned from hoes and other garden implements. If you use one
in the field, it should be made from steel so that it can be used
to help flip items and to help rake through debris and detritus piles.
Aluminum can bend easily and wears quickly.
If you are after venomous snakes or will
be where there are venomous snakes, these are a must. You do not
want to compromise your safety by putting your hands under boards
to flip them. But even if you are looking for non-venomous
snakes, these can help you handle them without being bitten.
Snake hooks come in various lengths and
shapes and are crafted in different ways. I usually only use them
to assist in flipping or to sweep venomous snakes off the roadway
or into a container, so I prefer a short sturdy hook. However,
longer hooks are safer for greater manipulation of large venomous
snakes. Smaller, lighter hooks are good for cage use and for
smaller snakes. For very small venomous snakes, I prefer
Kitchen Tongs (see below).
As any experienced field herper
knows, animals, even dangerous ones, almost always flee when
humans approach and it is clear that they are seen. If you are
attempting to capture a venomous snake or a centipede or
something else that can harm you, and it is in flight, you have
three choices: you can let it go, you can head it off, or you
can grab it. Letting it go presents no problems other than the
loss of the quarry, heading it off only delays letting it go or
grabbing it unless you can get the animal to go into a
container, but can be dangerous in other ways, and grabbing it
will stop the escape, but may get you bitten unless you use a
tool to do the grabbing.
| If the
snake is small you can simply use common kitchen tongs.
They can be a little awkward, but they do work and are
quite inexpensive. These are espcially good for small pit-vipers
or coral snakes, as well as centipedes, but if the animal
struggles, you will have to use more force than
you might think is appropriate. It's OK to squeeze little,
but it is best to grasp lightly and laft calmly so the snake
never gets excited and struggles. Standard tongs have uncoated
tips, so you may want to get some brush on latex from a hobby
shop and coat them. This adds friction and softens the grip so
the risk of injury to the snake is reduced.
larger snakes, there are specially manufactured grabbers,
called snake tongs. These are rugged devices and come in
varying lengths. They are excellent for grabbing snakes,
crocodilians or other large animals,
however they are really meant for snakes. Be advised, though
they are useful for grabbing something before it can dive into
the water or into a hole, They can apply tremendous pressure
and can easily injure the snake. Large pit-vipers are
especially susceptible to injury if their weight is not
appropriately supported, so never lift a snake with the tongs.
Also, avoid grabbing the head as snakes, and especially
pit-vipers, have very delicate skulls.
| If you
are collecting animals and actually removing them from the
wild, you will need containers in which to store them for
transportation. There are many types of things that can be
used, but they will all fit into two basic categories: hard
Soft containers are typically some
type of cloth sack. Soft containers have the advantage of
being easy to store and easy to seal. Many people just use
pillow cases, but even better are cloth bags specifically
made for holding herps. Cloth bags should be made from
light (not thick or heavy) fabric with a moderate thread
count. Since they will often be tied to seal them, it is
better if they are tall and narrow. A well made bag will
have the corners sewn so that they can be held without
fearing being bitten through the bag.
containers can be boxes, jars, sealable kitchen containers,
etc. They provide better protection for the animal and are
usually more suitable for small specimens and amphibians.
They can be rather bulky, however, and are not secure
unless designed to seal. Also, because they are made from
solid materials they must usually be altered to allow
animals to breath. It is bect to select containers made
from plastic and, if possible should be clear so you can
tell what is inside. When using containers of this type,
you should place some kind of substrate or, at least, a
crumpled paper towel so the animals feel less exposed.
Screw-on lids are better than snap on lids becaused they
are more safely applied and removed.
When storing dangerous animals such
as venomous snakes, be sure to mark those containers clearly. I
use red electrical tape wrapped around the knot of bags, or
around the lid of hard containers. This makes it much more
obvious when moving them around and so proper precautions can
|Baggers and Buckets
| Baggers are devices that aid in
capturing herps. They are very much like a net on a pole
but with a fabric instead of a mesh for the net. These are
used to assist in collecting specimens without having to
handle them. Buckets serve the same purpose, only less
fancy. Both items are especially useful for venomous snakes.
Baggers are used by using the pole
to hold the wire supported bag in front of the snake and by
directing the animal into the bag. Then the bag must be
twisted or wrapped to prevent the snake from escaping. In
most cases the bag is fixed to the support ring and so the
snake must be transfered to another container soon after
The bucket is, in my opinion, more
practical. Use a 5 gallon paint bucket and line it with a
standard pillow case. You can use a hook to hold the bucket
on its side and guide snake into it. Then set it upright
and replace the lid. Once lidded, hold the lid down and
pull the edges of the bag over it and then turn it so the
twist traps the snake in the bottom. Now you can safely tie
the bag and remove it from the bucket.
records of your finds ads a new dimension to your
activities. By writing down what you find as well as
where you found it and under what conditions, you can learn
more efficiently and get better at finding things. Records
also keep exaggerated recollections in check and may even
be interesting to other people or the local zoo or museum.
A field log should be small and
easy to carry, but should
also have a decent cover to protect the pages. A simple,
small ring-binder should be adequate, but feel free to bring
along lap-top computer if you think that better. You
should take pictures. A picture makes a lasting memory, whether
you collect the specimens or not. It's a good idea to always
have a camera, digital or film. having a camera is also makes
for an easy explanation if you are confronted by local denizen
or law-enforcement authorities. Not that what you are doing is
wrong or illegal, it's just easier to say that you are taking
pictures of wildlife than to explain why you like to look for
Assuming that you are going to log your adventures, you may
also want to take it one step further. Whether you use the
roads to find herps or you go into the woods, it is
sometimes difficult to find some locations again. Even if
you use a map and you are on a road, it may not be easy.
Many species of reptiles and amphibians have very discrete
populations and you may find them somewhere along a 16 mile
stretch of highway that has few landmarks. Or, you simply
want to track your finds very closely. In these cases, a
GPS (Global Positioning System) is quite handy. With one of
these, you can mark exactly locations that you want to
remember and have no problem returning to them, even if you
found the place by getting lost. I have several locations
where I could not have found them again if not for my GPS.
It's also a good way to tell someone where you are in case
there is an emergency. These have come down in price and
have improved on precision lately.
| Field Kits are not exclusive to
herping, but it is necessary to bringthem up. Field kits are part
first aid kit and part survival kit. It is really nothing more
than an encased collection of things that you may need in case of
an emergency or thongs that you need every time you go out into
the woods. At the very least it should have some antiseptic, some
adhesive bandages, a compass and map of the area, a knife, some
way to start a fire, a disposable raincoat, spare socks and bug
spray. I could become much more elaborate of course, but need not
be. It's simply better to be prepared. Whatever you put in your
field kit, it should be small enopugh so that it is no burden to
carry (or else you won't carry it!) and complete enough to cover
any forseeable needs. You can easily assemble your own, or you
can purchase one already assembled.
those of us who go out herping far and wide, the map is
extremely valuable. Sometimes you go to known locations,
but the Coastal Plains is a big place and there are many,
many places to find herps. So many, in fact , that it may
be a long time between visits to any one location, and if
the location is in another area than where you live, you
may be hard pressed to finfd them again. Maps serve to
navigate new areas as well as mark found ones. Simple road
maps will do, but the atlas type map books with
topographical and GPS information are best. Do not forget
|| As a
matter of safety and efficiency, you should always have a
means of communicating with others. At the very least, you
should always carry a cellular phone in case you get
stranded or injured. Even if you have no service, you can
make emergency calls to 911 and you can usually make any
call with a credit card. It is best to get a rugged phone
that has enough power to find towers even in low reception
areas. In general, though, having a cell phone is just
smart. An up-to-date roadside assistance membership is also
a good idea.
It is also a good idea to be
connected with your herping partners. Using public channel
radios is a cheaper alternative to using cell phones. These
are useful if you go out with others and are in separate
vehicles, or if you are out in the field and split up to
cover more ground. It
can be quite frustrating to be out scouting around with
someone and to not be able to find them. It is also unsafe.
These radios all advertise ranges up tp two miles, but I have
never gotten better than about a mile, even on the highway. No
matter, if you are in the field, you will seldom be separated by
your partners by more than a couple hundred yards of straight
line distance, so they are all adequate. Just be sure to get
radios that are durable and as water resistant as possible.
those of you who can identify every frog, lizard, turtle,
salamander and snake in the entire Coastal Plains and know
their ranges in exact detail and can describe their ideal
habitats, I salute you. I have been field herping for 25
years and I still need a reference for many things. Having
a field guide on hand is good for identifying animals with
which you are unfamiliar, but also for refreshing the
memory on ideal habitats or range boundaries. Whether, you
are a novice or a seasoned expert, it is always best to
have some reference on hand. The reference need not be
about herps, either. Being able to identify trees, birds,
mammals or even insects can make the field experience
richer and more rewarding.
|Permits and Licenses
| When going into the field to collect
wildlife, be sure that you are well versed in all of your states
laws regarding that activity. Contact your state wildlife agency
and find out what permits are required, if any, and what animals
are protected. Always keep a copy of any permits with you.
Being in the field presents many
possible threats to your safety. Bears, feral pigs and dogs,
and humans are all real real concerns. These concerns may cause
you to consider carrying a weapon. Use careful discretion when
choosing to go armed. Be sure that you know the laws governing
such action and that you are appropriately trained and licensed
if you plan to carry. In general, you are legally safer the
further south you go.
If you do carry a weapon consider the
- All land is owned by someone. Wherever you are, simply
having a weapon will carry consequences. If you are
tresspassing on private land, armed tresspass is a greater
offense in some states. If you are in a wildlife preserve or
park, there may be rules about weapons. Be conscious of these
things at all times.
- You will be bending at the waist all day long. Carry a
weapon that is light and as featurless as possible so that it
is comfortable to carry.
- Your weapon may get wet, dirty, damaged or lost. At best,
make sure it is rugged, at least, make sure it is replaceable.
- Some people will treat you like a criminal if they know you
are armed. This is especially true in Maryland, Delaware and
New Jersey. You may be confronted by a police officer or
wildlife resource officer, and possession of a weapon may
affect the way you are treated.
Unless you know exactly what you
are doing and are keenly aware of all the ramifications, I
advise against carrying a weapon.
| This list of equipment is by no means
all that is available. There are many more tools and gadgets that
can be brought along. This should get you started, however, and
before going into the field you should do your research and
decide what other implements may be useful to you.