Roads Less Traveled: Butterflies, snakes and deer, oh my!

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on a Flame Azalea bush on the Appalachian Trail along the TN/NC line.

Spring is a beautiful time of the year. The flowers are blooming, the air is thickening with humidity and the snakes are out crawling. Yep, snakes. And bees. And butterflies. And any other manner of walking/flying/swimming thing. Aside from the gorgeous scenery, there are plenty of other beautiful and dangerous things to keep an eye out for on the trails as the spring and summer hiking season kicks into high gear.

Butterflies are my personal favorite spring and summer insects to chase. We have many different varieties locally, although swallowtails (in both their yellow and black/blue color patterns) tend to be the most prevalent on local bushes.

The mighty Monarch also calls the Northeast Georgia mountains home during the summer. While they tend to be most commonly seen during their migration periods in April/May and September/October, many of these beautiful creatures call our mountains home through the summer months when they feed on milkweed and other native flowers. After making the long trip from Mexico, they will spend the summer here, where they will have young and die, only for the young ones to then migrate back to Mexico for the winter.

I have personally always found this fascinating since no butterfly makes the trip both ways; they just naturally know where to go!

A Monarch butterfly (photo by Tyler Penland)

One equally beautiful but significantly more dangerous creature is the snake. Most snakes that live around here are not venomous, but we do have a handful that are. Copperheads and rattlesnakes both pack a nasty bite. However, don’t get them confused with their brilliantly patterned friends, the northern banded water snake, a non-venomous snake just trying to help keep our area rid of pests.

The two I have had the closest encounters with are timber rattlers and copperheads. I nearly stepped on this timber rattlesnake while off-trail hiking one day. Fortunately, he was kind enough to simply start shaking his tail to alert me of his presence.

Most rattlesnakes have zero interest in biting you and would much rather just scare you away. Don’t worry, I was about 20-25 yards away when I took this shot with a zoom lens.

Timber rattlesnake (photo by Tyler Penland)

I also nearly stepped on this copperhead one day out on the trail.

These snakes are generally pretty relaxed as well and don’t often bite humans, despite not having any other warning mechanism.

This particular copperhead remains the darkest color I have ever seen and blended in perfectly against the leaves on the trail. I was only about 5-10 yards from it when I took this shot, but it never even flinched a muscle to let me know it was at all uncomfortable with my presence.

Copperhead on the trail (photo by Tyler Penland)

Spring is also a time for deer to come out and play. Fawns will be all over soon, sporting their white spots and playing in fields. Be sure to be extra careful when driving to the trail, especially before dawn and after dark.

(photo by Tyler Penland)

So while you are out this spring and summer, remember to pay attention to not only the views but the other countless creatures we share them with.

Have a great week, and I hope to see you on the trail…

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