Tag Archives: chris

Goodbye to a friend

Chris, 10 October 2011.

It is with a heavy heart that I report the death of one of our snakes, Chris (male Arizona black rattlesnake). While I love all of the rattlesnakes at Muleshoe, Chris has a special place in my heart because he was the first Arizona black rattlesnake I found here (from The Arizona black rattlesnakes trickle in…):

One week to go and we haven’t found any Arizona black rattlesnakes yet (remember, we wanted six). The clock is ticking.

On the afternoon of 26 September, I hiked downstream in hot springs wash and didn’t see another snake for hours. This is such a beautiful place, it is difficult to be disappointed by not seeing any snakes.

At about 5pm, it was time to turn around and head back in defeat. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a jet black little disk under a fallen log. Finally, our first Arizona black!

First encounter with Chris, 26 September 2011.

Since coming out of his den in early April, Chris has been a busy bee. He headed straight for hot springs wash and was in a new spot nearly every time we tracked him. He crossed the wash at least three times and that behavior may be what killed him. Moving is dangerous business for snakes as it makes them easier for predators to see (think about your encounters with wild snakes, were those snakes more often moving or sitting in cover? Also see Bonnet et al. 1998).

Monday (21 May) morning Jeff tracked Chris into a thickly vegetated area adjacent to hot springs wash. As he was carefully trying to locate Chris without getting too close, Jeff spotted red, and knew we had lost him. Only a little bit of bone and his radio transmitter were left. Nature doesn’t waste and every bit of Chris had been eaten by his predator or scavengers that came along after. No one wants to see that, so here are some of my favorite photos of Chris:

October 2011: his favorite habitat along hot springs wash.

April 2012: my first glance of Chris this year.

May 2012: my last look at Chris a week ago.

Rest in peace, my friend


Further reading:

Bonnet, X., G. Naulleau, and R. Shine. 1998. The dangers of leaving home: dispersal and mortality in snakes. Biological Conservation 89: 39-50.

We’re back!!!

OK, I (melissa) am the only one who has been gone, but that meant no blog updates.  I’ve spent the last month finishing up fieldwork at our other project in central Arizona. And my how things changed at Muleshoe while I was gone! When I left, snakes were just starting to come out; now things are really hopping.


Kay, female black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus)

Kay, a female black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus), crawled into our lives at the end of March. Last fall we really wanted to find two black-tailed rattlesnakes for our study and would have REALLY loved to have a big, beautiful girl like Kay. But, Jaydin was the only one we encountered last year. Kay was crawling very near to where Jaydin was hanging out at the time, so maybe we’ll see the two of them together someday!

Now on to the usual suspects…


Henry, male western diamond-backed rattlesnake, 16 May 2012.

It took me a full week to locate Henry (male western diamond-backed rattlesnake). When Jeff last tracked him a few days before I got back, Henry was underneath a storage shed less than 100 feet from our house. He climbed up and over the hill behind Muleshoe Ranch Headquarters, only a 10 minute walk, but far enough to not be picked up by our telemetry gear. Sigh. At least we know where he is now.


Stuart, male western diamond-backed rattlesnake, 13 May 2012.

Stuart (male western diamond-backed rattlesnake) has been hanging out in the mesquite bosque near the horse barn. And he visited the barn (and the horses) a little while ago:

Ripley (horse) with Stuart at his feet (photo by Jeff Smith).


Jaydin, male black-tailed rattlesnake, 11 May 2012.

When I tracked Jaydin (male black-tailed rattlesnake) earlier this week, he was hanging out in Hot Springs wash in the forest. This seemed like really easy tracking for Jaydin, so of course it didn’t last. He has since moved back toward his den, up into the scrubby hills.


Chris, Arizona black rattlesnake, 11 May 2012.

Chris (male Arizona black rattlesnake) has been moving around a lot, but sticking to Hot Springs wash or very near. When I last tracked him, he was cruising through some thick vegetation on the wash – mesquite bosque boundary.

Boyett, Arizona black rattlesnake, 12 May 2012

Boyett (male Arizona black rattlesnake) is the one snake who has not yet made it back to the area where we found him last fall. Instead he is using a drainage near Secret Springs (where he was found). The night I tracked him he was coiled in the open, sticking out like a sore thumb (pictured above).


Glendy, male Arizona black rattlesnake, 10 May 2012.

Glendy (male Arizona black rattlesnake) is back to the mesquite bosque nearest to Headquarters. The first night I tracked him (pictured above) he had found a great hunting spot in a bunch of mammal burrows near an old trash dump. Should be lots of food there for him! He has since moved a little upstream and I wanted to post an additional photo of him so get an idea of how much (and often) these rattlesnakes can change color


Glendy, male Arizona black rattlesnake, 17 May 2012.

Both photos of Glendy have been corrected for differences in lighting, so the differences you see in color are real. This is a topic Jeff and I have been investigating for some time and hopefully we’ll have more to report on that here in the future.

This week is the Center for Snake Conservation’s Snake Count. We have been keeping track of all the free-ranging snakes (everyone that doesn’t have a radio transmitter) encountered at Muleshoe and the next post will likely be a wrap-up of what we’ve found. If you read this before 20 May – GET OUT AND COUNT SNAKES! Everyone can help! Visit the Snake Count website for more information.

And the last snake has risen

So in our last post there was one rattlesnake left that was still in his den as of 30 March. I checked on that snake this morning and am happy to report that Chris (male Arizona black rattlesnake) has emerged! He has not yet moved away from his den site, but was getting some sun on the surface.

Where's Chris?


There he is!

The radio transmitters implanted in our snakes are temperature sensitive, so can estimate their body temperature when we track them. While I was tracking Chris today, his temperature increased from 17 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit) to 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). So I’m guessing he hadn’t been on the surface for long and was still warming up.

Wildlife activity is really picking up at the ranch! If you’d like to see more pictures and get updates of what’s happening at Muleshoe, you should ‘like us on facebook.’ Occasionally we even post pictures of something other than snakes…


Big turkey vulture roost in bass canyon


December and January were pretty quiet here at the ranch; as you can see from the above photo, the weather has not exactly been snakey. OK, it only snowed a couple times and melted pretty quickly, but it has still been too cold for snake activity. Even Jaydin (adult male black-tailed rattlesnake) finally settled into a den and has not moved since the end of November. Although western diamond-backed rattlesnakes are known for their winter activity, neither Henry nor Stuart have peeked out of their den yet. We have a timelapse camera set up outside their den, and so far have only seen their bee neighbors coming and going. Chris (adult male Arizona black rattlesnake) has also not moved or been seen lately.

But we have good news: Jeff found Glendy, one of our lost Arizona black rattlesnakes! Turns out we were having problems with our equipment and Glendy hasn’t moved more than a few meters. He is in a cave with at least one neighbor, probably a Sonoran whipsnake (Coluber bilineatus). We set a timelapse camera on their den, so hopefully we’ll have photos of both of them soon.

Surprisingly, the only other snake visible in its den is the remaining Arizona black rattlesnake, Boyett. This is surprising because I’ve never heard of anyone seeing this species in the winter, while sightings of western diamond-backed rattlesnakes are common. We are monitoring three diamond-backed dens and can’t see anyone, but can see two of our three Arizona black rattlesnakes. But that is one of the many things I love about snakes: we know so little, so we are always learning new and very cool stuff!


October draws to a close

I’ve always thought of October as the end of the snake season. Snakes settle into their dens and we check on them less frequently because they are no longer making long movements. But, if you ignore snakes over the winter, you’ll miss out on some really cool behavior, like this:
A poor quality video of rattlesnakes drinking snow during the long, dry winter of 2005-2006.

Regardless, October is certainly NOT the end of the snake season at Muleshoe Ranch. At the spot where four days ago I watched Jaydin (male black-tailed rattlesnake) cruise along the hill for an hour, I turned on my telemetry equipment… and… heard nothing. So I headed up hill and yep, there it was. I could just hear a faint beep, indicating that Jaydin was very far away and/or there was treacherous terrain between us. So I headed off in the direction of the sound, downhill, uphill, downhill, and then up again. Here’s what that lovely hike looked like:
Not pictured here are the shin dagger, mesquite, acacia, and cacti that cover these hills.

As I was unprepared for this hike, by the time I found Jaydin I was exhausted, but how can you be mad at this pretty face?

After this big move, Jaydin stayed put for a little while. Weird!?! Not really, if you click on the above photo to view the full size image, you can see that his body is extended.  Jaydin got himself a meal, which has slowed down his progress to wherever he’s heading. More fun with Jaydin next month!

Jaydin’s former neighbor Boyett (male Arizona black rattlesnake) skirted along the hillside to face Hot Springs Wash and settled in the scrub there.

Glendy crossed the road (again). He stayed in the mesquite forest between the road and the ranch for a few days before crossing the wash and settling into an amaranth patch. Because this spot is pretty close to our house, we checked on Glendy often over the next few days. He appeared to be trying to get a last meal in before going into his den.

As we guessed, Chris had arrived at his den last time. From the boulder where we last tracked him, he went uphill into the talus and settled near some vegetation. While this spot certainly looks like it could house many rattlesnakes, we will likely have to wait until spring to find out if Chris has neighbors (we haven’t been able to see Chris since he entered the talus).

Henry (male western diamond-backed rattlesnake) spent a few more days at the twin lakes before moving up on the hill above. He bounced around to several spots before settling into a hole at the base of a yucca.

Stuart (male western diamond-backed rattlesnake) was trying to compete with Jaydin for being the biggest pain. He moved from his spot near the horse corrals (S04 on the map below) up onto the hill above (S05), not far from Henry. Then he moved to the north side of the hill above what we call Juniper Wash (S06). He stayed here all of one day before moving to the opposite side of the hill, into a patch of yucca (S07).

On a somewhat sad note, we lost a snake this month. Barney, our other male Arizona black rattlesnake, was last seen on the side of road mid-October. We haven’t been able to get his signal since. We have had trouble tracking him since the beginning as there is loud interference at the same frequency as his radio transmitter. So he probably isn’t dead, he just finally moved far enough away that we can’t hear him over the interference noise.  We’ll keep looking for him and expect to see him on the ranch next summer, if not sooner.


16 October 2011

The week began with a visit from our dear friend Roger Repp, who wanted to check out our new study site and track some of the snakes. We had barely started our hike down Hot Springs Wash when we came across a very healthy looking Sonoran whipsnake (Coluber bilineatus). As is typical with this species, it disappeared before we could get any pictures. October is not the best time of year for “herping” (looking for reptiles and amphibians) in Arizona, but Muleshoe breaks all the rules. Our next find was something that is not typically active this time of year, a Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum). And he was very active, barely pausing long enough to give a decent photo.

He finally found a hole beneath a mesquite tree and disappeared. Now it was time to find Chris!

After some difficulty with our equipment, we located Chris (male Arizona black rattlesnake), who had moved downstream and was stretched out on a pile of branches and other debris piled up by this monsoon’s floods.

We headed back to the ranch for a delicious lunch and satisfied with our finds that morning, Roger headed back to town. As Roger often does in his Suizo Reports (you can follow those here), I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story:

Chris made a huge movement, out of Hot Springs Wash, across a mesquite forest, and ended up under the boulder in the foreground. In the background is a large talus, a feature sometimes associated with rattlesnake dens. Has Chris arrived at his den site already?

Boyett (male Arizona black rattlesnake) left Secret Springs and ended up on the grassy slope above, resting under a boulder (pictured above) and later beargrass.

Jaydin’s (male black-tailed rattlesnake) first stop after leaving Hot Springs Wash was also Secret Springs (pictured above) and a couple days later he was up on the same grassy hillside as Boyett. When last tracked, I watched Jaydin cruise along the hillside for nearly an hour, at times approaching me quite closely, seeming very determined to get somewhere. This should have been a warning to me of what Jaydin was about to do, but at the time I just enjoyed watching him fearlessly move about:


Glendy (male Arizona black rattlesnake) loves his mesquite forest. He crossed the road a couple times, but never moved very far, which is a good thing because telemetry is difficult in dense vegetation! The signal emitted by the transmitters implanted in the snakes bounces off trees, making it very hard to figure out where the snake is. I stepped within a meter of Glendy at this spot before I realized I had walked right past him!

Barney (male Arizona black rattlesnake) also left Hot Springs Wash for the mesquite forest near the road. Dangerously near the road – you can see it in the upper left-hand corner of the photo.

Henry (male western diamond-backed rattlesnake) spent a few more days near the casitas before moving up to the twin lakes – a pair of hot spring-fed ponds that are used to maintain native fish. There are also a ton of frogs in the ponds, which may be what attracted Henry.

Stuart (male western diamond-backed rattlesnake) spent a couple days beneath an overturned horse trough at the spot where we saw a pair of courting western diamond-backeds on our first day. Then he settled under a mesquite tree near the horse corral.


First week

A Sonoran whipsnake (Coluber bilineatus) at Muleshoe Ranch.

Our first week of tracking was pretty uneventful.  We release snakes as soon as possible after their transmitter implantation surgery so that they can recover in their habitat. So typically the first week or so is pretty slow; the snakes lay low while recovering and don’t make big movements.

Henry, our largest western diamond-backed rattlesnake, headed straight for the hot springs.  Throughout the history of Hooker Hot Springs, people have come here for the healing properties of the springs.  Was Henry also seeking magical healing?  Probably not.  Rattlesnakes often hunt near pools, and it is more likely that Henry was trying to get a meal.
This photo was taken the day after we tracked Henry at this spot. The red arrow points to the crater Henry left in the mud.

Our other western diamond-backed, Stuart, found a fantastic log to rest beneath on the weedy hillside adjacent to the casitas. He was closer to the casitas than most guests here would like to know!

No rest for the Arizona blacks; Chris immediately moved out of the drainage and into the mesquite forest.  A couple days later he moved further downstream, still in the mesquite forest.

Barney made a short movement to a pile of branches piled up by this summer’s floods and stayed here for a couple days.

Glendy crossed the road but remained in the mesquite forest where he was originally found.

Jaydin, our black-tailed rattlesnake, was on the move.  He was first seen under a downed log adjacent to Hot Springs Wash, then moved into a huge debris pile upstream.

Quiet so far, but as the active season comes to a close, the snakes are on the move and a bit harder to keep up with…

The Arizona black rattlesnakes trickle in…

One week to go and we haven’t found any Arizona black rattlesnakes yet (remember, we wanted six). The clock is ticking.

On the afternoon of 26 September, I started my snake search by checking on the bird-eater. He was in his usual spot, waiting for a thirsty bird.

I then hiked downstream in hot springs wash and didn’t see another snake for hours. This is such a beautiful place, it is difficult to be disappointed by not seeing any snakes.

At about 5pm, it was time to turn around and head back in defeat. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a jet black little disk under a fallen log. Finally, our first Arizona black! Unlike some, Chris has almost no yellow scales on his back – he is completely black. Very pleased with my find, I happily headed back to the ranch.

Our next snake search came a couple days later on the afternoon of 28 September. While Jeff checked out the mesquite forest near the ranch, I checked to see if the bird-eater was still around.

Yep, bird-eater was in his usual spot, but facing upstream today. Since bird-eater thought this was such a good hunting area, I decided to explore it more carefully for others. On a perfectly-sized ledge on the bank of hot springs wash, was another beautiful Arizona black rattlesnake.

Meanwhile, Jeff ran into an Arizona black rattlesnake on the move near the old corrals where Glendy King was shot. Glendy King was the original homesteader at Muleshoe Ranch, so we named this snake Glendy.

The final Arizona black was found by Jeff a couple days later. Boyett was hunting on the banks of secret springs, a spot where cottonmouths seem more likely than rattlesnakes.
secret springs

And now the real fun begins, as we follow these guys around…