Tag Archives: jaydin

Countdown to Snake Count: 1…

Snake Count is here!

I’ll end this week’s roundup of snakes with the snake that started my obsession with rattlesnakes, black-tailed rattlesnakes (Crotalus molossus, hereafter blacktails).

DSC_4791

Many, many years ago, I attended the International Herpetological Symposium just for fun, as the only reptiles I worked with at the time were of the feathered variety. I met (who is now) my oldest and dearest friend at that meeting, who was key in reawakening my lifelong love of snakes. And there was a presentation that blew my mind and changed the course of my life forever. Harry Greene talked about his black-tail project and in particular that they take care of their kids.

Snakes? Take care of their kids? So long birds!

It was five more years before I started my first rattlesnake project and I haven’t looked back since. I still haven’t seen parental care in blacktails, but I have gotten to see them do some other really cool things.

Jaydin (male) in a tree.

persephone in tree solo

Persephone (female) in a tree.

Jaydin (left, male black-tailed rattlesnake) and Persephone (right, female black-tailed rattlesnake), 24 July 2012.

Jaydin (left, male) and Persephone (right, female), 24 July 2012.

Timelapse video of Jaydin courting Persephone (one day of that courtship).

Jaydin in combat with Marty over Persephone.

Maybe this will be the year, 15 years later, that I finally get to see a blacktail family (Persephone, please?).

Who says dreams don’t come true?

🙂 melissa

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Rattlesnake romance

At a certain time of year, a male snake focuses his efforts on breeding. He moves long distances in search of potential mates (a video of this behavior, scent-trailing, can be seen here). However, finding a female is only the first step; now he must convince her to mate with him.

A pair of black-tailed rattlesnakes: Jaydin (male, left) and Persephone (female, right).

Rattlesnakes are great romantics. Males may spend a week or more courting one female to convince her of his worth. How he does this is the subject of today’s post.

A male may sit nearby, next to, or even stacked on top of a female, presumably to guard her from other suitors.

test phrase

Male western diamond-backed rattlesnake stacked on top of a female. Can you see her face?

If another male comes to call, they may engage in combat over the prized female. We will discuss combat in more detail in a future post, but for now let’s look at courtship through our favorite snake, Jaydin (male black-tailed rattlesnake).

On 18 July, we were excited to see Jaydin with a beautiful female, who we now know as Persephone.

Persephone (left) and Jaydin (right).

Persephone (left) and Jaydin (right).

We set up a timelapse camera to better observe their courtship. Here’s a clip from their third day together:

Jaydin crawls out of their shelter first and coils at the bottom left of the screen. Persephone emerges shortly thereafter. Jaydin immediately goes to Persephone and begins chin-rubbing her, which is exactly what it sounds like: he rubs her body with his chin to express his intent. This behavior starts about five seconds in and continues throughout. Much more vigorous chin-rubbing can be seen in the following videos.

Perhaps to show she’s not ready, a female may quickly flip her tail at the male. We never observed Persephone doing this, but we have seen it in Arizona black rattlesnakes:


At ~eight seconds in, the female Arizona black rattlesnake literally smacks the male in his face with her tail. Does this mean “no” or “not yet”? We also don’t know how much rejection a male will take before he gives up or how much chin-rubbing a female needs to acquiesce.

While Persephone didn’t smack Jaydin away, neither did they appear to mate. And indeed they were still together:
…the next day
…and two days after that.

The fourth evening (21 July) Jaydin moved and we assumed that courtship was over. His signal was again coming from overhead, which seemed an unlikely place for courtship. But Persephone likes to climb as much as Jaydin does.

Jaydin & Persephone over 2 yards up in a tree.

Jaydin & Persephone overhead in a tree, 21 July 2012.

Close-up of Jaydin & Persephone over 2 yards up in a tree.

Jaydin & Persephone as seen from a nearby tree, 21 July 2012.

After three more days, they were still together at a new spot on the ground. Again we set up our camera here to record their behavior.

A week-long courtship ends in mating! Sometimes it is difficult to tell, but Jaydin was never camera-shy, so he made it very obvious for us 🙂 (Check out the video at ~55 seconds).

When we next tracked Jaydin, he was ~15 yards away and there was no sign of Persephone. When we took the camera down, we found another male black-tailed rattlesnake! Perhaps he was after Persephone too…

As you may have guessed, this is not the last you’ll see of Persephone, Jaydin and Persephone, or the new male. Stay tuned for more!

melissa & jeff

For a very different story of snake courtship and combat, check out Ménage à trois, a story of three gophersnakes.

A tribute to Jaydin

Jaydin, male black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus), August 2011.

In August of 2011 we visited the Muleshoe preserve for the very first time. As we drove through the entry gate, we heard the telltale buzz of a rattlesnake moving in the underbrush beside the driveway. While this would normally be regarded as a warning alarm, we interpreted it as an auspicious sign. This hefty and handsome male black-tail would herald not just a new study site, but our eventual home.

One month later, when we officially began the study, we captured and implanted a radio transmitter into a black-tailed rattlesnake in Hot Springs Canyon, dubbed Jaydin by the volunteer that found him. When later comparing photographs of head patterns, we were tickled to see that Jaydin was the very same snake that greeted us a month before!

Since then, Jaydin has (almost) always been a treat to check up on. From climbing trees to courting females, he let us into his world like no other snake we’ve followed. With the summer of 2012 behind us, Jaydin was right where he was the year before, apparently headed toward the same rocky hilltop to spend the winter. Sadly, Jaydin never made it. On 25 October we found his predated body on a barren slope that would have afforded him little cover.

This post is the first of a series in tribute to Jaydin; he left us with no shortage of stories to share here.

The following video demonstrates Jaydin’s typical disregard for our watching him. It was recorded the afternoon of 31 July 2012 and we think he was scent-trailing a female because we later observed one nearby. Note how thoroughly and intently he tongue flicks during his search.

We miss Jaydin and we are grateful for all that he shared with us. For over a year he enriched our lives, and through these posts we hope he’ll enrich yours too.

melissa and jeff

Changing of the guard

Wow, it has been awhile, but I won’t bore you with the details of why we’ve been absent. What’s important is that WE’RE BACK! We (and the snakes) had a busy summer and even though the snakes will be headed to their dens soon, we’ll have plenty of stories to share all winter long while they’re waiting for the spring.

When we started this project one year ago, we implanted radio transmitters with one-year batteries into seven rattlesnakes. So we made the somewhat difficult decision recently to remove those transmitters and give most of those guys a break. They deserve it, but we’ll miss them. We said goodbye to: Henry (male western diamond-backed rattlesnake), Stuart (male western diamond-backed rattlesnake), Boyett (male Arizona black rattlesnake), Glendy (male Arizona black rattlesnake), and Barney (male Arizona black rattlesnake).

Wait a minute, Barney? Who’s that? We lost Barney last October, but he appeared like magic this September, pretty much right where we originally encountered him. Where did he go? Who knows, but at least we know he’s OK.

We (OK, mostly me) couldn’t bear to let Jaydin (male black-tailed rattlesnake) go, so he is still with us.

Henry (male western diamond-backed rattlesnake) spends most of his time near the preserve headquarters, so we continue to see him pretty regularly:

Henry (male western diamond-backed rattlesnake) at the head of the Nature Trail, 5 October 2012 (Henry, bottom left; Jeff’s foot, top right).

Now let’s meet the new guys (and gals!!!).

Persephone
female black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus)
We can’t take credit for finding this beautiful girl, Jaydin led us to her. The full story deserves (and will get) its own blog post, but the short version is that Jaydin courted Persephone for about a week this summer. She is named for the Greek goddess Persephone, queen of the underworld.

Bane
male Arizona black rattlesnake (Crotalus cerberus)
baneBane was originally encountered during Snake Count Spring 2012, when he was spotted drinking from Secret Springs. At that time we measured, marked (painted his rattle) him, and set him free. He re-entered our lives in August while we were sitting in the wash, recording data and taking photos of Jaydin. Along comes Bane, cruising through the leaves a few yards from where we sat; it’s almost like he volunteered for the study. Bane was named for the main villain in The Dark Knight Rises, which may seem a little odd given that we’re trying to improve rattlesnakes’ reputation. Bane certainly caused a lot of trouble for Gotham, but we appreciate his ‘for the people’ attitude and his soft side, which I won’t elaborate on in case you haven’t seen the movie (SEE IT!).

Cathy
female Arizona black rattlesnake (Crotalus cerberus)
catWe again hosted the field biology class from Bangor University this fall. Whilst discussing social rattlesnake behavior in the Commons, Cathy crawled onto the patio just outside the door (another volunteer?). She is named for one of the professors leading the class.

Help us name this snake!
female Arizona black rattlesnake (Crotalus cerberus)
633Jeff came across this little lady while tracking Glendy in August. Like Glendy, she has a fondness for the mesquite forest and only recently traveled to Hot Springs Wash, probably on her way to her den. She was the first female Arizona black rattlesnake we found in Hot Springs and she is a young adult. Please help us name this snake! Email us your suggestions; we’ll pick the top 3-5 and have a poll on our facebook page to choose the winner!

melissa

Update: We have a winner! Luna was the name chosen by our facebook fans.

How many snakes have you walked under?

Tracking can be made more difficult by assuming you know where the animal is going to be. This morning when we tracked Jaydin (male black-tailed rattlesnake), his signal seemed to be coming from all around. We were drawn to a large pack rat house, but only when we added a third dimension to our search, did we find our friend:

Jaydin, about 8 feet up in a walnut tree above Jeff.

Rattlesnakes do climb, but they’re not often caught in the act.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Allison

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!
gophersnake

25 March: Boyett (male Arizona black rattlesnake) has emerged and was seen coiled beneath an oak tree just outside his den.

Boyett

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!