Monthly Archives: September 2016

Toad, Turtle or Snake? Get Out and Vote!

Vote for Your Favorite Herp!

It’s the most cold-blooded election you’ve ever known. One candidate is slimy, another is scaly, the third just hides when things get tough.

It’s a run-off among the American toad, the Eastern box turtle, and the Eastern ratsnake!

And you get to pick the winner.

Herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles, and we’ve picked three of Fairfax County’s most common and popular ones for this election. And this election is open to all ages. No ID required.

All staffed Resource Management Division sites, along with Cub Run RECenter, are polling places as you Vote for Your Favorite Herp now through November 8, 2016. That means you can cast ballots at Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Hidden Pond Nature Center, Riverbend Park, Huntley Meadows Park, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Green Spring Gardens, Frying Pan Farm Park, Sully Historic Site, Colvin Run Mill Historic Site, or at Cub Run.

There are ballots and a ballot box at each site, and you’ll see campaign posters on display. Sites also will have bookmarks that highlight fun facts about each animal and that list the free programs that will take place at the campaign headquarters.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale is campaign headquarters for the Eastern box turtle. Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria is home base for the American toad. Riverbend Park is Great Falls is throwing its support behind the Eastern ratsnake.

The candidates will appear in person at campaign rallies from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on September 24 at Huntley Meadows, from 2:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. October 16 at Riverbend, and 2:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. November 6 at Hidden Oaks.

This is a campaign to make you smarter. You’ll increase your understanding of and appreciation for reptiles and amphibians. And, although we are running this parallel to this fall’s national election, we must point out that it’s for fun and there is no intention whatsoever of mirroring any actual human candidate, past or present. Yeah, we know, you’ll think that way because Americans poke fun at politicians. But that is not our intent, so don’t go there. Let’s just have some fun.

To vote, visit any of the balloting sites. You can vote once per visit.

Here are the candidates’ campaign platforms:

American Toad

  1. Most commonly seen amphibian in our area. Favors moist spaces. Hibernates up to three feet underground. Most active in spring, when mating, and in fall when looking for a place to hibernate. Harmless, intriguing chubby creatures.
  2. Has an arsenal of defense strategies. Can ooze a toxin from parotid glands, play dead, inflate to look larger and/or urinate when threatened. Camouflage pattern and coloring adds protection.
  3. A gentle, peace-loving candidate, strong on defense and taking care of problem species (bugs and worms). Weak on population control (lays hundreds of eggs). Plagued with bad public relations regarding the causing of warts and folklore about association with witches.

Eastern Ratsnake

  1. Harmless. Most commonly seen snake. Juveniles are aggressive and often misidentified as the venomous Northern copperhead. Only snake native to Virginia that can be six–feet long.
  2. An excellent climber. Can lay eggs in trees and can eat eggs and baby birds in nests.
  3. A constrictor. Eats a variety of prey, including mice, rats, birds and amphibians.
  4. Adults are gentle unless provoked. Intimidates with its size and its method of eating its prey whole. Bad public relations as being a top predator and incorrectly thought to be venomous. Strongest of the candidates. Fast, lethal reactions toward small mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians. Great at clearing out mice and rats that carry disease-causing pests (fleas/ticks/lice) and that spread disease through their droppings.

Eastern Box Turtle

  1. Most common terrestrial turtle known. Only local species that can entirely close itself within its shell.
  2. Numbers are down due to being collected for pets and loss of habitat. Lives in moist places such as woodlands and stream valleys.
  3. Longest living of all the candidates, potentially more than 100 years. Diet ranges from dead animals to plants to small animals. Can eat poisonous mushrooms, which will make their own meat toxic.
  4. Perceived as the friendliest of all the candidates. Has a defense-in-place strategy. Traditionally thought to be wise due to their age and slow, steady ways. Lays only a few eggs per year. Population control is not an issue, but rivals challenge its bravery in the face of any adversity.

Vote today! And again tomorrow!


Author Suzanne Holland is the Visitor Services Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale.