Roger Repp's Suzio Report Page

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. NOBODY love's them more than I do!
We speak of the Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizzii, or GOAG.

Howdy Herpers,

They were the wild first herps that I was able get to know. By winter 1993,
I was finding them, and re-finding them by the score. They demonstrate a
high fidelity rate to their winter shelters. Find them one winter, leave them
alone, and they usually come back the following winter.

Back in the early 90s, I was convinced that knowledge of GOAG was going to
make me rich. Perhaps if I had stuck with that notion, they could have at least
earned me a paycheck. Now, I'm too old to even consider it.

No, they'll never make me rich. Just enriched. I love these creatures.

I have recently scanned a bunch of slides that take me back to the earlier days
of GOAG watching. I'm happy to finally have digital images of some of the best
that has passed before my eyes. But of course, what I'm about to show is but
a grain of sand on the termite mound.

Without further adieu, we go to the pictures:

Pics 1 and 2: This is currently my longest running Iron Mine Hill tortoise. I first became aware of her

in 1994, but I did not actually see her out of her shelter until November of 2000 (pic 1). Note the deformed front costal scale on her right side. The last time I've seen her up was March of 2010 (pic 2).

Pics 3-5: From the Tortolita Mountains. This GOAO pair has been repeating since 1993. Every year, it's the same story. They enter their deep sheltersite in early November. A pack rat then builds a wall up around them. And then, during wet winters, in March, the GOAG blasts the wall down. They have waited until July twice to come out--these during the drought years. This sequence takes us from November of 1997 through March 1998.

Pic 6: Not the best, but worth a look.

Pic 7: Terrible pic, but look carefully at what is along side the GOAG. That is the snout of a Gila Monster.
As bad as it is, it is the ONLY picture of a HESU and GOAG together I've ever seen. If anybody has something like this, I'd LOVE to see it. This pair stayed side by side for eight days.

Pic 8: YEHAW! I've only seen this once. The older, smaller male TROUNCED the younger, bigger guy.
As it goes in tortoise lore: old age and treachery will get you every time.

Pic 9: A little GOAG foreplay. The boys will sometimes bite the girls until they bleed.
They are such brutes! YIELD, wench!

Pic 10: She yields, and future generations of GOAG are being created.

Right now, I have two GOAG on Iron Mine Hill that I've been watching since November of last year. They
normally clear out in March, but this year, they are staying put. It is a dry year, a bad year. But they know
how to handle it. It will be interesting to see when they finally clear out.


Well, if it's "us" against "them," allow me to side squarely with BOTH,

Howdy Herpers,

The thing that I used to admire most about the Harry Greene/Dave Hardy Black-tailed Rattlesnake (C. molossus) study was that they knew when to move in, and they knew when to back off. When the first mother molossus dropped her kids, and Hardy connected with Greene, the decision was clear: "leave them alone, and watch and see what happens." As a result of this careful, "old bull" kind of decision, the world learned what is now an accepted fact: mother rattlesnakes stay with their young--albeit for a short duration.The old school "them" notion was "mother drops young, and said young fend for themselves the second they come down the chute."

Of course, had Hardy/Greene not been stalwart members of the "them society", they could not have witnessed their birthing episode, and there would have been no chance to join, as honorary members, the "us society." If they had remained strictly "them" at the golden moment, they would have moved in, processed mother and kids alike, and that info would have (at best) ended in a chart in some peer review journal that most of "us" would have never seen. And either way, nothing but leading zeros would appear on their paycheck.

Hard science and amateur herpetology, "them" and "us", both need to work together. Together we stand, divided we fall--eh? So, rattling the chains of "them" was not my intent. My intent was that I want "them" to, on occasion, think like "us." Know when to move in, and know when to back off.

The gist of this photo session is to show what can happen when one works the "them" side of the equation. In other words: equal time to "them." We'll let the pictures tell the story.

Pic 1: Our first encounter with female CA121, named Tracy, because Tracy (Kepple-Corncob Who?) found her. Despite the fact that we've been tracking Tracy (the snake) for two years, this is the ONLY time that I've seen her in the open like this. If all we were doing was photographing in situ, this would be the only image ever taken of her. If all we were doing was PIT tagging and blood drawing, it would STILL be the only info we had on her. Truth be told, there have been no incidental encounters with Tracy since 23 May, 2009. Everything else has been all telemetry.

Pic 2: Posed picture of Tracy just after capture, pre surgery.

Pic 3: Can the little girl hold this transmitter? No worries!

Pic 4: Is actually out of sequence. The photo was taken in late September of 2010. She was arboreal in ragweed stalks. NO WAY we would have ever found her here. She how she has grown?

Pics 5 and 6: Her nest site, with two, maybe three neo shed skins, 8 September 2010. NO WAY we would have found this nest site, despite the fact that it is less than 30 meters upslope from her capture spot. And like the mother molossus, she stayed with the young ones until the first shed.

Pics 7 and 8: Also 8 September. Once Tracy had left the nest site, I tracked her down. She had moved about 100 meters downslope, into the big wash. Pic 7 is in situ. NO WAY I could have found her, even if I had lucked onto the nest. Pic 8 is after I hauled her out of her moorings to gage her health. NOT BAD, considering all she had just gone through.

Not shown, she already has a boyfriend behind her in photo 7. One day after leaving the nest!

Pic 9: 3 October 2010. This was the last photo I got of her in 2010. She moved into AD4 by late October--something I would have never known without being a card carrying member of "them." By mid-December, she shifted out of AD4, and moved into a boulder formation 30 meters away. NO WAY I would have known this without...them...blah blah.

Pics 10 and 11: From October until 22 April, I did not see Tracy. I only knew she was moving because her transmitter was moving. FINALLY, 3 days short of her transmitter being due to expire, I caught her up. These next two shots are of her rearing up proud and pissed, just after surgery. Fiery little bitch from hell--who could not love that sweet, sweet face?

Let "us" not be ignorant of the advantages of working with "them." With transmitters and PIT tags, you are almost always COCKSURE of the what the animal is doing. You nail it nine ways to Sunday.

The real purpose of the "Black Velvet" email was not to set us up for an "us vs. them" scenario. It was an attempt to get us to think outside the box by devising a different way to approach the science aspect of

studying behavior. How can we--"us and them," help somebody who is trying to break new ground? Thus far, all I can think of is careful photography, a small "N," and a LONG time working with these animals. (Melissa's committee will LOVE hearing that). Little jets of well-aimed spray paint have been suggested, but again, behavior can be altered by even that much.

If I could write a comment that would stick on that webapge, I would suggest PIT tags once the animals have egressed. There are gentle ways to check these, by using tongs and a reader. They will pick up the reading without touching the animal. But the dynamic trio is against this, and as I respect their effort, I'm out of gas.But if anybody has another suggestion, I'm sure that they are all ears!

Best to all, roger

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