Thursday, April 21, 2011

Roger Repp & Crotalus cerberus

Howdy Herpers,

On 16 April, John Slone escorted me to some Arizona black rattlesnake (Crotalus cerberus) dens that Melissa Amarello, Jeff Smith and he are studying. As a few of you on this list are also aware of the place, allow me to first reassure you that your secret is safe with me. Truth be told, I got lost while I was out there. I still don't have a clue where I was. Pull out my nails--I'll never tell--because I can't! And I intend to keep my ignorance intact. It's better that way. The usual standard for a scientific study of the sort that the dynamic trio is performing is to wade crotch deep into the snakes, start grabbing as many as you can, draw some blood,
slap some transmitters and PIT tags into the animals, and then let everybody go at the place you caught them. You then expect that there was no herpetological yin and yang to your actions, and that nothing will change as a result.

Well, as one who has done way more than his share of den mucking, I can assure you that if you use this method of study you change the dynamics of that den. Maybe not forever, but certainly for longer than your study will last. The differences may be subtle, and you can slant your data and your thinking to say "we didn't change nuthin," but you are truly fooling yourself if you believe that.
What my three friends are trying to do is commendable. They are keeping their hands off the snakes at these dens. They are trying to gather information about social interactions that most scientists will likely refuse to believe. In many ways, science is the worst enemy of promoting what might be the most misunderstood animal on this planet. Some of the things these three have seen and documented I have seen in other places. When I bring these observations up, I am sometimes ridiculed. I do hope that when the outcome of their study is gathered, people will receive their interpretations graciously. I stand by my opinion that rattlesnakes are far more than wind up toys of nature, hard wired by instinct to react mechanically to physiological queues. I cut steel for a living--so I can do that. Nobody can tell me how to think, especially people who have never attempted to watch closely without interrupting what they see by using the conventional methods of science.

I can already hear half of this audience cheering. They are the half that the other half would call "amateurs." And I can also already feel the breeze of the other half prodigiously shaking their heads from side-to-side. It's okay guys and gals, I don't mind being called an amateur. And I will listen to you even when you say things that I believe are wrong.

The problem with natural history observations is that they are often open to a word that I already used: "interpretation." My answer to that is that if we who are constantly on the ground interpret something, who is in the better position to do so?

Well, the onus of the people involved in the study I'm describing is that they not only intend to interpret what they see. They also hope to prove it. They are trying to do that with good camera work, as well as performing the hard science on the snakes AFTER they disperse from the dens. This is a tough job, but it is one they are equal to.

Enough! Time for some pics, which I will interpret with something that ends in a question mark each time. Those of you who have closed minds, just call it all speculation. 

Pic 1: Has nothing to do with what we're talking about. This is a striped whipsnake wrapped around a small Arizona Black (hereafter: cerb.) Whipsnakes can be found denning with several species of rattlers out this way, and they do not appear to be eating the rattlers. At least, not at the dens.
Pics 2 and 3: A male cerb hanging out of a den they call "Caprock Den" (for obvious reasons). Take a look at pic 3--see the trees in the background? We're going around to that side of Caprock for the next pics.

Pics 4 and 5: This female was oblivious to us--which is another relic of hands off herping. Has she been subjected to the normal rigors of science, she would have bolted. What's that she is looking at? Could it possibly be her children?

Pics 6 and 7: A female in retreat back to her brood? Pic 7 = one of two possible offspring emerging from beneath a boulder where the adult is heading.
Pics 8 and 9: A couple more adults basking. I am told that both places often have neonates scattered about nearby. It could be these moms are just early risers, and the kids are still under the boulders.

Pics 10 and 11: Some close ups of the neonates in pics 4 and 5. Note the difference in pattern between the young and the adults.

I would like to end this report with encouragement to the trio for what they're trying to accomplish. Stick to your guns guys! If it were easy, somebody else would have already don it.

I'm going to send this--before I change my mind.

Best to all, roger

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