Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Arizona Epic Part 3

We made a serious haul today on trips to Antelope Pass, NM and North Fork, Chiricahhus Mtns, AZ. Check out all the critters.

Find of the trip so far: a big, beautiful, yellowish green rat snake (Senticolis triaspis) found by our wonderful Chef Chip:

Matt showing a mean western hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus) to the class:

We found a teeny little night snake (Hypsiglena torquata) on Portal Rd.:

Alicia checking out a big male Yarrow's spiny lizard (Sceloporus jarrovi):

Check out this incredibly cute neonate short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi):

We found lots of these round-tailed horned lizards (P. modestum) in Antelope Pass:

Look at this gorgeous female collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris), about to pop out eggs any second:

The students caught a big male:

Steve showing the students a big two-striped whipsnake (Masticophis bilineatus):

Steve noosing a gray-checkered whiptail lizard (Aspidoscelis dixoni):

Jay Cole then introduced us to this all-female species, which is highly endangered (populations only in Antelope Pass, NM and Big Bend, TX):

I stumbled upon this pretty little female banded rock rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus) in North Fork:

Here she is out on a rock:

Then a student found this big male:

And here he is in a tube:

A group of students later found another female out cruising:

Yearling (or two?) black-tailed rattlesnake (C. molossus) with a large food bulge:
The inverts didn't disappoint either. Huge vinegaroon:

Scorpions are good mamas:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Arizona Epic Part 2

I am one of the instructors for a herpetology course at the Southwest Research Station in the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona. I have been coming to these mountains for the past 13 years to go herping, so it is a real pleasure to share the amazing herpetofauna with others. We are keeping really busy, which means little time for blogging, so I will be brief and let the photos speak for themselves. Here are some critters and sights we have seen on our first three days.

The monsoons have been hitting hard. This is excellent news, because as you can see from the photo below, the southwest is in the midst of a drought, and the land is drinking thirstily from the sky these days. This is a view from NM of the Chiricahuas shrowded in clouds:

So, the anuran beasties are out in droves. We have spent the past two nights driving around the roads in southeast AZ and southwest NM checking out the critters. Here is a Mexican spadefoot (Spea multiplicata) sitting in the road:

There is a spot on the road to Animas, NM that flood every year during big storms. In addition to Spea and its cousin the Couch's spadefoot, we found lots of Great Plains toads (Anaxyrus cognatus) out calling. Check out the throat on this one- you can see the blood vessels in it. And look at those concentric rings going out into the water, enticing the ladies:

The fourth species in this pond was the green toad (A. debilis), also calling away:

We've seen some pretty cool reptiles on the road too, but I'll save most of those for a later post. Here's one quick example of a common denizen of the road, a neonate western diamond-backed rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox):

In the daytime we take the students on hikes around the mountains and the flats. So far, we've been focusing on the desert floor because it's a bit cool up in the mountains, and the habitat seems pretty devastated by a recent fire (more on this next time).

In a morning hike on the desert floor, Matt immediately found this black-tailed rattlesnake (C. molossus) coiled in the rocks:

Meryl, one of the students, got buzzed by this guy a little while later:

We saw some cool lizards, like this greater earless lizard (Cophosaurus texanus):

And this Chihuahuan spotted whiptail lizard (Aspidoscelis exsanguis):

The whiptail is definitely a female. That's because this is an all-female, triploid, parthenogenic species. We are lucky to have Jay Cole, one of the world's experts on this topic, here as an instructor, and he'll give a seminar on it later in the week so we can all learn more about it.

Check out this cool red velvet mite (Family Tromidiidae). There were thousands of them littering the desert floor. I looked them up and found out that their larval stages parasitize arthropods but their adults stages, pictured here, actively prey upon arthropods:

And then, we hit gold. Steve (one of the other instructors) found a juvenile Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum) out cruising around, but it ran under a rock before he could corner it. Here's one of the students Gillian checking it out:

There was some heaving, there was a little ho-ing, and there was much hefting, and I got my meaty hands on the beastie:

Here he is crawling around after we let him go:

We've been having lots of fun of other kinds, too. To spice things up, last night Matt and I taught the students a very important skill: how to make rock snakes to mess with the other vans:

Let's just say it was a success. I think the tire marks are still on Portal Rd.

More information coming soon, including an account of the damage from the Horshoe 2 fire. Until then, happy herping!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Arizona Epic Part 1

Most people flee from Arizona in the summer, when temperatures commonly exceed 105 and even 110 degrees F. Not herpers. This week, hundreds of rattlesnake biologists flocked to Tucson, AZ for the Biology of the Rattlesnake II conference, which was cunningly planned by the organizers to occur smack at the beginning of the monsoon season. During monsoons, it might be hot but it’s also wet, bringing scaly critters (and their distant batrachian cousins) out in droves.

The first thing we did was ditch the opening night social to go herping. We met up with Karla M., a graduate student at Arizona State University studying Gila monsters. Although the rains have begun, Arizona has been hit hard by a drought over the past few years. But this didn’t deter us, because we were able to go to Stone Canyon, a gated upscale community and golf course that is heavily irrigated and therefore a heaven for herps. Karla is studying Gilas there, and a larger group of researchers mainly from the University of Arizona are conducting a long-term study of the snakes in the community.

Within 10 minutes of getting out of the car, we found two western diamond-backed rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) coiled up in the beautiful, lush Arizona Upland Sonoran Desert habitat. Here's a nice big male:

Next we began cruising around the road in Karla’s vehicle, looking for herps crossing the road. We immediately lucked out with this lyre snake (Trimorphodon biscutatus):

Lots of anurans were hopping around the roads, and several experienced the pleasure of meeting the grubby hands of my students. Here’s Scott admiring his first Sonoran Desert toad (Incilius [Bufo] alvarius), which he reluctantly refrained from licking:

Kory is holding a red-spotted toad (Anaxyrus [Bufo] punctatus):

Out wandering around the golf course, we found this big mellow blacktail rattlesnake (C. molossus), initially coiled under a plant right next to the green:

Back to the roads, we hoped to see one of the most common denizens of Stone Canyon, the tiger rattlesnake (C. tigris). This species is strongly associated with rocks, ranges widely in Mexico but has a relatively narrow distribution on the southwest US. We found this young of the year tiger on the road and he curled up nicely for a photo:

A few minutes later we found this adult out on the road:

Another photo of this guy:

We felt lucky to see some of the typical species, like C. atrox, C. molossus, and C. tigris, along with the amphibians, in this bad drought year. The lyre snake was a bonus. But we really lucked out when we learned that Karla needed to release a particularly prized and rarely seen snake that was caught earlier in the week. Check out this beautiful coral snake (Micruroides euryxanthus):

This guy got a lot of attention from the cameras:

To finish up the night, we jumped in Karla’s vehicle and drove out to her other field site, which incidentally was my field site during my graduate work, and is decidedly NOT benefiting from golf course irrigation. It was bone dry. Karla radiotracked four Gila monsters (Heloderma suspectum) she needed to check on, and along the way she showed us a contraption she built to monitor the temperatures within the nest of a Gila monster:

Despite the crummy, dry conditions, one of the Gila monsters was out walking around. This is a post-parturient female (check out the skinny tail):

Karla grabbed the Gila and took a blood sample because she is using doubly labeled water to examine water turnover and field metabolic rate in the animals:

Matt was very pleased to hold his first Gila monster:

The next night we went out for just a quick drive because we spent most of the evening snarfing fajitas and beer with the wonderful J-Ho and Keri. We went up the Catalina Highway and found two tiger rattlesnakes on the road. A young of the year:

And a good-looking subadult, 2 or 3 years old based on the rattle string:

Closer to Tucson there were a lot of anurans out and about, including spadefoot toads (Scaphiopus couchii):

By this time we had gotten about 8 hours of sleep total over the past three nights, and some of us couldn’t handle it:

Stay tuned for the next installment of AZ Herporama 2011!