Tag Archives: gophersnake

Countdown to Snake Count: 2…

I’ve already dedicated a post to gophersnakes and how I adore them, but since we’re almost certain to see one this weekend, they deserve another mention.

Juvenile gophersnake from central California coast.

Gophersnakes (Pituophis catenifer), or a close relative (bullsnakes, pine snakes), are found nearly throughout the United States. They can be very large (up to 6 feet in length!), but are perfectly harmless and usually quite docile. They mostly eat mammals, which is probably why they’re called gophersnakes.

Like most colubrids, their behavior can be difficult to observe in the wild. Gophersnakes have many predators, including humans, so they usually stop what they’re doing and flee in our presence. But one day a couple years ago Jeff and I got extremely lucky. We came across a trio of gophersnakes, two males and a female, and got to observe combat, mate searching, and courtship – it was pretty amazing! I won’t retell the entire story, because you can read it here and here, but here are a few highlights:

Olive Oyl maintains a wary eye while Popeye focuses on his potential partner.


The first battle between Bluto and Popeye over Olive Oyl.

People perceive rattlesnakes as mean and violent, but when you compare courtship and combat, rattlesnakes seem gentler and kinder than gophersnakes (or most any other animal).

The first Snake Counters have arrived at the preserve and were immediately welcomed by one of our resident diamondback females, Forrestine. Join us!

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.

gophie in hand
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.

gophie

Adorable, isn’t he?

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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

Spring is here!

Jaydin

Jaydin (male black-tailed rattlesnake) 24 March 2012

Or rather, has been here (I’m a little behind in posting :-)). After many boring weeks of tracking our rattlesnakes and seeing almost nothing (we were sometimes able to glimpse a few inches of two of the Arizona black rattlesnakes), nearly all of them have now emerged from their dens.

The first signs of spring arrived in mid-February, when the western diamond-backed rattlesnakes started basking just outside of their dens. We’ve had remote timelapse cameras set up on Henry and Stuart’s den (male western diamond-backed rattlesnakes), Glendy’s den (male Arizona black rattlesnake), and two other dens (you can read more about one of those dens here and here). One of the new dens only had one occupant this year, a male western dimaond-backed rattlesnake we call Dwight. We finally had a snake to show interested visitors to Muleshoe, as he was reliably out basking, every day, all month (he’s now gone).
Dwight

Glendy surprised us by coming out one wet, chilly morning in February:
             
Glendy, 17 February 2012 (click on photo for larger version, but he’s still difficult to see).

3 March: Of course Jaydin (male black-tailed rattlesnake) was the first to emerge – is anyone surprised? He was still a little sluggish, but looking beautiful sitting a few yards from his den.

Jaydin (male black-tailed rattlesnake) 3 March 2012

8 March: Stuart (male western diamond-backed rattlesnake) was the next to emerge from the den he shared with Henry (male western diamond-backed rattlesnake), a bee hive, and several other rattlesnakes (more on that in a future post). He has been resting underneath a rock downslope of the den ever since. Henry stayed inside until 29 March.

Stuart

Stuart, 8 March 2012

9 March: A female western diamond-backed rattlesnake showed up near the guest housing on the ranch. So snakes are now on the move… Allison will get her own post very soon.

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Allison, 11 March 2012, not at all happy to see us.

15 March: Our first yard snake of the year and it’s my favorite, a very large gophersnake!
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25 March: Boyett (male Arizona black rattlesnake) has emerged and was seen coiled beneath an oak tree just outside his den.

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Boyett, 25 March 2012. Who would have thought a jet black snake in yellow grass would be so hard to see?

Boyett closeup

Boyett, 25 March 2012. Can you see him now?

26 March: Glendy (male Arizona black rattlesnake) was coiled just outside his den. A few days later he left the immediate area posed nicely for a photograph:

Glendy

Glendy, 31 March 2012.

As of 30 March, Chris (male Arizona black rattlesnake) has not yet left his den. Interestingly, he was the first to arrive at his den (we haven’t seen him since 13 October) and will be the last to leave. We will likely have news of his egress soon, social dens at Muleshoe, and (finally) some female rattlesnakes!