Tuesday, April 6, 2010

So Much Snakey Goodness

There are two types of people in this world: those who hate snakes and those who love snakes. If you're in the former group, I strongly suggest that you refrain from walking around rock piles in hills this spring, because you will quickly see something like this:

The rocks are SNAKEY. We saw about 40 snakes over four days in the rocky hills at Chimineas Ranch during spring break. Of course, if you belong to the latter group above, head for the hills because I think it's just getting started. Here are some photos of snakes doing thier business over the past couple of weeks. Enjoy!

The wildflowers are out in force at Chimineas right now.

The ground squirrels have bred early this year, so babies are already running rampant and finding their way into the bellies of snakes. Some snakes were found in hunting posture:

This big boy was found out cooking his recently acquired meal, and upon feeling him up later I allege him to have eaten three baby ground squirrels (I felt three small skulls and a tangle of little limbs). Good boy!

(Recently some herper friends of mine on Facebook were debating whether posed photos of herps in the field are a good thing, or whether photos should be taken in situ. I like both kinds, but want to point out that all my rattlesnake photos are always taken in situ because I like to look back on what they are doing in various seasons over various years. That's also one of many reasons my photos aren't very good :-)

We saw about 10 male-female pairs of rattlesnake over a few days. This is called consortship, and usually entails a male sitting right next to or sometimes on top of a female:

Males will stay with females like this for days, presumably waiting until she is receptive to mate but we don't really know. We found one pair copulating, but my camera was- er- lost at the time so I didn't get photos. We also saw a rattlesnake eating a ground squirrel when my camera was lost. Luckily, Tony found it the next day under a fence we frequently cross, sitting conspiratorily next to an empty Hornsby's bottle. Oops.

So why are we out looking for rattlesnakes anyway? My graduate student Matt is beginning his thesis research studying the effects of translocation on neuroplasticity and stress reactivity in male rattlesnakes. He has been collecting big male snakes, getting blood samples, and putting radiotransmitters in the snakes to follow them around for the next few months.

We have lots of helpers out there to look for snakes, then Matt catches and tubes the snakes.

A blood sample is drawn from the caudal vessels:

Snakes are brought to the lab, surgically implanted with radios, then released. Here are two brand new radiotagged males out basking together the day they were released.

And of course, the omnipresent Western fence lizards lizards are especially abundant this year and are looking rather portly from a steady diet of the recent bloom of craneflies.

Good years for insects and rodents mean good years for lizards and snakes, but also birds of prey. The eagles have been soaring, and hopefully they will (1) refrain from eating any radiotagged snakes, and (2) reuse the nest they built last year on site:

Happy herping everyone!

No comments: