Saturday, September 3, 2011

Suizo Report -- Shattering the Pre-button Myth

Howdy Herpers,

In discussing the monsoons of 2011, when it comes to our beloved Suizo Study Plot, it could be worse. We could be in Texas! To my friends in Texas, let me say that on occasion, you guys are in my thoughts and prayers for rain. But it’s pretty hard to get past reserving my thoughts and prayers for our own area. It has not been all that great here, either. In fact, this just might be the worst monsoon we’ve ever seen. (And we’ve seen some bad ones……..)

Somewhere within the bowels of my computer, I’ve buried 10,000 lamentations about what an absolute wretched spring and summer 2011 has been. A depressing report of death, blight, dementia, jock itch and the reality of global warming was one shaky trigger-finger away from being shipped to the lot of you.

When presented with the opportunity to snuff Gollum in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” Bilbo Baggins decided to play nice. “Pity stayed his hand.” (It’s a pity he didn’t throttle the miserable little SOB when he had the chance. That would have saved us a lot of useless-­if not enjoyable reading, and several epic movies in the process.)

Yup! “Pity” stayed my hand from having the moxie to snivel to you all about how downright disappointing it is to hope for the best--and get the worst, of what the true herp geeks in Arizona want to experience. We wait all damn year in anticipation to see towering thunderheads bearing down on us in early July. We wish, hope and pray for the first inklings of cold air to shove massive sandstorms of cold, dry air into every bodily orifice­-exposed or otherwise. The frigid rush of air and bead-blasting effect of harsh desert turf rapidly on-the-move has to be experienced to be believed. In a good monsoon, the relief that comes from this blast is followed by bone-chilling and torrential downpours that make even crossing the street an adventure. And in a good monsoon, this all happens every day!

But, no! None of that this summer. The few chances of the entire scenario happening ended with the sandstorms. The rain that was supposed to follow didn’t occur. Time-after-time, it was just a dry-assed blow that was followed by flat, featureless, lethargic and apathetic clouds. An absolute dud! And now all we can do is wait and hope for the summer 2012………….

How can anything in nature survive such a summer? Well….some didn’t survive. Their sad story may be told someday. But the fact remains that some of the herps under our watch not only survived-­they thrived!

This is our text.

Image 1: Meet one of our two new female Crotalus atrox, CA133. She was found by John Slone on the evening of 6 August 2011. She was exactly what we were looking for in terms of receiving a transmitter. But the complication to that decision was that she was pregnant, which makes for a difficult surgery. We decided to keep her until she gave birth.
Image 2: And on 17 August, she gave us 6 beautiful babies, 4 males, and 2 females:
Image 3: Now we’re going to take the opportunity to zero in on the rattles (pre-buttons) of two of these snakes. Keep in mind that it will be six more days before these snakes shed their skins as you look at these pre-buttons. (Don’t be distracted by anything else on the image guys! Stay focused on the pre-buttons­I’m trying to teach you something here!)
Image 4: And now, let’s take a look at the full button on one of the neonates that has shed:

Take a moment to absorb what you’ve just seen, and we’ll move on.

Got it? Image 3 depicts the pre-button as just a nub, and although poorly photographed, image 4 shows that after the snake has shed, a “flange” of sorts emerges to join the nub. And now, are you ready for this?

The pre-button does not come off when the snake sheds its skin! It grows to become a full button.

Image 5: Let’s take a look inside the tail/rattle portion of one of the neonate atrox shed skins. Do you see any pre-button inside of it? Nope! That’s because the pre-button is still on the snake, in the form of the top nub on the full button.
Image 6: A side look at the tail/rattle portion of a neonate shed skin. 

I tell you these things because there is a lot of misinformation out there about what happens to the button before and after a neonate rattler sheds its skin the first time. While there may be species of rattlesnakes that do something different, Crotalus atrox does not shed off its pre-button! End of lesson, but not this report.

Image 7: As I’m sure none of you remember, mention was made of two new females entering our study. Well, the second female is not actually new. She is an old friend. Thanks to the miracle of PIT tags, we were able to identify the atrox below as female CA87. She was first captured in April of 2005 and, at the time, deemed much too small to receive a transmitter. She was at that point in time only 2.5 years old-­a little 250 gram sweetie of a snake. And though we’ve been all over her turf in the six plus years that followed, we did not see her again until 7 August 2011. My how she has grown! Her mass was 739 grams at capture­she has tripled her size! Once again, this snake was deemed pregnant, and we decided to play it safe, let her have her kids, and then do the surgery.
Image 8: On 15 August, our old friend dropped 12 beautiful children for us. The sex ratio was 5 males, 7 females. Yay for the girls! The N of 12 is 3 more than we have ever seen come from the atrox on our plot. We have twice had females give birth to 9. Most events have had less than six. Say hi to the babies everybody!
Image 9: By 24 August, the little ones had all shed. Now it was time to get those shed skins.

Yikes! Open carefully!

Image 10: They may be cute, but each and every one of these were little demons from the depths of hell in temperament. Biting worms, all of them! They were striking at anything that came close. As I transferred each one from their “nest” to a clean box, I did so at eye level. As I did so, several launched strikes at my face. How can something so tiny have such a big, fearsome mouth? Yehaw!
A side observation is in order. Prior to shedding, the little guys did not climb to the top of their nest box. Once they shed, they did so earnestly. I have noticed that in the wild, the neonates tend to go vertical.

I counted each one as I transferred them to their new quarters. At one point in the count, I jostled their nest box, and it crashed to the floor. But I thought I was on it quick enough. I continued on with the transfer.

“One-two-three…CRASH! "CRAP!" Four-five…………ten-eleven!


I could visualize the topic of conversation that morning with my long-suffering wife Dianna. “Uh…….heh-heh, Sweetie? I think it might be a good practice to wear combat boots around the house for, oh, say….. the next year or so………..”

But I groped about on all fours, and found number 12 snuggled against the side of one of coolers on the floor. Whew! That was WAY close!

Image 11: This was the mess that stared me in the face when the shed-gathering was done:
Image 12: As each individual shed skin contains its own DNA, they have to be bagged separately. Thanks to the gentle, patient hands of Dianna Repp, the snarl depicted above eventually became:
And so now, they’re all bagged and tagged, and ready to hand off to the gel jockeys. Everybody is back out on the plot again. I had hoped to stage some photographs of the moms with their babies in the wild­-but that wasn’t going to happen. In their angst to gain their freedom, the babies morphed into whipsnakes, and scattered like dust in the wind. Trying to control that melee would have been several bites in the making.

With the next report, I will cover some of the birthing that occurred in the wild. But for now:

This here is Roger Repp, signing off from stinking hot Arizona, where the turtles are strong, the snakes are handsome, and the lizards are way above average.

And may the sun someday be more than a few inches from the top of our heads!

1 comment:

  1. A follow-up from Roger:

    Howdy All,

    I've been in discussion with the only one of you who bothered to tell me that I was full of it with my last email regarding prebuttons.

    Until that is all sorted out, I'd like you all to forget that I mentioned it.

    If my source is correct, the prebutton ain't much--and is certainly in need of a better definition.

    The "Ain't Much" part of a rattle would be a better name for it.

    I'll send some more images as soon as the fly scat is separated from the pepper.

    Cheers, roger