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!

1 comment:

reptilist said...

Damn you rock snakes!