My name is Joe Girgente and I’m a naturalist/herper for fun, but an entomologist by training (which is
also fun). I grew up in Powhatan County and my favorite herps are snakes and salamanders.
Interview with Joe
Question: What got you interested in herping? What keeps you interested?
As a kid growing up in the Piedmont, I used to spend most of my time playing in the woods and in my neighbor’s creek. I recall finding Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) and keeping them as pets for some time, setting up natural enclosures, half with water and half with elevated terrestrial habitat composed of moss, dirt, and leaves. We used to throw in worms and other macroinvertebrates as food and then release the salamanders again when we got bored. Find Red-spotted Newts (Notophthalmus viridescens viridescens), Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina), and snakes was always a treat. We didn’t really have access to the internet as kids, so everything we learned was by trial and error, observation, and occasionally library books. I remember once catching a young Eastern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) on the road as kids and pushing it into a large container to keep as a pet. We kept it outside, hidden under leaves, and occasionally threw a lizard or frog into the enclosure. Once my mom discovered it after a few months, she made us release it and it had grown substantially.
As an adult, I began to learn about the variety of herps in the state and realized VA had more to offer than just Red-backed Salamanders and Box Turtles. I completed classes at Virginia Tech in Wildlife Biology during my undergraduate degree in Wildlife Conservation and I began a quest to see as many species of herps in the state (and outside it) as I could. Of course, Ty and the rest of the herp community on iNaturalist helped me profoundly, not only with my IDs, but with actually finding the localized endemic species.
Question: What species have you studied and done field research on?
I’m now at Texas Tech University completing my M.S. in Biological Sciences with a thesis focusing on variations in ecomorphology of a species of dragonfly, Hylogomphus geminatus, the Twin-striped Clubtail. I still try to find time to go herping as much as I can out here and I’m always excited to find new species. I loved traveling the state of VA in search of endemic salamander species, but nothing gets me quite as excited as finding a snake. I don’t know why, but ever since I was a child, discovering snakes elicited excitement like no other animal could for me. That hasn’t changed and living in Texas and traveling to areas close by has given me some great opportunities to come across a plethora of southwestern snakes. Some species of interest we’ve seen in the last few months include Western Diamondback Rattlers, Glossy Snake, Sonoran Lyre Snake, Mexican Hognose, and Mexican Black Kingsnake.
Question: What do you consider your Stomping Grounds?
Any county surrounding the Blacksburg area.
Question: What is your favorite herping destination?
You can’t really beat the mountains – specifically the Southern Appalachians for me.
A few Photos by Joe
Herping Virginia encourages all naturalists to practice ethical, safe, and sustainable herping. The use of proper herping methods and techniques is beneficial to both wildlife and herpers. Visit the links below for more information.