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

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!

Winter

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!

melissa

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.

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