Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Suzio Report Winter-Spring 2013

Howdy Herpers,                             13 April 2013

It is hoped that your inboxes have not been overtly cluttered with Suizo Reports of late?

Truth be told, a few months ago, I got in a bit of hot water at work when a hacker got into my company computer, and merrily bounced about 250,000 messages into cyberspace over the course of 24 hours. This did nothing to endear me to those who mind our server, not to mention those who sign my paycheck. There was no small measure of irritability directed at my person. My patented method of hang dog looks and blatant apologies did little to assuage their verbal onslaughts. And my highly effective foot-kissing technique was thwarted by feet that were doing the river dance. I’m not limber or fast enough to keep up with uncooperative foot apparel.

The whole incident caused a not entirely irrational fear of mass email missives to well up inside of typing boy here. That fear still manifests itself in every fiber of my being. Every time that I pull the trigger, I hear footsteps. They are Gestapo-like footsteps clomping down the hallway to get me.

But dammit, herp studies come, and herp studies go­and there will never be one like that in the Suizos. Who will ever do such a thing again? Twelve continuous years of radio telemetry on multiple species of venomous reptiles on one patch of ground?  Are you kidding me? No way! It has never happened before, and it will never happen again.

And now that spring is upon us, it’s showtime! For the herps, and for those of us who love them. Let’s rock!

The best place to start anew with these reports is January of this year. Normally, when discussing herp activity in January of any given year, there isn’t much to say. But there were two events that astonished even me.

The first event was one of our tiger rattlesnakes--a male, CT11, “Steven” to be specific. In late October of 2012, Steven moved into a north facing crevice and joined his lady tiger, one that he had dogged all summer long. His crack mate was CT12, “Ellie.” They both remained visible in the crevice throughout the fall of 2012 and early winter of 2013. He was always up front, but shifting around some, while she remained motionless about 300mm behind him­as if glued in place. On 19 January, Steven was viewed and photographed stretched out lengthwise in front of the crevice. Even though he was less than 300mm away from Ellie, his body temperature was 6 degrees C warmer than hers. That apparently was enough to set him motion, for he moved over 50 meters during the next week, implanting himself in the same major boulder stack where he had spent the winter of 2011-2012. We haven’t seen him since, and it may be another month before we do. A 50 meter move by a winter-dormant species like a tiger rattlesnake? Why did he leave his girlfriend behind? Was she a bitch, or what?

The second cool event to occur in January involved a black-tailed rattlesnake pairing­in the dead of winter. In this case, it was CM10, “Susan,” and our as yet un-named big guy, CM12. Susan moved into the same site that she had occupied during the winter of 2011-2012 in November of 2012. Fidelity to hibernacula is old news with Crotalids, so there was nothing new there. But she up and moved ~15 meters between 27 January and 2 February. She crawled under the same boulder that CM12 was occupying. In other words­she joined him! If we’ve learned anything with our study through the past 12 years, it is that it isn’t always the males that do the chasing.

While we’re on the subject of Susan joining our big guy, it should be reported that she has been dogging him this spring. Like our tiger Steven, he seems to be trying to get away from his girlfriend as well. And she keeps popping at sites that he has occupied the week before. What’s up with that? On top of all that, Susan went through a transmitter change recently. During the process, Dale DeNardo detected six follicles in her ovary. She is quite pregnant. She was visited by three different males that we know of last summer/fall, but CM12 was with her the longest. Is “papa” truly trying to get away from her, or leading her to food sources? We can only speculate.

We had a very peculiar winter weather-wise. In both January and February, we would set record lows one week, and record highs the next. Even during the warm weeks, the nights were cold. We have received an estimated 3.0 inches of rain thus far this year. There has been but a limited flower show out our way, for the rains came too late to set up anything spectacular. The strange weather has also set up a leisurely egress with our study animals.

We began the year with 14 rattlesnakes with transmitters. We have one female western diamond-backed rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), CA133.  We have six tiger rattlesnakes (Crotalus tigris), 3 males (CT10, CT11, and CT14), and 3 females (CT8, CT12, and CT13). And we have seven black-tailed rattlesnakes, 4 males (CM11, CM12, CM14 and CM16) and 3 females (CM10, CM15 and CM17).

We can easily start mowing down what the animals are doing by zeroing in on the tiger rattlesnakes first. Other than Steven’s escape from Ellie, they haven’t done much this year. As reported last fall, male CT14, AKA “Rhino K12,” jetted to the third highest peak of the Suizo Mountains proper, and has remained buried in a vertical cliff face ever since. We hope for movement, but I’ll bet he stays there until May. CT10, “Jeff,” has buried himself under a big gneiss boulder, not so much as a glimpse of him yet. Our longest running tiger, female CT8 “Zona” overwintered in the same rock shelf that she spent the winter of 2009-2010. She has just now begun to bask at the entrance. Ellie must have tired of her own bitching reverberating around her lonely crevice, and has made two minor moves. And female CT13, no name yet, has slipped from her caprock hibernaculum and dropped downslope about 5 meters. Tigers are very boring snakes in the winter, but we did have the benefit of seeing two of them all winter long.

Our lone atrox, CA133, affectionately dubbed “Slone’s bitch,” finally moved from her hibernaculum of a man-made boulder pile at the top of the front range of the Suizos proper. She was last tracked at the base of the same front range, and I expect she will be in Suizo Wash with the next tracking episode. She gave birth the previous two consecutive years­six young in 2011, and four in 2012. It is my extreme hope that she can skip a year, and regain some mass.

It was an off year for all nine of the atrox dens on our hill. We have been keeping our hands off these dens for two years now, in hopes that our lack of attention will benefit them. The short story is that only two atrox were viewed at AD1, four at AD7, and only one at AD8. This is the first year in the history of our study that dens AD4 and AD5 were unoccupied. The same story can be told for atrox dens on other hills under my watch. Thus far this year, I have racked up the pathetic total of 15 atrox. In years past, I’d routinely see twice that many--in one day! I’m not sure what to make of this­except to express the hopes that the downturn is temporary. It is worth mentioning that 2012 as a whole was a down year for this species of snake as well.

The black-tailed rattlesnakes have been nothing short of spectacular. This will be our first year ever of watching this species with any sort of N to back our observations. We are in awe of these impressive beasts, and hope to get some more into the study. The best way to tackle them on an individual basis is to lump them by the vast geographical differences of the terrain they have chosen to occupy. All seven were found near or on Iron Mine Hill, but only three of them remained there for the winter.

CM10, Susan, and her boyfriend CM12, the big guy, both remained on Iron Mine Hill. The only other molossus to remain on the hill this winter was CM16­a young male that “volunteered” for our study last fall. Since CM10 and CM12 each have a full year of observations on them, we know what to expect. But CM16 is new to us. The most remarkable feat he has done thus far is to find a hibernaculum that kept him consistently anywhere from 10 to 15 degrees C warmer than the all 13 snakes under watch. I wonder if there are any breaths of hot air under our little hill? (There are certainly plenty above it!) It is also possible that his transmitter is blipping off inaccurate readings.

Taking the remaining four molossus by number, we first discuss our male CM11, “Gus.” Gus does not let any grass grow under his belly. He is always on the move, and was viewed basking in direct sun several times this winter­the only snake to do this consistently this year. He over-wintered 2 kilometers away from some of his summer haunts, and is now bombing back toward Iron Mine Hill. The term “over wintered” was deliberately used here­as I don’t believe that he actually hibernated. Gus is a shaker!

Next is male CM14, “Marty the prick.” He earned his inappropriate moniker by first being named after his captor, and then constantly shifting from one side of Iron Mine Hill to the other during the summer. This can cause endless consternation and cussing when trying to set up tracking routes. And then he also took off for distant parts last fall. But unlike Gus, he did indeed hibernate­or at least stayed put for three months. He is now also on the move, and I almost dread where he will take us next.

Despite being a hard guy to stay on top of, in late August of 2012, Marty the prick led us to one of the delights of our plot­female CM15. With big, beautiful black doll eyes, and stunning greens and cream pattern, she is the prettiest molossus on our plot. Thus far under our watch, she hung around the eastern slopes of Iron Mine Hill, and then jetted over to the Suizo Mountains proper to hibernate. She emerged in mid-March, only to stake out under the escarpment of a small, flat rock for the next three weeks.  It is expected she will start slipping back toward Suizo Wash soon.

Good old Gus led us to the last, and possibly most-likely-to-succeed molossus on our plot. Female CM17, “Ms. Gus,” was found in love’s embrace with Gus by Marty on 5 October 2012. Being the hopeless romantics that we are, we let them spend the night together, and captured Ms. Gus the next morning. She is one fat, healthy snake, and we expect that Gus is quite the potent dude. We expect Ms. Gus to drop some kids for us this year. We have not had the chance to gather much data on her yet, but I expect she will be another east side of Iron Mine Hill to Suizo Mountains proper kind of snake.

This spring has brought several other thrills our way. Our trips to the Suizo Mountains proper have thus far netted us two juvenile collared lizards. They are only rarely seen on Iron Mine Hill, but seem to have a good population in the Suizos proper. We hope to catch some adult action with them with our tracking duties ahead. We have also seen two young regal horned lizards, and six Gila Monsters. A highlight related to them occurred on 30 March. I looked into their communal denning hole, and came face-to-face with a ringtail. Thus far, our communal Gila Hole has been utilized by 12 Gila Monsters, 2 atrox, a tortoise, and now, the ringtail. I sure do wish that I had attempted a photo of that!

My apologies for the length of this report. I considered those readers who actually pay attention to these writings (both of you) in the preparation. Future reports will contain info on any or all of these rattlesnakes, and you may wish to keep this report to refer back to better understand who is who. From this point on, you will all just be getting numbers and names.

And, with future reports, I’m going to start making fun of people again. Ineptness on my part or that of others will be dealt with mercilessly.

It is now time to go to images. Refer to the text above if you want the long story.

Image01, Feldner: Male CT11 “Steven,” getting ready to leave CT12, Ellie, 19 January 2013

Image02, Feldner: Female CT8, “Zona” basking in front of her hibernaculum. 29 March 2013

Image03, Feldner: Female CM10, “Susan.” Our first good look at her this year. Note the heft toward the rear. 3 March 2013.

Image04, Feldner: Male CM12, Susan’s hibernating buddy. 11 March 2013.

Image05, Feldner: Male CM11 “Gus” basking in sun, 2 March 2013.

Image06, Feldner: Female CM15 emerging from her hibernaculum, 2 March 2013.

Image07, Feldner: Young male CM16, also just coming out of hibernation, 30 March 2013.

Image08, Feldner: Female CM17, “Ms. Gus.” Note the heft toward the rear. Two pregnant molossus? 29 March 2013.

Image09, Repp: Unknown atrox basking on the apron of AD1. 17 March 2013.

Image 10,Feldner: One of two young regal horned lizards seen thus far this year. 30 March 2013.

Image11, Repp: Female HS21, processed, pit tagged, and released 30 March 2013. She kind of stands out like goat turds in the milking pail, doesn’t she?

Image 12, Repp: Female HS21, close up. Fat, ain’t she? 30 March 2013.

Image 13, Feldner: Nice shot Marty! One of two collared lizards observed in the Suizo Mountains proper this year. 13 March 2013.

Image14, Feldner: We take what happens after the tracking much more serious than the tracking itself. This image will give you a small taste of what it is I’m talking about.

Many thanks to all of you who have made this all possible, both with your monetary contributions, and your sweat equity. We earnestly look forward to whatever comes next.

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

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