Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Intrepid Naturalists Explore the Desert at Night, Part 3

Here is the photo from yesterday's post that was giving you a hint about the next learning station at the Nighttime in the Desert program we attended last weekend.

If you guessed that it was a close up of snakeskin, you were absolutely right. Sorry, but you knew we'd have to talk about snakes, sooner or later!

Here is a little more of the skin of this Prairie Rattlesnake, with someone holding a book in the way

And these are the rattles

Here's the funny thing about the photos above. I asked permission (of course) to take photos while there were just a few people at the learning station and was so intent on getting the pictures, leaning in nice and close, that I totally forgot about the presenter. He was holding a fairly large (and very alive) specimen just inches above the spot where I had maneuvered my head and camera to take the shot of the rattlers on the dead snake.

Once I got over my close brush with desert snakedom, I realized how lucky we were to have Doug Burkett, author of Amphibians & Reptiles of White Sands Missile Range; Field Guide 2008, right there with us to share his knowledge.

Doug has been interested in snakes since he was in elementary school, and in his 18 years out on the White Sands Missile Range he has studied and collected specimens of its reptiles and amphibians. He is an absolutely marvelous speaker and goes to elementary and middle schools around southern New Mexico to teach about desert animals. The kids must be fascinated!

Doug shows us a rat snake

Here are some of the things about snake behavior that we learned.
  • Snakes don't see you; they sense your heat and figure out how big you are.
  • Based on your size, a snake determines whether you are something to eat, or something that wants to eat him.
  • Snakes don't really want to mess with us--we are too big and inedible
  • If you interrupt a snake when he is headed somewhere, his inclination will be to continue in that direction when he gets the chance. For instance, if you are standing west of a snake who is traveling from east to west, and if you should pick up the snake (the mind boggles!) and toss him back along his trail, he will come right back at you. This isn't because he is coming at you, it's just because he is still headed in his original direction. If you've ever tried to help a turtle across a road, you will recognize this behavior--don't try to turn him around, because he knows where he is going.
  • If you should try to capture a snake by grabbing him behind the head, he will struggle. Wouldn't you? Doug demonstrated how you should place your hand along the snake's back and ease your other hand up toward the head. This is, of course, only done with snakes that are non-venomous. Naturally, in my case, this isn't done at all!

This last photo is of a Checkered Garter Snake. It was taken through the side of a mesh cage, which is why it looks a little fuzzy

The Intrepid Naturalists would like to share a bit more about desert reptiles and amphibians, but first--some photos of the desert sky at dusk tomorrow for Skywatch.


Judy said...

Hi Clairz, This sounds like a great experience but I cannot imagine being in the desert at night by myself. I might go this way. I knew that was a snake hide. I used to live in an area where there was lots of rattlesnakes and copperheads. I am scared to death of snakes. I was always on the lookout for one and those spiders would terrify me! I had to listen to Happy Trails while over here. It takes me back to a time when I would sit in front of the t.v. and watch Roy and Dale. Thanks for coming by my place. Enjoyed your comment.

Kate said...

I cannot believe how long its been since I visited your blog! I intend to go back (a few a day) to read all of your camera class posts because they were so informative.

Have you been to the Rattlesnake Museum in Old Town in Albuquerque? It's a hoot, and I earlier posted some photos on it...way back in February, I guess.

Back home in St. Paul, MN now but still posting on my Santa Fe blog 'til my photos are depleted. Not really happy to be here instead of there, despite the fact that this is a lovely Midwest season.

Linda said...

Believe it or not I've never seen a snake. We don't have many in the UK, but there's always the possibility of stumbling on an adder in moorland. I noted your snake instructions just in case!

Diane AZ said...

I like your close-up showing the rattles. You got some great pictures of Doug holding the live snake. In hot weather I find snakes in my garden and I enjoy watching them, but I haven't had the urge to pick any up. :)