Countdown to Snake Count: 5…

Snake Count is almost here! This week we countdown to Snake Count with a post each day featuring a snake we found during last spring’s Snake Count. We hope you’ll join us at Muleshoe for Snake Count, but if you can’t, find a way to participate in your area by clicking on the graphic below.

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I’m going to start with Arizona black rattlesnakes (Crotalus cerberus), because even among rattlesnakes they’re extra cool. In case you missed it, our SocialSnakes blog featured a special post for Mother’s Day all about parental care in Arizona blacks.

Sigma (adult female) and TIE fighter

Rattlesnakes take care of their kids? You bet they do and not just Arizona black rattlesnakes. But we have lots of stories, photos, and videos of Arizona black rattlesnake families, so check them out.

Eve and kids (likely not all hers) – aren’t they adorable?

Arizona black rattlesnakes are highly social snakes, which is another topic covered extensively at SocialSnakes. But in brief, they often den in groups and within these groups have friends (snake they preferentially associate with) and enemies (snakes they avoid).

If those behaviors aren’t enough for ya, Arizona black rattlesnakes also change color. While lizards are more famous for their color-changing abilities, a handful of snakes can dramatically shift their color too. It is fairly common for young snakes to look completely different than adults (ontogenetic color change).

Adult male (left) with newborn (right) Arizona black rattlesnake.

But, Arizona black rattlesnakes can also rapidly change their color (physiological color change) from black to light gray within minutes.

Watch carefully and see Boyett change color in this timelapse video:

I’ll end with Cat edhibiting another characteristic Arizona black rattlesnake behavior: looking absolutely gorgeous.

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melissa

The return of FiveLong

I ran into an old friend yesterday on my way to close the gate 🙂

There’s a large, warm water puddle on the driveway just in front of the visitor center where lowland leopard frogs and Gila topminnow breed. Birds catch insects over the water and prints indicate that coati and raccoon forage there at night. Rattlesnakes, especially western diamond-backeds, hunt along the edges.

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FiveLong, June 2012

We’ve heard tales of a large rattlesnake called Henry (that may or may not be our Henry) that hunted here for years and was well known among preserve guests and staff. But mostly Jeff and I have seen FiveLong, a female western diamond-backed rattlesnake, here.

She first appeared last year mid-June, at the start of our foot trail around the puddle. We saw her nearly everyday for a month or so, then she disappeared.

Yesterday (9 May) there was a rattlesnake coiled at the start of our foot trail for the first time in months and sure enough, it was FiveLong.

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FiveLong, May 2013

Can you tell how she got her name?

I was a little worried that FiveLong’s favored hunting spot would worry our guests at the preserve. Not a problem! They assured me that “in May in Arizona, you EXPECT to see rattlesnakes!” And late this afternoon FiveLong moved to the opposite side of the puddle, well away from our foot trail. What a good snake 🙂

Snake Count is only a week away! Get the details on our event page.

A bold lizard

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Ornate tree lizard (Urosaurus ornatus), 7 May 2013.

This is an ornate tree lizard (Urosaurus ornatus). They are small and usually common, so often overlooked by lizard enthusiasts. However, they are beautiful, curious, and quite entertaining to watch.

And like Bane, they are bold.

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Neither Lula (our beloved female pit bull mix) nor the lizard would have allowed me to stage this photo if I tried 🙂

melissa

Pretty little faces

I have talked about western patch-nosed snakes (Salvadora hexalepis) several times recently (here and here) because it seems like we’ve seen one or more everyday. Unfortunately, they’re usually gone before I can get a decent photo. But yesterday one stuck around long enough for this slow photographer to snap a couple shots.

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The short walk between the old horse barn and our house has been good to us this year. On our way back home after seeing the patch-nosed snake, Jeff spotted a ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus) poking around along the wall of the casitas.

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Everywhere I’ve lived and worked (so far) there have been ring-necked snakes. They are gorgeous little snakes; solid gray on top with brilliant yellow-orange-red bellies. I am not sure if this individual was unique or I just never noticed before, but the top of his head was not solid gray, but delicately mottled.

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Jeff saw the Gila monster from 1 May again yesterday too, not far from where we first found her. Like rattlesnakes, Gila monsters have unique dorsal patterns which we use to identify individuals.

The reptiles seem to be enjoying the cooler weather as much as we are!

melissa

Bane

First, it rained last night! Not much (0.02 in), but since ANY rain in May is rare, even a tiny bit is exciting.

There are many reasons to love Bane (male Arizona black rattlesnake). When he was first sighted during last year’s Snake Count as he was drinking from Secret Springs, a behavior rarely seen in wild snakes (but see here). After measuring (he is the largest Arizona black we’ve seen at Muleshoe) and marking his rattle with beautiful orange paint, we sent him on his way. But a few months later when we were in the market for new snakes to put transmitters in, Bane came back to us.

We were sitting in Hot Springs Wash, watching and filming a couple black-tailed rattlesnakes in combat, when Bane cruised up alongside us. You might call Bane bold 🙂

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This spring Bane was quickly out of his den and back to his old turf near the Nature Trail. He has been a great show and tell snake; any guest at Muleshoe who wants to track a rattlesnake gets to visit Bane. He is a short hike away, usually visible, and doesn’t seem terribly bothered by all the attention.

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Save the Frogs Day participants visit Bane

Also, isn’t he gorgeous?

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Would you like to meet Bane? Join us May 17-19 for Snake Count! Check out our Events page for more details (casitas are still available).

A very happy un-rattlesnake Friday

The Center for Snake Conservation has designated Fridays as Rattlesnake Friday, a day to promote the welfare of rattlesnakes by dispelling a common snake myth, and talking to others about the amazing ecology and natural history of rattlesnakes (for example). It’s part of their overall mission to promote snake conservation through education, which is very important to us at SocialSnakes.

At Muleshoe, pretty much everyday is Rattlesnake Friday – they are the most common snakes we see, so it’s a treat for us to see any other kind of snake (though we LOVE our rattlesnakes :-)).

As happened on another recent Rattlesnake Friday, yesterday was ruled by colubrids (large group of mostly harmless snakes) and we didn’t see a single rattlesnake! We saw three western patch-nosed snakes (Salvadora hexalepis): an adult, a juvenile, and this one with a very large wound.

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Looks pretty awful, right? We actually saw this snake cruising around our back a few days ago, so he appears to be getting along fine despite the injury (he’s very plump and healthy looking too). We released him without messing with the wound too much.

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The real treat of the day, at least for me, was a HUGE female gophersnake (Pituophis catenifer), who kindly demonstrated her species’ ability to hiss loudly for our guests.

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Despite all her bluffing, she never bit anyone. Typical gophersnake; they are awesome!

Thanks to Jeff for the photos 🙂

Gophie!

Everyone thinks of me as a rattlesnake girl and I totally am. But nothing makes me happier than seeing a gophersnake (Pituophis catenifer).

As I followed Jeff down the hill where Luna was hanging out last week, he suddenly appeared to be falling: running/sliding while occasionally putting his hand down as if to steady himself. Eventually he smiled up at me with a tiny snake in his hand and exclaimed, “gophie!” I nearly fell down the hill trying to reach them as quickly as possible.

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It’s too early for this year’s baby snakes, so he likely hatched late last summer. Newborn gophersnakes usually appear during the summer rainy season (monsoon).

Once we set the little guy down, he found a small shelter rock, balled himself up underneath, and peeked out at us.

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Adorable, isn’t he?

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