Monday, April 26, 2010

A Little Bit More About Reptiles and Amphibians in Our Part of the Desert

Leave Las Cruces and cross these mountains to get to WSMR

I am learning more about this part of the Chihuahuan Desert all the time. When we went to Night in the Desert last week we met a lot of experts, one of whom was Doug Burkett. I've been reading his book, Amphibians and Reptiles of White Sands Missile Range; Field Guide 2008* and would like to share some facts from the book with you.

The White Sands Missile Range (often referred to as WSMR) is located on the other side of the San Andres, San Augustin, and Organ Mountains from Las Cruces, where I live. I had no idea that the range was such a huge tract of land! It has over 2.2 million acres, and within its borders contains White Sands National Monument and the San Andres National Wildlife Refuge.

Coming through the pass toward the Tularosa Basin and WSMR

Quoting from the book: Seven species of amphibians and 47 species of reptiles, representing 3 orders and 12 families have been documented on WSMR. There are six species of toads (3 spadefoot toads and 3 true toads), 1 salamander, 1 turtle, 19 lizards, and 27 snakes. Five rattlesnake species occur on WSMR and bites from all are potentially lethal. All other snakes occurring on WSMR are either nonvenomous or mildly venomous and are not dangerous to humans.

Here are some interesting facts I came across while reading the same book:
  • The color of the Southern Plateau Lizard (Sceloporus cowlesi) "ranges from white on gypsum dunes (found at the White Sands National Monument) to nearly black on lava flows," such as the one near Carrizozo.
Gypsum dunes at White Sands National Monument
  • A population of Trans-Pecos Ratsnakes (Bogertophis subocularis) from the Carrizozo Lava Flow is consistently darker than the same kind of snake living in other areas of WSMR.
  • Hog-nosed Snakes (Heterodon nasicus) "do not constrict prey, but sometimes grasp lizards in their mouth and repeatedly roll over to help subdue the prey before swallowing."
  • A Night Snake (Hypsigiena torquata) "in captivity bit and paralyzed a Gray Banded Kingsnake (Lampropeltis alterna) nearly twice its weight and attempted to consume it. After a forced release, the kingsnake revived within 20 minutes."
  • "A Great Plains Ratsnake [Pantherophis emoryi] in captivity ate an adult Hog-nosed Snake after sharing a tank for 5 years."
*About obtaining a copy of the book: I got my copy of Mr. Burkett's book directly from the author and have been unable to find this book online. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of your own, you might try writing to:

U.S. Army Garrison - White Sands
Directorate of Public Works
Environment Division
White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico 88002

~or you could try contacting the White Sands Missile Range online.


jabblog said...

Absolutely fascinating - and obviously you can't trust your friends, however long you've known them and shared a home with them . . .
The colour variations are most interesting.

Diane AZ said...

I didn't realize WSMR was that large. Really interesting how the Southern Plateau Lizards on light colored on white sand and black on lava flows. And five species of rattlesnakes, wow!

Lynda Howells said...

Wow these images remind me of what we had when we lived in Dubai in the 80"s. Large areas of desert that was free of other people. Not these days..such a shamexlynda

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Fascinating stuff! I'll be back down towards that area in about 2 weeks when I take my sons to Capitan (Ft. Lone Tree) for the week-long camp. I intend to do some letterboxing and exploring a bit while I'm down there, too.