Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Suizo Report -- 10-5 and 10-6-2012, Marty Speaks

Howdy Herpers,                             9 October 2012

Once again we let Marty Feldner, and his little ringtail, do the talking. I'll add some comments at the end, and bring out my own rant about this last weekend later in the week.
Marty writes:

With Quailmageddon 2012 upon us the decision was made to track snakes only during the nights of October 5 & 6 instead of during the day when hunters could see where we were hanging flags and, thereby, acquiring a completely different kind of target to kill...not that hunters EVER just shoot something to shoot something. Sometimes they use gas and set fire to those targets. Or use rocks. I'm not at all against hunting; there's little I like more to eat than game meat and given sufficient freezer space will happily participate in future hunting expeditions. And, yes, I know it is unfair to characterize all hunters as ones with the redneck mentality to kill anything that slithers BUT it makes no sense to take chances given knowledge of past incidences of ignorant and unnecessary snake killings by orange and camo-clad consumers of crappy canned American beer.

Arriving at the site Friday evening Roger and I were pleasantly surprised to find the site devoid of hunters and conditions beautiful for a night's stroll tracking snakes amongst the saguaros. Enjoying another outstanding sunset while mass signaling from the top of IMH I split from Roger to head after CT13. Due to how close CT13 appeared from her signal strength and how easy she'd be to get Roger was even kind enough to offer to open the data sheet he gave me. What a guy!...but then the tracking took place. She wasn't far, really, but she was in some of the rockier and more difficult terrain to traverse. No problem, and even though she wasn't visible, I got to spend more time with my furry tracking buddy. The ringtail showed up as I was changing batteries in the GPS before continuing on my circuitous route that would bring me back to the same general area on IMH to track the last snake of the night, CT12. On to the images which combine both nights of tracking.

Ringtail1-3 10-5-2012: At this point it wouldn't surprise me if people were starting to think, "Another damn ringtail report?" Yep, the novelty of one of the coolest nocturnal mammals that can't eat me has yet to wear off. We hung out for 10-15 minutes before I headed off. During that time, as the first picture indicates where there's a head peeking out of the space between boulders near my foot, the ringtail was even more comfortable to come near me. As I watched this lithe little mammal I couldn't help but be impressed with how fluidly and effortlessly it moved over and through the rocks checking out cracks, investigating opening and poking around attendant to its duties as a ringtail. It even stopped moving (second image) and laid down a couple meters from me at the edge of the rock ridge where CT13 resides. The last image shows the ringtail next to CT13's flag in front of the antenna. The next night the ringtail returned to keep myself and Jon Davis company and investigated the flag, nosing it and pulling at it with its teeth. CT13, again, wasn't visible and hadn't moved. The previous week CT13 had been on the E/SE slope of IMH, this week she was on the north slope at the east end of IMH.

CT11 10-6-2012: Male tiger CT11 was at a new site still on the bajada to the E/SE of IMH and occupied the same site both nights. I didn't get a visual on Friday night but saw him on Saturday night in a coiled hunting posture deep in prickly pear where he's looking to be in great health.

CM14-CM17 Copulation1-6 10-5-2012: CM11, Gus, has been associating with a big-headed female since at least September 16, making this the fourth weekend in a row of tracking where he's either been seen with, or thought to be with, the newest molossus to the study, CM17. And, she doesn't just have a big head. She's big all over. Not big in the same way as a fat girl that calls herself curvy...because she's actually attractive to the boys, or at least Gus. On Friday, a little after 2000h, I stumbled upon a romantic tryst involving spikey toys and wang-pulling.The 6 picture series shows CM11 and CM17 at their chosen nooky site of a cholla and stick midden built inside a prickly pear on Little Hill. The two had moved south and out of the wash occupied for the last two weekends. I watched for a little over 30 minutes as Gus chin-rubbed his way in jerking motions up and down CM17's flanks and back tongue-flicking as he went. At one point when I moved in to take a picture CM17 changed her position from being on CM11's left side to his right side, pulling him by his wang through cholla segments and prickly pear as she went, to move closer to where I was. Rattlesnakes are curious and I've had them change positions or exit refuge sites to investigate me and that is very much what it seemed CM17 was doing. 13 hours later Roger and I visited the snakes to find them still locked least until CM17 saw Roger and ejected CM11's hemipene in a fashion similar to torpedo being blown out of a submarine's firing tube. He does have a way with the ladies! Now free of the cloacal embrace we decided to capture CM17 to increase molossus in the study to 3 adult males, 3 adult females, and 1 subadult male. When we took a mass CM17 weighed in at a whopping 746g. 

CA133 10-5-2012: CA133 has moved from a wash island in Suizo Wash NE of IMH to just south of Suizo Wash and is now in a tributary wash leading to Suizo Wash E of IMH. She was in a coiled hunting posture a couple meters away from a wash edge coiled under vegetation when found. During data recording she relocated to the base of a small mesquite and coiled about 2m away. 
Atrox and CT12 10-5-2012: Tracking female tiger CT12 brought me back to IMH where Roger was downhill tracking female molossus CM15. In trying to have a conversation with Roger from a distance I blew past CT12's location but in doubling back encountered an atrox coiled atop boulders that looked like a young male. CT12 was found not far away in a diagonal crack in a large boulder in a heads-up hunting posture. When tracked Saturday night she had moved a few meters uphill to a soil burrow associated with a large rock outcrop. It's interesting that the movements of female tigers CT12 and CT13 in terms of when they moved to IMH and what part of the hill they are using have often been similar during the last month.

CT14 10-6-2012: Roger and I woke Saturday morning to a surprising silence. We attributed hunter wussiness to the heat, but no matter what the cause, we were happy for it. The previous night we couldn't get signals for male molossus CM14 or male tiger CT14. We knew CM14 had relocated to the first canyon in the Suizos proper so we set out to track him, found that he'd moved a short distance, but was not visible. Then we tuned in CT14's signal and it came in loud and strong and, fortunately, in the direction towards the truck. CT14 was coiled underneath a small boulder on a west facing slope. Now the question is, does this become the overwintering canyon for the 14s? Or, will we see either of these snakes return to IMH?
CM15 10-6-2012: CM15 has moved from the foot of the eastern slope of IMH the previous week to an area on the north slope of IMH. She was in a coiled hunting posture in some dense vegetation when Jon spotted her.

Sunday morning we woke to the serenade of shotgun shells being spit over the Sonoran landscape and packed it up until next week.

In mid February of 2002, during the pistol/shotgun Javelina hunting season, I was observed by a hunter on a quad while writing up our black-tailed rattlesnake male CM4. The hunter was watching me with his binoculars about 20 meters below me. He eventually buzzed off. The snake was just outside of a den that we call "Jeff's Den," which is located on the south ridge of the Suizo Mountains proper. My first impulse was a good one: bag the snake, and bring it back after the hunt. Instead, I left it as it was. The next day, the snake, and the signal, were gone forever. I'll just stop there, and let that comment ride as a reason for my paranoia when the hunting seasons arrive.

The observation of the black-tails mating is significant in that it is the first time we've ever recording it. Back in 2001, we had a female, CM2, who drew in three different males. We at one point saw tails in alignment, but no insertion. That incident was in late September of 2001. The capture of this new female has our hopes up for seeing the other end of the spectrum: birthing in desert black-tails. Things are shaping up nicely for 2013!

It is interesting to note that this mating event in early October is the first time we've ever seen any mating of any species of rattlesnake in October--at least on the plot. We have seen countless acts of courtship with atrox--but never mating.

The show will go on!

Best to all, roger

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Why is Python bivittatus so successful in Florida?

Python bivittatus. JCM

Why has the Burmese python (Python bivittatus) been so successful at invading southern Florida while other species have been less successful  The invasive pythons have caused precipitous population declines among several species of native mammals.  Reed et al (2012) examine the reasons for the snake's success  by scoring the Burmese python for each of 15 literature-based attributes from a diverse range of taxa and provide a review of the natural history and ecology of Burmese pythons relevant to each attribute. The authors  focus on attributes linked to spread and magnitude of impacts rather than establishment success. Their results suggest that attributes related to body size and its generalist habits appear to be particularly applicable to the Burmese python's success in Florida. The attributes with the highest scores were: high reproductive potential, low vulnerability to predation, large adult body size, large offspring size and high dietary breadth. However, attributes of ectotherms in general and pythons in particular (including predatory mode, energetic efficiency and social interactions) might have also contributed to invasion success.

The  ranking exercise suggested that Burmese pythons might be somewhat atypical of boas and pythons in terms of their likelihood to spread as invasive species and impact native ecosystems. Burmese pythons ranked equal to, or higher than, a ‘typical’ boa or python species for every invasion-related trait we considered, and scored particularly high in traits related to size and degree of parental care. These traits, combined with their popularity in the pet trade and a large global climate match compared to the other giant constrictors likely make Burmese pythons a higher risk for introductions elsewhere.

Although establishment risk assessments are an important initial step in prevention of new establishments, evaluating species in terms of their potential for spreading widely and negatively impacting ecosystems might become part of the means by which resource managers prioritize control efforts in environments with large numbers of introduced species.

The article is available on-line.

REED, R. N., WILLSON, J. D., RODDA, G. H. and DORCAS, M. E. (2012), Ecological correlates of invasion impact for Burmese pythons in Florida. Integrative Zoology, 7: 254–270. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-4877.2012.00304.x

Urban Snakes from Brazil's Atlantic Forest

Helicops angulatus. JCM

Snake species living in urbanized areas are perhaps the most likely species to be studied. if for no other reason than the convenient access to the animals and study sites. While urban snake studies are relatively common in the USA and Eurasia, relatively few have been done in the tropics. Franca et al. (2012) describe the snake assemblage from the urban area of Rio Tinto city in Paraíba State, Northeast Brazil. They present data on composition and distribution as well as some natural history. Also, they compare the snake diversity of the urban area with the diversity in two nearby natural patches. The study included data on 161 individuals of 25 species in 16 genera from the urban area of Rio Tinto. Te most common species were:  Helicops angulatus, Bothrops leucurus, Epicrates assisi, and Philodryas patagoniensis. While most species were non-venomous, some venomous snakes were abundant in the urban area. Rarefaction curves did not reach stability and new species should be expected to be added to the Rio Tinto snake list in future studies.

The authors suggest that almost all snakes living in urban areas are continually under predation pressure from humans for several reasons. First, snakes are often killed whenever encountered by humans, who seldom discriminating between venomous and non-venomous species. Even plain gray or brown snakes, such as Liophis poecilogyrus or Philodryas patagoniensis, are considered by local people to be extremely dangerous. Almost all species documented in this study included at least one individual that had been killed by local people in Rio Tinto. Secondly, snakes must frequently cross roads in urban areas and are easy targets for drivers. Third, snakes in urban areas are subject to higher levels of parasitic infection and predation by exotic cats, dogs and chickens. Finally, habitat modification, loss, and fragmentation in urban areas can reduce food resources, reproduction sites, and gene flow, leading to local extinctions.Knowledge of the composition and abundance of snake species found in urban areas is an essential first step to understanding these relationships.  Urban ecosystems are increasing throughout the world, and urban ecology is attracting growing research interest and exploring the risks and benefits of snakes living in urban areas.

The entire article can be found on-line.

FRANÇA, R.C., GERMANO, C.E.S. & FRANÇA, F.G.R. Composition of a snake assemblage inhabiting an urbanized area in the Atlantic Forest of Paraíba State, Northeast Brazil. Biota Neotrop. 12(3):

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Snail's Escape Response to Snake Predation

Snails that can shed their tails to escape much faster-moving predators and then regrow the amputated body section have been discovered living in sub-tropical Japan.

At left. The snail-eating snake Pareas iwasakii as it feeds on a snail. Bar= 10 mm. Photo credit: Masaki Hoso.

The ability to shed body parts, similar to that found in lizards, crabs and earthworms, has reportedly never before been seen in a mollusk.

Masaki Hoso, a Netherlands-based fellow with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, posted the findings on his website Wednesday, as his paper was published in the British science journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.

Hoso experimented with "isshikimaimai" snails (Satsuma caliginosa caliginosa) that live on the Okinawan islands of Ishigaki and Iriomote by feeding them to predator snakes, called Pareas iwasakii.

"It was found that isshikimaimai often escaped predation by detaching their own tails" before hiding themselves inside their shells, he said on his website, adding the cut-off sections were regenerated "a few weeks later".

Hoso also put the same kind of snakes together with a different type of snails from another Okinawan island, about 120 kilometres (75 miles) west of Ishigaki, where there are no snail-eating snakes.

"These snails do not cut off their tails at all and in the experiment they were easily eaten by Iwasaki's snail-eaters," he said.

"The autotomy of isshikimaimai is presumed to be a special case of adapting to counter snakes," said Hoso, a visiting researcher at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden.

The tail shedding behaviour is frequently seen among the snails whose shell has yet to fully develop into an effective defence, the study said.

When the snails mature, the aperture of their shell becomes disfigured in a way that protects the creature when it retreats inside.

Hoso noted that while the tails of lizards are structured to be easily detached from the body trunks, no such special structure is present in the tail of isshikimaimai.

"The mechanism of the autotomy remains to be solved," he wrote.

Scientists have previously noted that Iwasaki's snail-eaters have asymmetrical jaws, with more teeth on the right side to allow for more efficient access to snail shells, which predominantly spiral clockwise.

Biologists in the US reported last month that the African spiny mouse, a desert rodent that has become an exotic pet, can shed up to 60 percent of the skin on its back and fully regrow the lost tissue.

The spiny mouse (Acomys) is well-known for eluding hunters by shedding its tail skin.

Understanding the trick could one day help burns victims in need of scar-free skin regeneration, scientists said.

The entire article is available on-line.

Hoso, M. 2012. Cost of autotomy drives ontogenetic switching of anti-predator mechanisms under developmental constraints in a land snail Proc. R. Soc. B , doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.1943 1471-2954

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Suizo Report -- Hauling a$$ and sitting tight

Howdy Herpers, 10/03/12

In the report that went out yesterday, Marty had this to say about tracking our wayward male molossus CM14:

"Found this neonate solare as HW, Ryan and I attempted to track male CM14, the only snake Roger designated as a "MUST GET." Thanks for jinxing me! Roger and HW got his signal the night before so he might have booked and made a significant move or, for some reason, my receiver wasn't picking up his signal. Hopefully Roger was able to locate him Sunday."

Yes, H-W and I had his signal the night before. We got the signal from the windmill, which is located just south of the Suizo Mountains proper. But the closer we got to the foremost ridge, the quieter the signal got. This usually indicates that the animal is on the other side of the ridge. As it was already very late in the evening, it was decided to get CM14 in the morning.

And so, the aging team of Schuett and Repp decided to send the younger, stronger, faster men after the snake. As Marty suggests, a "must get" was written on the datasheet, with an arrow pointing directly at "CM14." Typing Boy here told them "I don't care if you don't get any others--just get this one. Once you get to the windmill, try him. I think he's in the next drainage north."

Somehow, this message did not come through. They tracked everything BUT the one we needed to get. When I chided them for this, (indicating in not-too-subtle a fashion that we had sent BOYZ to do a man's job), they informed me that I was getting fat, and needed the exercise. They were helping me to live a longer life. They had done me a HUGE favor.

That's what I like about these guys: nothing!

And so, the next evening, fat, dumb and happy here tried the signal from the windmill. Good old 12 - 2 on the dial of the same receiver I sent them out with the night before. Needless to say, it came in--loud and clear. Slackers! As surmised, the signal was actually coming from the next drainage north of the front ridge of Suizo Mountains Southwest. At first, I thought I was in for an easy track.

But up, up, up I went. Beyond the very last mountain my son Tim and climbed together back in the year 2000. Well above that, and well around the corner from it. Finally, he scores. There is CM14 coiled in a hunt posture, under a bursage and prickly pear. See image 1.

He had moved over a mile. The scary part is that we have two more big male molossus like this one, who will likely do the same thing.

Now, we move to the images. In doing so, we can thank Marty, H-W, and Ryan for not listening to me. Truth be told, I enjoyed every second of the monumental tracking episode with CM14. And thanks to the boys not listening to the man, we have some great sequence shots of a few individual snakes.

Image 1: Male CM14. My method of photographing a snake in situ is to fire a couple shots from the distance first observed, and then start closing in for the money shot. After this image was taken, the snake bolted. I'm glad to have this much, but it SHOULD have been better.

What a spoil sport of a snake!

Images 2-3: Female CM15 on the night of 28 September (Repp). Just after this shot was taken, she bolted under the boulder with a mylar balloon strewn in a nearby prickly pear, where Marty found her the next day (Image 3, Feldner).

Images 4-6: Male CM12 on the move. Image 4, (Feldner) has him on the SW side of IMH, near where we park. Image 5 (Repp) has him coiled at the southernmost tip of IMH, and image 6 has him abut 200 meters out into the bajada. (Dates are file extensions). 

Images 7-9: A classic sequence of a rattlesnake, female CT12, using sit-and-wait ambush techniques. Image 7 (Repp) shows her set up in the center of a dead clump of prickly pear--note the fruit all around her. Image 8 (Feldner) shows her THICK posterior going into a hole the next morning. No doubt, it gets VERY hot in that place by day. And the last image in this series shows her back out the following morning--in the EXACT spot she was two nights before.
We'll stop here. We look forward to what comes next.

Best to all, roger

Dwarf species of herbivorous fanged dinosaur from southern Africa

Art by Tyler Keillor
A new species of plant-eating dinosaur with tiny, 1-inch-long jaws has come to light in South African rocks dating to the early dinosaur era, some 200 million years ago.

This “punk-sized” herbivore is one of a menagerie of bizarre, tiny, fanged plant-eaters called heterodontosaurs, or “different toothed reptiles,” which were among the first dinosaurs to spread across the planet.

The single specimen of the new species was originally chipped out of red rock in southern Africa in the 1960s and discovered in a collection of fossils at Harvard University by Paul Sereno, paleontologist and professor at the University of Chicago and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. Details of the dinosaur’s anatomy and lifestyle are part of a monograph by Sereno dedicated to these puny herbivores and published in the online journal ZooKeys.

Named Pegomastax africanus, or “thick jaw from Africa,” the new species had a short, parrot-shaped beak up front, a pair of stabbing canines and tall teeth tucked behind for slicing plants. The tall teeth in its upper and lower jaws operated like self-sharpening scissors, with shearing wear facets that slid past one another when the jaws closed. The parrot-shaped skull, less than 3 inches long, may have been adapted to plucking fruit.

“Very rare,” contended Sereno, “that a plant-eater like Pegomastax would sport sharp-edged, enlarged canines” like that of a vampire. Some scientists have argued that consuming meat, or at the least, insects, was a good part of the diet of heterodontosaurs, which evolved near the root of the great radiation of dinosaurs that included the famous plant-eaters Triceratops and Stegosaurus.

Self-defense and competitive sparring for mates is more likely their role, argues Sereno in the study, based on microscopic examination of the teeth of Pegomastax and kin. Wear facets and chipped enamel suggest that the fangs of Pegomastax and other heterodontosaurs were used like those of living fanged deer for nipping or even digging, rather than slicing flesh.

A bizarre covering of bristles, something like that of a porcupine, likely covered most of the body of Pegomastax, which measured less than 2 feet in length and weighed less than a housecat. These bristles first came to light in a similar-sized heterodontosaur, Tianyulong, discovered recently in China and described in the study. Buried in lake sediment and covered by volcanic ash, Tianyulong preserves hundreds of bristles spread across its body from its neck to the tip of its tail. In life, dwarf-sized heterodontosaurs like Pegomastax would have scampered around in search of suitable plants, said Sereno, looking something like a “nimble, two-legged porcupine.”

When Pegomastax lived some 200 million years ago, the supercontinent Pangaea had just begun to split into northern and southern landmasses. Heterodontosaurs appear to have divided similarly, the study argues, the northern species with simple triangular teeth like Tianyulong and the southern species with taller crowns like Pegomastax.

Sereno marvels at these punk-sized early herbivores that spread across the globe. Although virtually unknown to the public, “Pegomastax and kin were the most advanced plant-eaters of their day.”


Paul C. Sereno, “Taxonomy, Morphology, Masticatory Function and Phylogeny of Heterodontosaurid Dinosaurs,” ZooKeys online, Oct. 3, 2012.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Suizo Report -- Marty Rants and Raves, 28 and 29 September 2012

Howdy Herpers,                                      Tuesday, 2 October 2012

And happy October to all of you. I'm always glad to see October roll around, as the month signifies the end of another miserably hot summer season, as well as the promise of gorgeous weather for at least the next seven months. But October also brings on the realization that soon--very soon, all the action we've been seeing of late will grind to a whimpering halt. Already, the lizard numbers are starting to drop, and all we will be seeing surface-active are Utas by the end of the month. But we can still expect some big things in the days ahead, and anxiously await our next crack at paradise.

My original intent was to do another combination report with Marty. Instead, I choose not to profane Marty's words by adding my own. His latest experience with the ringtail was his alone, and all that he saw should remain intact and unaltered. I'll make a closing comment or two, and leave Marty to do the talking:

It always gives me a good feeling to see something other than the usual suspects - Uta, Callisaurus or Aspidoscelis - driving to the Suizos. Gives me the inspiration that it's going to be a promising trip, even if the promise fails to be delivered upon. This weekend the promise was both made and delivered. Within quick succession neonate Salvadora and Pituophis were encountered on the drive in. 

Arriving at the field site a little while before Roger and HW gave me the time to take pictures of the departing sun and arriving moon, get my boots on, and go for a quick hike and welcome our newest molossus, CM16, into the record books. 

He's a cute little tyke we're estimating to have recently celebrated his second birthday. Roger and HW arrived as I was bagging CM16 so I headed down so we could open the books, decide routes and prepare to get the night underway. Turns out we both had good routes and we go to the pictures to tell the rest of the story.
CM12 9-28-12: CM12 had moved from the north side of IMH, where he was in attendance with female CM10 the previous weekend, to the western slope where he was found in a relaxed and elongate double 'S' shaped hunting posture. One 'S' up front, the second in the rear...which reminds me of...a place I probably shouldn't go. You sick bastards have probably already conjured up enough mental images to make whatever I was thinking seem Catholic by comparison.

CT14 = Ringtail 1-3 9-28-12: On my way to track male tiger CT14 I chanced upon our furry friend from a few weeks back. I startled the ringtail out of a prickly pear as it was poking around for whatever ringtails poke around for. 
Continuing on my way to CT14 the ringtail intersects my route about 4 minutes later and, as seems to be characteristic with this ringtail, disappears only to appear a few minutes later. It does, and it picks up a prickly pear fruit, makes it way towards me with the fruit in its mouth and chooses a dead palo verde to sit on to munch its snack. I watch, take a few pictures and continue on until I get to where I'm confident I'm close to CT14 (I was about 8m away). Since I'm frequently seeing the ringtail as it makes wide circles around me I don't want to immediately go to CT14. I remove the tracking gear and move about 5m away while staying about 8m from CT14 whose flag from the previous week I can see. The ringtail continues making wide circles around me investigating a midden, snags of dead branches at the base of a palo verde, prickly pear patches in addition to climbing several palo verde and a large staghorn cactus...which Roger correctly noted I mis-ID as Chain Fruit and pointed out in a manner as gently as Roger can. Doing its circuits the ringtail came within meters of me on several occasions, encircled CT14's location and investigated the tracking equipment a couple times. It also took a leak near where I was standing. Don't know if I should feel honored or insulted. After about 20 minutes I thought the ringtail moved on so I headed up to collect data for CT14. As I'm writing I hear a noise and out of the bushes comes the ringtail, sticks its nose under the rock where CT14 is, and moves on. It didn't spend any more time nosing the hole under CT14's rock than it did other places it investigated so I took that as a good sign. It visits me once more while I'm taking data and then disappears. CT14 was under the same rock and not visible, same as the previous week.
CM10 9-28-12: CM10's signal appears to be coming from the western slope of IMH and downslope and NW of CT14's location so I take off following the beep...only to cross paths with the ringtail two more times. At this point I'm wondering how the ringtail knows where all the snakes are and which one I'm tracking next. Turns out the little guy isn't omniscient, more than likely just extremely active and covers considerable area when foraging. CM10 was on the northern flank of IMH the previous week; I find her on the crawl in the vegetated area west of and between IMH and Suizo Wash. She's moving at the edge of, and then into, a dense aggregation of creosote and staghorn cactus where she climbs through the lower branches before coiling in the cactus.
CA121: No picture. Still in Suizo Wash on a wash island to the NW of IMH, though she seems to have moved a little closer to the hill. Was visible coiled among creosote and PP.
CT10: No picture. Still on the western slope of IMH though he's moved to a large boulder where he wasn't visible.

CA133: No Picture: Visible in a coil under dense, dead shafts of ragweed. On a wash island to the NE of IMH.

Solare neo: Love these little guys and have only found a few. Found this neonate solare as HW, Ryan and I attempted to track male CM14, the only snake Roger designated as a "MUST GET." Thanks for jinxing me! Roger and HW got his signal the night before so he might have booked and made a significant move or, for some reason, my receiver wasn't picking up his signal. Hopefully Roger was able to locate him Sunday.
CM11: No picture and unable to see. He was in a midden constructed in boulders on the western edge of the wash N of Little Hill. Roger and HW saw him the night before in the company of a big-headed female; possibly the same female he was associated with a couple weeks back.

CM15 9-29-12: CM15 has moved from the midden on the southern flank of IMH where she was accompanied by male CM14 the previous week to an outcrop near the base of the eastern slope of IMH. From the balloon she was coiled next to I can only venture the guess she was sleeping off a hangover from a party we weren't invited to. 
CT12 9-29-12: So much for the idea that the tigers were ready to pack it in and hang out in the rocks on IMH. CT12 moved from near the top of IMH, to ~70% downslope to the lower eastern slope of IMH where she had her posterior half sticking out of a hole associated with PP. She popped her head out once during the time we were observing her but pulled it back in and didn't give any indication that our presence bothered her as she didn't try to pull into the hole. The picture shows she is obviously distended posteriorly. It seemed like an odd position for a snake to put itself in so I had to wonder if she was thermoregulating. Keeping her head cool in the hole while warming her fat nether regions (the sun was within as inch or two before Ryan provided shade for the picture so I could imagine there was radiant heat or the soil she was in contact with was being warmed).
CT11 9-29-12: CT11 has moved from high on IMH near the road to the top the previous week to a wash edge on the bajada east of IMH. He was in the same position under the dead branches as when tracked the previous night.
CT13 9-29-12: Don't think she's moved too far from where Roger saw her last week; maybe uphill a little. On the E/SE slope of IMH ~2/3 the way to the top. She was a couple inches under a flattish granite rock surrounded by PP.
Thanks Marty!

Having the luxury of three trackers has really opened up our ability to catch behaviors we would have otherwise missed. We are often able to track the same animal three times over the course of a weekend. By doing this, we learn much about what individual animals are actually doing--from early evening set up until late morning "time to get back inside" behaviors. I will be pulling some of Marty's images from this report, and combining them with my own with the next report, so that the reader will see what I'm talking about.

For now---C'MON WEEKEND!

Best to all, happy herping, roger

Monday, October 1, 2012

Study finds snakes in the wild harbor deadly mosquito-borne EEEV virus through hibernation

The following is being carried by
Snakes in the wild serve as hosts for the deadly mosquito-borne Eastern equine encephalomyelitis Virus (EEEV), possibly acting as a "bridge" to the next season, according to researchers studying endemic areas in the Tuskegee National Forest in Alabama. This sets the stage for mosquitoes feeding on the infected snakes – primarily in the early spring – to become virus carriers. Scientists have been puzzled as to how the virus survived a harsh winter. With this new link established in the transmission cycle, a viable strategy to counter the virus may be at hand. The findings were published today online in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and will be published in the December print issue.

While previous studies demonstrated that snakes experimentally infected with EEEV in laboratories could harbor the virus in their blood through hibernation, this is the first evidence documenting wild-caught snakes with EEEV already circulating in their blood. "This study confirms that the snakes carry the live virus across seasons," said study co-author Thomas R. Unnasch, Ph.D., of the University of South Florida's Global Health Infectious Disease Research Program. "So after hibernating all winter, when they emerge in the sun in the spring, they still have the virus in their blood ready to share with a new crop of mosquitoes which can then spread it on to other animals." "Triple E is one of the most deadly viruses that's endemic to the United States and what this result allows us to do is to start thinking about early season interventions to basically eliminate the virus transmission early in the season and interrupt it before it gets going, before it will be a threat to human beings later on in the season," he said. EEEV has been detected in Central, South and in North America, along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the U.S. as well as Michigan and Ohio. Most human cases have occurred in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. Currently, in Massachusetts public health officials have confirmed that at least seven residents have contracted the virus commonly called "Triple E" (EEE) and two of them have died from the disease. The number of cases in the state alone has already reached the average number of EEE cases reported annually nationwide. 

EEEV is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. The virus can be passed to a wide range of animals including birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. But once infected, horses and humans appear to suffer the most adverse effects. For horses with EEE there's a 90 percent chance of death. And although there is a vaccine available, hundreds of horses go un-vaccinated. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), on average 200 EEE horse cases were reported annually over the past five years. For humans EEE is rare, with approximately five to ten cases reported annually in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 35% of the people who contract the disease will die and among those who survive, 35% will have long term severe neurological damage. In severe cases of the virus (involving encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain) symptoms include the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting. The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures or coma. There is no cure for EEEV and care is based on symptoms. There is currently no vaccine approved for human use.

Freshwater hardwood swamps in the Northeast are hotbeds for EEEV and the virus is maintained through a cycle of Culiseta melanura mosquitoes which primarily get their blood meals from birds. As infection rates rise among more mosquitoes feeding on their avian hosts, the birds spread the virus rapidly and broadly but it takes a mosquito species (Aedes, Coquillettidia and Culex) capable of bridging the infection from infected birds to uninfected mammals for the virus to be transmitted. Until now, the mystery of how the virus survived the winter has been an outstanding question because the virus has appeared in the same locations in several Northeastern U.S. states from year to year. "There are no mosquitoes there in the winter and not many birds and there's never been evidence that mosquitoes can carry the virus over the winter," Unnasch said. 

For their research for this study, scientists from the University of South Florida and Auburn University wrangled snakes for blood samples from an area in the Tuskegee National Forest where EEEV has circulated for years. They found that the infected snakes, mostly cottonmouths, hibernate the virus in their blood during winter. They also discovered that the virus in snakes peaked in April and September. Unnasch said when the major transmission agents, migratory birds, leave the area in the fall the mosquitoes turn to the snakes—feeding through the eye membranes of the vipers, not their tough skin—which is why infection rates peak in September. He added that there is no research on whether the virus can be transmitted by a snake bite, but they plan to use defanged snakes in their next experiments." Prevention Unnasch and his colleagues believe that the virus can be stopped before it becomes a threat. Further study could prove whether early season interventions could be really useful in eliminating infections in the summer, which may involve humans. "We'd like to test this experimentally by doing some early season insecticide treatments for mosquitoes in Florida," said Unnasch, adding that according to the CDC his home state has far more cases of Triple E virus than any other. "This study not only offers insight into the ways to prevent the outbreaks of deadly mosquito-borne viruses like EEEV and West Nile Virus, it also provides a path toward finding cures and vaccines that will save lives and money," said James W. Kazura, MD, President of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which publishes the journal, and director of the Center for Global Health and Diseases at Case Western Reserve University. "We must never forget that the lives of real people are at stake here. Each year, through the generosity of the Labell family, ASTMH's American Committee on Arthropod-Borne Viruses awards a $2000 grant to a graduate student conducting research on EEEV or other mosquito-borne diseases in the name of their daughter, Kelly, a New Hampshire teenager who died tragically in 2005 from EEEV. This research is another step closer to preventing tragedy for another family."

Andrea M. Bingham, Sean P. Graham, Nathan D. Burkett-Cadena, Gregory S. White & Thomas R. Unnasch. 2012. Detection of Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis Virus RNA in North American Snakes. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.2012.12-0257

Suizo Report -- 21 through 23 September, 2012

Marty Feldner and I are tag teaming with this report. I'm keeping Marty's writing in the usual black font, while I go to blue. If you can't see color fonts on your screen, well..........then you're out of luck in this regard. No big deal. We're pretty much interchangeable.

On the evening of 21 September, I joined Marty for long enough to mass signal from the top of Iron Mine Hill (IMH). On our way down, we bumped into my shadow Tortoise #505. Or am I his shadow? Whatever that case may be, the number of "recaptures" with this tortoise has been nothing short of incredible. We see him an average of 20 times a year!

Regarding some of the action we're seeing, Marty takes over:
The snakes have made a decision: it's time to move back to Iron Mine Hill. Almost as if coordinated by a directive the 4 remaining tigers that were in Suizo Wash or on the bajada moved back to the mountain to join the two already there. The question is, what triggers the movement? Is it temperatures, day length, reduction in humidity with the end of the monsoon, mom calling them home for dinner? What time of day or night are they making the bulk of their movements? Do those movements coincide with moon phase? Whatever it is it seems obvious that the snakes all receive the message and act on it within a relatively short span of time. Four of the five molossus remained on IMH where CM14 has rejoined CM15 in a midden and, as reported by Roger, when CM12 was viewed during the morning tracking session, he was rejoining CM10. CM11 was all alone this week...or maybe not. We couldn't see him. He was in the wash to the north of Little Hill. The molossus have largely stayed on IMH after a period of time where they were using the wash edges. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a pattern over the next couple of years; hunt the wash edges during the summer and then head back to the mountain to hook up. The two atrox are in their active season ranges - how much longer will it be before they move back to the mountain?...and which mountain does John's bitch go to? Another good weekend. Looking forward to next Saturday.
Me too!Marty

You gotta love how Marty thinks. The guy is really trying to understand what it is like to be a rattlesnake. While I am content to think "tigers move to the hill because it is time for them to do so," Marty seeks the deeper meaning of it all. Of the scenarios Marty presents, I like "Mom calling them back for supper" best!

It's time to let the images tell the story:

Images in order of snakes seen
CT13 9-21-12: First snake tracked Friday night. Was on the cruise when found but set up in a prickly pear a short time later. CT13 has moved to the top of IMH. She was between IMH and Little Hill last week.
CT8 9-21-12: Two images; one a larger context, the second closer up. CT8 has moved from Suizo Wash where she was last week and is now next to the road at the base of IMH. She is using the same area/midden previously used by CA121.

 CA121 9-21-12: CA121 is still in Suizo Wash but has moved a little south. In the picture she is off the ground in vegetation. During ~45 minutes of watching CA121 she was apparently tracking something. She made no less than 4 circuits of an area approximately 6m in diameter including several ventures off the ground into vegetation. During the morning tracking session she wasn't visible but had a male friend waiting outside her refuge.
CRAT_FCA121_Site70_09_22_12: Way to steel my thunder, Marty! This is the male that was poised just outside the soil rodent hole that CA121 was in. What a nice boy he is! Note the how the rattle is just coming out of the coil. As we would approach for pictures, he would flick that rattle ever-so-slightly. Our guests were amazed at the mellow disposition of this snake. Normal stuff to us! I also did a quick tracking job on CA121 the evening of 23 September. She was now in a different soil hole, about 30 meters from the morning before, and the male was tongue flicking her refuge as I arrived. He can track her as well as I can!
CM12 9-21-12: CM12 was in a coiled hunting posture on the western slope of IMH. CM12 has been on the northern slope of IMH for the last couple of weeks where he's repeatedly been associating with CM10.
CM12_CM10_09_22_12 x 2 images: And by the next morning, we caught him moving back in with his girlfriend CM10. She is, as usual, behind him in these two images. He also seems to be good at tracking his lady. On the evening of 23 September, the pair had moved all the way to the bottom of IMH, just above Suizo Wash. They were in a soil hole at the base of a cliff face, surrounded by a lush and fragrant chest-high patch of Mexican oregano. As usual, the massive body of the male blocked the view of the female. I almost feel sorry for CM10. That big boy is not going to let her go until she yields.
CT12 9-21-12: CT12 has moved onto the south facing slope of IMH near the road to the top after having been on the bajada to the southeast of IMH last week. She had an obvious food bolus visible in the coil beneath her head.
CT10 9-22-12: CT10 is on the west facing slope of IMH. He was on IMH last week but has moved to the location where he overwintered. Is he done for the year or just stopping by a familar spot?
CT13 9-22-12: After tracking CT13 the previous night she moved further east to the highest point on top of IMH.
CT13_Site11.....This is an image from 8 September of CT13 on the move. When I tracked her on 23 September, she was on the move as shown here, ~70% downslope from where Marty saw her the morning before. She was traveling across the hill, following a contour, and about 10 meters below her, CM12 was doing the exact same thing. Both were traveling in parallel lines, and moving fast! And going along with Marty's thoughts about mom calling them back for supper--both are thick toward the rear.
CT8_CT14_Spooked: Speaking of thick toward the rear, check out the tail on female CT8 in this image taken 8 September 2012. I think all three of our tigers will have pups next year.
DT on back: Tortoise Ryan found just above where we located CT12. The tortoise stepped off the rock visible in the picture and rolled onto its back. After watching the tortoise try to flip itself for a short time a helping hand was lent and the tortoise went on its way. GREAT SHOT Marty!
CT12 9-22-12: From her position the previous night CT12 moved further up slope on IMH into a small outcrop. Note all the small rodent droppings nearby. Yep--Mom is calling them back for supper, Marty!
Sadly, I think all the tiger pairings are over. We did not see coitus this year, but we can certainly bet our bottom dollar that it happened. With the molossus, the pairings are still going on, and we will keep trying to get--and share, images of any mating that we see.

Thanks to John Slone, Marty, Gordon and typing boy here, we have never been poised better to see how three species of rattlesnake partition the habitat that they occupy. We look forward to next year already. It is likely that we will beef up our N with all 3 species. We do need money to do this. Expect some felonious begging in the months ahead. Before you hit the delete button, bear in mind that this is the premiere rattlesnake study of the southwest. Nobody has ever done it longer, or better.  Nobody has published more than we have, either. No brag, just fact.

If we had to put a price tag on what we've done over the past 12 years, it would be around $250,000. We've done it all out of pocket, and we have freely (emphasis on "free") shared the knowledge gained with the world. I hope you'll help us in the days ahead.

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.