Southwestern Utah Herps

Southwestern Utah Herps: Gila Monster, Courtesy Pixabay
Gila Monster
Courtesy Pixabay

Gila Monster Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Gila Monster
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

Gila Monster Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Gila Monster
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

Gila Monster Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Gila Monster
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

Desert Tortoise - Right of Hat Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Desert Tortoise – Right of Hat
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

I’m going to go beyond birds a few hundred million years to their precursors, who thrived long before our feathered mini-dinosaurs evolved. These ancient beings continue to thrive to this day, which lured 14 USU students and I to join them in the Mojave wilds of southwestern Utah.

We camped at the Gunlock State Park, where a Utah DWR herpetologist joined us for several hours, who appeared to know every scaly and slimy critter within a 10-mile radius.
A few highlights came when a Smith’s Black headed snake was discovered beneath a cow paddy, about the size of a large worm. No one thought it possible to find such a tiny, shy being, unless you’re flipping cow poo! Other popular reptiles were the small, delicate banded gecko and the diminutive, invasive Pacific tree frog.

Saturday was spent in Snow Canyon State Park where we were entertained by Cheyenne, a young SUU student naturalist, who kept us riveted with stories on some of the more iconic herp residents. She was emphatic on how to keep the reptiles safe from park visitors and ravens. “If a tortoise is crossing the road, please help it to the other side in the same direction it’s headed. Otherwise, never pick them up for they may release stored water, which could mean their death from dehydration. She also cautioned us on leaving the trail, for the desert tortoise spends much of it’s life in its labyrinth of burros. “Your footstep could cause a collapse, entombing the animal.”

Next, Cheyenne pulled a fully mounted Gila monster from her magical tub. Oohs and ahhs were audible, the penultimate reptile. She enthralled them with its life history, spending up to 95% of its life underground, often in tortoise burrows, emerging during the spring months for mating and feeding. It may eat 1/3 of its weight in one meal, consisting of bird, tortoise, and snake eggs and young, young mammals, carrion, and whoever else smells delicious and small enough to fit in its ravenous maw. Many of the calories are stored in its tail, which nourishes the animal for much of the year. Amazingly, Gila monster venom is used for diabetes and obesity treatment. Asked if she had seen a Gila monster. “No, but it’s at the top of my list!” she said.

Following a Cheyenne led hike, we continued the herp search beyond the park boundary. A tortoise discovery brought considerable excitement and photos, a rare siting! But that was overshadowed a half hour later when a Gila monster decided to present itself to myself. I began shouting “monster” hoping to rein in the dispersed crew. They came scrambling through the creosote bushes in disbelief. We immediately sent a text to Cheyenne with the coordinates, hoping she would see her first Monster in the wild! Never have I witnessed more excitement in my students, a surreal moment. I must check with Cheyenne on her success in finding the monster!

The Gila monster is considered near threatened by the IUCN from habitat loss and pet trade. In Utah it is illegal to handle Gila monsters without a permit.

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society and I am Wild About Utah and its herps

https://pixabay.com/photos/gila-lizard-dragon-reptile-monster-5536750/
Sound credit goes to J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin and Anderson, Howe, Wakeman.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/photos/gila-lizard-dragon-reptile-monster-5536750/
Additional images Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & © Anderson, Howe and Wakeman,
Also includes audio Courtesy & © J. Chase & K.W. Baldwin
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah pieces authored by Jack Greene

Smith’s Black-headed Snake Tantilla hobartsmithi, Field Guide, Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=tantilla%20hobartsmithi

Gila Monster, Heloderma suspectum, Field Guide, Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=heloderma%20suspectum

Mojave Desert Tortoise Gopherus agassizii, Field Guide, Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=gopherus%20agassizii

Western Banded Gecko – Coleonyx variegatus https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=coleonyx%20variegatus

Don’t keep illegal reptiles – including desert tortoises – or release pet reptiles, fish into wild, St George News, Sept 5, 2021, https://archives.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2021/12/05/prc-dont-keep-illegal-reptiles-or-release-pet-reptiles-fish-including-desert-tortoises-into-wild

A Ranger Moment: SUU student Cheyenne Mitchell speaks at OES, March 20, 2023 – by Jacob Horne, SUU News, Student Media, Southern Utah University https://suunews.net/2023/03/20/a-ranger-moment-suu-student-cheyenne-mitchell-speaks-at-oes/

Ask a herpetologist, Megen Kepas, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/wildlife-blog/1692-ask-a-herpetologist.html

Smith’s Black-headed Snake Tantilla hobartsmithi, https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/28499-Tantilla-hobartsmithi
Information about the Smith above: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobart_Muir_Smith

Gila Monster, Heloderma suspectum, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/9865/13022716

Dinosaurs in Our Past

Dinosaurs in our past: Dinosaur Footprint Cast, The Prehistoric Museum, USU Eastern Campus, Price, UT Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer
Dinosaur Footprint Cast
The Prehistoric Museum,
USU Eastern Campus, Price, UT
Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer

Dinosaur Footprint Display, The Prehistoric Museum, USU Eastern Campus, Price, UT  Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer Dinosaur Footprint Display
The Prehistoric Museum,
USU Eastern Campus, Price, UT
Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer

When I saw my first giant dinosaur footprint a the Natural History Museum of Utah, I said it was terrific.

“Dime a dozen, “ said my father-in-law, who was standing next to me. “The ceiling of the coal mine is littered with them.”

My ears perked right up. “Really,?” I said. “Maybe I could get one?”

As a young mining engineer right out of college, my father in law had been hired to run the Sunnyside coal mine about 25 miles outside of Price. He went on to explain that it was impossible to take a footprint out of the mine ceiling with risking bringing the whole roof down on your head. I had to agree it sounded difficult, but that didn’t stop me from sighing and saying, “I sure would like a dinosaur footprint for Christmas. “

In the end, he compromised by arranging a trip into the mine to see the footprints.

So, on a day no one was working in the mine, we climbed into the low riding miner’s car that carried us deep, deep into the heart of the mountain. When we got to the face we stopped and got out. In the dim light of our headlamps I could see we were in a huge cavernous room with massive pillars of coal, seven feet high and almost as wide, holding up the roof. And then I looked up and saw them – three toed footprints pressed down into the ancient mud that had turned into coal millions of years ago. Whole families of dinosaurs had strolled through this prehistoric swamp, leaving big prints, as long as two feet, and small ones, as small as six inches.

I found out later that the preservation of these footprints was a happy accident of sand filling up the prints soon after they were made. Millions of years later, when the decaying swamp plants were compressed into coal, the sand (itself pressed into sandstone,) held the shape of the foot.

A similar lucky mix of sand, water and pressure was needed to preserve dinosaur bones. Not all bones become fossils. So you can imagine the excitement in the scientific community when a fossil bed containing more than 12,000 dinosaur bones were discovered 30 miles south of Price. There were enough bones to qualify as a crime scene. To this day, my favorite spot in the Natural History Museum of Utah is the corner where 4 paleontologists on 4 TV screens square off with their earnest explanations for this massive bone pile-up.

    One says it was a watering hole that dried up so the dinosaurs died.

    “No,” says the second. There was too much water. The site became so muddy that the dinosaurs got stuck in the mud.

    The third offers up the idea that it could have been poison or a lethal germ that got in the water.

    “Oh, no,” says the fourth. The dinosaurs died somewhere else, and floodwaters floated them here.

It’s a mystery still waiting to be solved, and that’s what makes studying Utah’s past so interesting.

This is Mary Heers, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy Mary Heers,
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Sunnyside Coal Mines, UtahRails.net, Last Updated March 8, 2019, https://utahrails.net/utahcoal/utahcoal-sunnyside.php

Prehistoric Museum, USU Eastern Campus, Price, UT, https://eastern.usu.edu/prehistoric-museum/

Natural History Museum of Utah, Rio Tinto Center, University of Utah, https://nhmu.utah.edu/

A Wild Utah Thanksgiving

Box Elder Bug on Milkweed Courtesy US FWS, Chelsi Burns, Photographer
Box Elder Bug on Milkweed
Courtesy US FWS, Chelsi Burns, Photographer

Perigrine Falcon Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer Perigrine Falcon
Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer

Northern Shrike Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer Northern Shrike
Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer

Robin with Chicks in Nest Courtesy US FWS, images.fws.gov James C. Leopold, Photographer Robin with Chicks in Nest
Courtesy US FWS, images.fws.gov
James C. Leopold, Photographer

Jerusalem Cricket Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae Copyright 2013 Holly Strand Jerusalem Cricket
Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae
Copyright 2013 Holly Strand

A Wild Utah Thanksgiving: Wild Turkeys
Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain Images Wild Turkeys
Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain Images

Wild Turkeys: Wild Turkey Tom Courtesy Pixabay, Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer Wild Turkey Tom
Courtesy Pixabay
Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer

Wild Turkeys: Rio Grande Turkey Tom, Meleagris gallopavo, Courtesy US FWS, Robert H. Burton, Photographer, images.fws.gov Rio Grande Turkey Tom
Meleagris gallopavo
Courtesy US FWS
Robert H. Burton, Photographer
https://images.fws.gov

I’m Giving thanks for a Wild Utah, which is all around us- in our yards, downtown, and even in our homes. I will make my case with the following vignettes.

Box elder bugs are my nemesis, reproducing numbers far beyond what their predators can control. But my grandkids adore them. Calling them “Boxies”, they are enthralled with their “cute” little friends. They will make a home for them in a jar, making sure they’re comfortable and well fed with collected leaves.

While sauntering through Temple Square on a lovely June day, I was startled by the kee-kee-kee call of peregrine falcons. One lit atop Moroni’s head, which adorns the temple, soon to be joined by another. The elder missionary who had begun his missionary pitch to me was aghast as I explained the peregrine coupling on their sacred figure.

My grandkids and I were keeping track of a robins nest which had been built over our front door facing. Checking the eggs, which were near hatching, we discovered a great basin gopher snake had crawled up the vertical house wall for egg soufflé, devouring all four eggs. How in the world did this reptile even know there was a nest with eggs in this unusual location, and make the vertical climb to eat them? A natural wonder!

Our bird feeder is quite popular with predatory birds. We noticed a darling little saw-whet owl sitting in the tree where the feeder hung with a junco in its beak. On another occasion, my wife alerted me to a stellar jay sitting on a limb outside the kitchen window with a fat meadow vole dangling from its mouth.

A few weeks ago, my daughter texted me a photo of a mystery bird that had slammed into their window. What is this bird? A northern shrike was the victim- a rarity indeed. Fortunately, it recovered, hopefully without serious injury, to hunt her birds another day.

When our children were young, a Jerusalem cricket was discovered in the basement. These Tonka Toy-like insects are marvels- and very scary. It kept our children occupied for hours. On another occasion, we came home to find baby skunks had invaded us. One of our sons had found them near their road-killed mother and adopted them. These cute little critters soon adapted to our presence, and no one was sprayed, but they did harbor a skunky odor for some time, probably from their deceased mother.

Given the Thanks Giving season, I’ll wrap this up with turkeys. Downtown Logan had four tom turkeys who were causing mayhem with traffic at the Center and Main intersection. Our fearless law officer were called out to remediate the situation. Following an hour of frantic scramble, the officers were defeated, as were the turkeys, who found an open door for refuge in a butcher shop. True story.

Wishing you a Wild Utah Thanksgiving!

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m wild about this Utah!

Credits:
Picture: Peregrine Falcon, Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer
Picture: Northern Shrike, Courtesy US FWS Dave Menke, Photographer
Picture: Robin with Chicks, Courtesy US FWS, James C. Leopold, Photographer
Picture: Jerusalem Cricket, Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
Picture: Courtesy Pixabay, PublicDomainImages AND https://pixabay.com/photos/autumn-woodland-through-walking-387109/
Picture: Courtesy Pixabay, Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer,
Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Robert H Burton, Photographer https://images.fws.gov/
Audio: Courtesy & © Vince Guaraldi
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Greene, Jack, Wild Turkeys, Wild About Utah, November 22, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-turkeys/

Bingham, Lyle, Read by Linda Kervin, Wild Turkeys – Recently Moved to Utah, Wild About Utah, November 19, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-turkeys-recently-moved-to-utah/

Strand, Holly, Boxelder Bug Poetry, Wild About Utah, March 3, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/boxelder-bug-poetry/

Kervin, Linda, Shrikes, Wild About Utah, October 31, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/shrikes/

Nature Came to Me

Glovers Silk Moth Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Glovers Silk Moth
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Glovers Silk Moth Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Glovers Silk Moth
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

This week I couldn’t make time to get out into nature, so nature came to me. I suppose people think that once students stack chairs and say goodbye as they carry their yearbooks, portfolios, and report cards out the door, their teacher lounges all summer in a hammock with a just-for-fun book and a lemonade. Perhaps a few teachers do. This teacher was scurrying off to afternoon meetings about math tutoring and curriculum planning after spending mornings discussing hundreds of scholarly journal pages she’d read the night before about effective writing instruction. No, I wouldn’t make time this week for nature, so nature came to me, begging me to slow down, take notice, pause, breathe.

First, it was a bird with a yellow head perched just outside my bedroom window as I hit the alarm. I didn’t take the time to get the details or even listen to its song as I rushed off to the car. Was it a warbler or a meadowlark? I’m not sharp enough on my bird identifying yet to instantly know, and there was no time anyway. Not even to take a picture.

Rushing from my office to the adjacent building for class, I did stop to stare at the largest moth I’d ever seen that was perched on the similarly-colored rusty-brown brick. This time I pulled out my phone to get some shots, certain that the iNaturalist app would reveal how uncommon it is to see a moth bigger than the size of my fist leisurely greeting me on the summer camp-bustling university campus. Patiently it sat as I zoomed in closer to get all the angles of its head, wooly abdomen, and wing patterns. 7:58–time to go find my seat.

Later, my iNaturalist app provided a suggestion: Glover’s Silk Moth, a rather common find this time of year in my part of the world. Then, as I sat on a dining patio overlooking the river telling my friends about the moth, a garter snake skirted the rock wall just feet away from me until it found a comfortable spot to watch and listen.

Suddenly, I realized that nature was hosting a BioBlitz for me if I wanted to join in. A BioBlitz, according to the partnership of National Geographic and iNaturalist, is “a celebration of biodiversity….focused on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time.” Children’s book author Loree Griffin Burns cleverly guides her young readers in similarly throwing a Moth Ball.

Last June I learned that my tangerine-colored moth find in Logan Canyon was a Nuttall’s Sheep Moth, and that I could join citizen scientists all over in pinning observations on the map and logging wild encounters like this new-to-me species, especially during National Moth Week. It was William Wordsworth who wisely wrote, “Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher.” This week she was trying to teach me to be more aware, that my day’s list could allow time to appreciate a yellow bird, a curious snake, and a marvelous giant silk moth, and suddenly I was also spotting ladybug larva and ring-necked pheasants. I had time. As Richard Louv states in his book titled Last Child in the Woods, “Nature does not steal time; it amplifies it.”

For Wild About Utah, I’m Shannon Rhodes.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Additional Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Burns, Loree Griffin. You’re Invited to a Moth Ball: A Nighttime Insect Celebration. 2020. https://loreeburns.com/

Greene, Jack. Join a BioBlitz This Year. Wild About Utah, May 30, 2016. https://wildaboututah.org/bioblitz/

Insect Identification.org. Glover’s Silkmoth. January 3, 2022. https://www.insectidentification.org/insect-description.php?identification=Glovers-Silkmoth

Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. 2008. https://richardlouv.com/books/last-child

National Geographic. BioBlitz. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/bioblitz/

National Moth Week, Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission, https://nationalmothweek.org/

Rhodes, Shannon. Malacomosa Dance. Wild About Utah, June 21, 2021. https://wildaboututah.org/malacomosa-dance/

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Field Station. Giant Silk Moths. November 26, 2014. https://uwm.edu/field-station/giant-silk-moths-family-saturnidae/

Winter, William D. Jr. Basic Techniques for Observing and Studying Moths & Butterflies. The Lepidopterists’ Society. 2000. https://www.lepsoc.org/sites/all/themes/nevia/lepsoc/Memoir_5_Basic_techniques_manual.pdf

Wordsworth, William. The Tables Turned. 1798. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45557/the-tables-turned