Showing posts with label Crotalus cerberus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Crotalus cerberus. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Arizona Black Rattlesnake Maternal Care

Howdy Herpers,

Before I launch into the meat of the missive, I want to first describe Melissa Amarello's mentality in the early days of our association. Our first solo outing together occurred in March of 2004. I was poised to take her to some of my "hands off" atrox dens. But she put the kabong on that idea when she indicated that she wanted to go somewhere where we could actually grab and process snakes.

That left me only one option: The Suizo Mountains. Anything and everything else under my watch was, and mostly still is, hands off.

And so our first mission was one of war on the snakes. On that day, Melissa earned the nickname "Hurricane Melissa," for she found three atrox and a female tiger rattlesnake. I found two tortoises.

The atrox she found were to become males CA54 and CA55--also known as "Doublenicks," and later, "The Road Warrior." Some of you may remember Doublenicks as the snake that eventually became a DOR. The female atrox that Melissa found became CA56. All three snakes were PIT tagged and released. Only CA55 was ever captured again.

I've attached a photo that Melissa took from that day. It is of Doublenicks perched on top of CA56, in a behavior called "Stacking." It remains to this day the best image I've ever seen of the behavior. Stacking is in essence a male's way of "hiding" a female from other male interlopers.

Melissa, her partner Jeff Smith, Young Cage and I all share a secret in the blackest parts of our hearts. Young had an atrox den that was known as "Jason's Den." Melissa and Jeff were starting to turn the corner on their mentality towards processing rattlesnakes. They wanted to study a den in hands off fashion. The four of us met, discussed strategy, and off they went to do their study on Jason's Den.

This den "was" a Cinderella kind of den. It "was" a wide open affair, where as many as 14 atrox could be observed all winter long. In terms of a den that "was" easy to study, this "was" the best to ever cross my path.

The key word is "was." Jason's Den no longer exists. Some murderous swine found the den, and in an act of senseless and wanton slaughter, ripped some bloody geysers through the snakes with their shotguns.

A few were left. They came back and got the rest. It was all carefully documented, but none of us can bear to show the pictures, or write about the heartbreak of it all. I still tear up thinking about it, but like so many things in life, I'm powerless to do anything about it.

Every year, atrocities that make this seem like kissing a pretty girl occur in this not-so-great country of ours. This is because of ignorance, and greed. While we can't do much to combat greed, we can at least educate the public to the fact that snakes do much, much more than just sit around and look at each other. If we can do everything  in our power to cast snakes in a better light, perhaps one day the rest of the world will catch on.

Melissa and Jeff are doing this very sort of thing with Arizona black rattlesnakes. I think the time has come to share some of this with you. Please click on the link at the bottom of this email, watch the video, and look at the stills. Do click one more link off to the side, the one under October that is entitled "A Rattlesnake Helper."

In closing, in many ways, some of those who study rattlesnakes are the rattlesnakes' worst enemy. People doing these studies cringe at the thought of presenting snakes as anything more than primitive wind up toys, the key being a physiological chemical reaction to queues around them--a hard-wiring at birth--instinct driven.

The ability to actually think can not happen, it's all instinct. This is the type of thinking that is never going to advance rattlesnakes in the eye of the public. It is also the type of thinking mostly done by those who have never actually taken the time to watch them.

I hope you all enjoy this video as much as I did. It is by far the best observational work I've ever seen.
We can only hope for more of this sort of thing in the future.

Best to all, roger

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Roger Repp's Suzio Report, May

1 and 2 May, 2011

Howdy Herpers,

We first discuss 30 April. When the guide set this trip up, it was burned in his brain that it was to be all about Arizona Black Rattlesnakes. I did NOT bring this group together to go after Mountain Kingsnakes (AKA
"pyros") in late April. One would have an easier time catching a fart and painting it green than finding a pyro during one of the direst springs on record. Be that as it may, a mutiny in the ranks ensued, and off we went on
an ill conceived and very poorly executed adventure to find pyros. We were rewarded for this effort by finding a few tree lizards and a flock of wild turkeys. The latter was greater in size than the party who witnessed them, and smarter as well.

Lift lid, deposit day, flush toilet. Thus endeth the pyro report. Let  be said, let it be done  with, amen.

And thus it came to pass that the best-planned part of the journey began. We had rented a guest house in a place that is about as far away from beer and other lesser essentials that one can get. Hence, a shopping trip
was in order, a list was created, and a Walmart was assailed. And then we were slugging our way eastward, to a place where birdies sing, bears frolic, and the ground can be littered with our quarry--which thankfully was NOT pyros.

The last possible gas stop to our destination was in the town of Willcox.Upon stepping out of our vehicles, gusting winds laced with arctic undertones caused erect nippleage upon our chests. My countenance fell right off  my visage, and was subsequently ground into the pavement--where it remains embedded to this day. In short, the weather was going to screw us for the last three days of this adventure. The forecast was a portent of doom: windy, cold, and not a chance in heaven or hell for us to score. An arctic blast in May? Who'd have thunk it?

We had no choice but to continue on. If nothing else, we were heading for one of the most scenically fantastic places in Arizona. That, along with  food fit for kings, comfortable lodging, and plenty of beer (or so we thought) would have to be enough for the likes of us. The long road in was supposed to produce hognose snakes, Gila Monsters, and box turtles as consolation prizes. It of course produced nothing. NOTHING would be out cruising in this type of weather.

But we did get a big lift upon arriving at the guest house. It was a thing of beauty, and we will let the pictures show the rest in that regard. Once we were all settled in, we decided upon a rocket run to our herping spot to kick around a bit. And so, Little White carried Gery, Mike and I to our destination. Upon arriving there, we amused ourselves by watching a pair of tree lizards in courtship. Eventually, they fell off their tree and died of old age. This while we awaited the arrival of Great White--which was supposed to be following right behind us.

Two forevers later, Great White did arrive. Dave, Ralph and Steve had encountered a bear enroute, and decided that chasing that bear around was going to be more fun than herping. They were correct with
that assumption, because our first attempt to herp the canyon was a bust. If we were seeking tree lizards, we would have been happy, for we saw over 100 of them. Apparently their activities are not affected by gale force frigid blasts in May.

There was little left to do but go back to the guest house, cook an absolute knock out feast, and drink a few beers. That night, three of us slept in the screened-in porch that the guest house afforded. We awoke to a 4 degree C (39 F) morning. As if the cold wasn't enough of a bad news scenario, one of those frolicking bears must have let itself into the house, and helped itself to our beer cooler. We started the morning before with five 12-packs--60 brave soldiers carrying their own bodily fluids. This the morning of 2 May, there were only eight soldiers left. All this drought must have left those poor local bears in a thirsty state.

Upon discovering that these crafty bears had drank most of our beer, a few members of our party came to the erroneous and haughty decision that we didn't need any more beer. We would just tighten our belts and do the next two days without. But the guide foresaw that a trip to Safford would be transpiring that afternoon. After all, that is what guides are for.

I think we're now to the point where we can let the images do the talking. Al pictures except the last come from Steve Barten.

Pic 01: Little White leading the charge into the maw of black velvet land.

Pic 02: The guesthouse, with Great White and Little White in the foreground

Pic 03: The view outside the guest house.

Pic 04: The track of the bear that Steve, Ralph and Dave chased around. They probably pissed him off, and he was probably the one who drank all our beer.

Pic 05: Herping in the canyon.

Pic 06: At the last possible second in the day, Steve saved the day by finding this cerberus as photographed in situ. Hallelujah!

Pic 07: A posed photo of the snake in pic 06.

Between pics 07 and the remaining two, Mike and I headed to Safford  for a beer run. It was a delightful drive, but completely devoid of herps. Meanwhile, the other four continued their efforts, and

Pic 08: Black-necked Gartersnake found by Dave

Pic 09: S-h-h-h-h guys. A Western Lyresnake found by Steve.

We now had just one more day left. It might have been good, and it might have been bad.

So who did come out of that door--the lady, or the tiger?

We'll let you know that later this week.

Best to all, roger

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