Thursday, 3 March 2011

Expos: Substitute for Spring Herpetology Exploring?

It is finally March in the Northern Hemisphere, and with it come hopes for an early spring (meaning warmer, drier weather) and the renewal of the annual cycle of reptile expos. Expos can be enjoyable, giving us the chance to talk herpetoculture with other aficionados, see a variety of fascinating creatures at close quarters, and, for many of us, to lighten our wallets in a way we find less difficult than, say, forking over the car payment. This is so different from the spring rituals of the time when I was a young reptile collector, and it saddens me to realize that the current generation will not experience spontaneous field collecting.

Here's what I (we?) miss. The freedom to just put on some wading boots, grab a few old pillow cases and jars, a few other odds and ends, and take off into the local bush. On a given night I might encounter several species of frogs and toads, a salamander or two, and, along the roads basking on warm asphalt, a few snakes. There they were, to be photographed or collected. No permits were needed, and no laws broken to follow my passion. The generation before me -- the likes of Conant, Smith, Ditmars, Allen, Kaufeld -- did the same thing, and for decades. Their meet ups, sometimes planned and sometimes by chance, provided time to exchange information, see unusual specimens, and just revel in being the Big Game hunters of the small. Some of the stories from their exploits are wonderful memories (I particularly like the tale of the lavender rat snake), especially because the included native wildlife, local people, and local habitats. What could beat the tale of Ross Allen when he was extracting a large Eastern Diamondback Rattler from a gopher hole only to find the head coming up behind him -- he thought the snake he was pulling by it's tail was the ONE he saw going into the hole. His description of wondering what to do next (drop the snake he had by the tail and try catching the other, keep the one by the tail and "dance" to keep away from the second, or try to catch both??) was true comedy.

Now what have we? At Expos, we share stories about what one person did to breed a new leopard gecko morph in a terrarium and how so-and-so has bred out the first black and purple Goth morph of a ball python in a terrarium. Certainly interesting and even noteworthy, but where's the story? Where's the adventure, the unexpected, the learning we get by facing our creatures in their habitats? Those few lucky blokes who do still manage to get out and about are either academically-funded anachronisms or hands-off photographers. For then rest of us...  there are Expos. I am NOT putting Expos down; far from it, they are the new "spring herping" much as Facebook has replaced mailing letters and electric power is the new camp fire. They are different, and bring different things to our experiences. After all, I never found a good deal on an old reptile book in a swamp! And just because something is both different AND good doesn't mean I can't still miss something else, old and wonderful, that I too long took for granted.