Tag Archives: gila monster

First of the year!

Yesterday morning Jeff and I had a prolific little stroll to the old horse barns. First, we spotted a western patch-nosed snake (Salvadora hexalepis) stretched across the road. A few steps later, Jeff saw the first Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum) of the year at the preserve!

gila!
Gila monsters spend most of their life underground, so it’s always a treat to see one cruising on the surface.

head shot
Aren’t they gorgeous?

melissa

Snake Count Spring 2012

In 2011, the Center for Snake Conservation started a twice yearly Snake Count “to map and track snake distributions across North America.” Additionally, the goal of Snake Count is to get everyone (not just scientists) to take an interest in the snakes they see and get involved in conservation.

In Arizona, May is typically hot and dry. This year we are coming off an unusually dry winter, so we weren’t sure how successful counting snakes would be. We invited the best local snake finders to Muleshoe Ranch to see what we could scrap together for our first snake count here. And, wow, are we pleased with the results:

The whole weekend was a ton of fun, but a few finds really stand out. The snake counters arrived at Muleshoe ~10am Friday morning, started their search at ~11am, and almost immediately were rewarded by this little cutie, a juvenile Arizona black rattlesnake (Crotalus cerberus).

This juvenile Arizona black rattlesnake was originally found beneath this slab of wood.

That evening we turned up a large gophersnake, and as we followed the snake, snapping pictures, it climbed into the grapevine over our heads:

Gophersnake (Pituophis catenifer) climbing in the grapevine.

We also found a black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus), two Sonoran whipsnakes (Coluber bilineatus), and a couple western diamond-backed rattlesnakes:

Male western diamond-backed rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

Saturday evening everyone (except me) took off for nearby Bass Canyon, which Jeff and I always thought looked perfect for Arizona black rattlesnakes (it’s very wet and thickly vegetated). Bass didn’t disappoint. Within a few minutes, the group found TWO Arizona black rattlesnakes, our first two females on the preserve! Both girls were small, but old (judging by their long rattles) and looked like they had given birth last year. An hour later, they found an adult male coiled in a hunting posture, and he was the real stunner – biggest one we’ve caught here and jet black. We named him Johnny Depp and you will hear more about him in the future…

Although this was officially a snake count, we kicked off our long-term reptile monitoring project, with not one, but THREE Gila monsters (Heloderma suspectum). Gila monsters have been protected in Arizona longer than any other reptile, so we have permits to capture, measure, and photograph (for identification) them at the ranch.

Snake Counters admire a Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum)

Does this sound like fun?  Join us for the Fall Snake Count (15-23 September 2012), when we will host a public event at Muleshoe Ranch that will include activities such as:

  • naturalist led hikes to find snakes
  • presentations on snake behavior
  • chances to get up close and personal with our captive snakes
  • observe and assist biologists capturing and measuring snakes

Stay tuned here or follow us on facebook for more details as we get closer to the big event!

More animals found during Snake Count:

Black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus)

Western diamond-backed rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

Regal horned lizard (Phrynosoma solare)

Black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus)

Western diamond-backed rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

Black-necked gartersnake (Thamnophis cyrtopsis)

Western diamond-backed rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

melissa

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.

gilagila
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.
chris

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
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
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
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:
jaydin

 

glendy
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
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
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.

melissa

Off with a bang!

muleshoe
We arrived at Muleshoe Ranch at ~13:45 to meet with the manager and finalize plans for our new project. We are hoping to find 10 rattlesnakes in the next couple weeks: two western diamond-backed (Crotalus atrox), two black-tailed (C. molossus), and six Arizona blacks (C. cerberus).

We got the grand tour of the ranch, including all the places favored by resident rattlesnakes. We ended our tour at the horse barn, always a good place to find snakes because rodents are attracted to barns and snakes are attracted to rodents. But in the weeds just outside was not a snake, but a juvenile Gila monster – surely a good omen of things to come!

We had invited the field biology class from Bangor University to help us look for rattlesnakes. They arrived at ~15:00 and were still piling out of the cars when someone shouted “snake!” A very large western diamond-backed rattlesnake was crawling onto the parking lot. Henry, as he is now known, had been seen hunting at the large puddle on the road nearby. One down, nine to go!

We headed toward the horse barn to show the students the Gila monster. Less than 10 minutes passed before another western diamond-backed was spotted crossing the road from one junk pile to another (junk piles are another excellent way to attract snakes). He slithered into one of the piles before we could get a good look at him. Jeff checked out the other junk pile (that the snake was headed toward) and found not one, but two more diamond-backed!
courting snakes
It appeared to be a male courting a female and seems likely that the other snake was also attracted to this female. It would have been interesting to see what happened when the three were together, but there was no way the first snake was coming out with all of us hanging about. So we moved on.

Two more diamond-backeds were found shortly thereafter; one in hot springs wash (Stuart) and another crossing the road. Then, another shout from the students “snake!” immediately followed by “its eating a bird!” A diamond-backed that had been hunting next to a pool in hot springs wash caught a bird coming to drink or bathe (bird-eater).
bird-eater

Rattlesnakes hunting birds were once thought to be rare, but it now seems that at least some individuals specialize on birds (Check out: WOW Arizona and tenbestphotos].

The group split off at this point with most headed downstream and others searching on the ranch. Although diamond-backeds certainly ruled the day, an absolutely gorgeous black-tailed was captured while crossing a dry section of the wash (Jaydin) and another group of students found a ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus). We have two diamond-backeds (Henry and Stuart) and one black-tailed (Jaydin), but still need some Arizona blacks. Still, a very successful beginning to the new project!

melissa