Herps

Herps: Long-nosed Leopard Lizard Gambelia-wislizenii Free Image, Courtesy PXhere.com
Long-nosed Leopard Lizard
Gambelia-wislizenii
Free Image, Courtesy PXhere.com
Everywhere we go, people want to know, who we are, so we tell them- we are the herpers, the mighty, mighty herpers!
Stumbling around the desert with fishing poles in hand. Hot, dry, no water within miles. A casual observer might question our sanity. But here’s the deal. We have full control over our mental faculty.

Our defense. First, our fishing poles are used for the capture and release of lizards. Remarkably fast and allusive, these rigs are the answer. A small slipknot noose using monofilament fishing line is attached to the end of the pole. The lizards often freeze as the line is dangled slightly in front of their nose and gently slipped over their heads. A quick upward flip and bingo (with a bit of luck) a lizard dances freely from the line’s end.
“I caught one!” alerts the others within shouting distance, and the crew soon assembles to view the prize. Photos are taken which includes GPS coordinates, then the victim passes multiple hands, and is released to resume its lizard business following the rude interruption.

Herps: Western Banded Gecko, Courtesy NPS
Western Banded Gecko
Courtesy NPS

This has become an April tradition for our USU Wildlife Society students with a keen interest in herpetology. We relish the Mojave Desert surrounding St. George with flowers in full bloom and bird song in full tilt.
Our desert ramblings have revealed many herp treasures- spiny lizards, spectacled rattle snakes, desert iguanas, desert tortoise, chuckwalla, canyon tree frog to name a few. Within the past two years, we have assembled well over two dozen different species. The Mojave is second only to the Sonoran Desert for biodiversity. I’m always amazed how this parched, desolate land can support such a remarkable abundance of life forms. The Mojave Desert hosts about 200 endemic plant species found in neither of the adjacent deserts.

I’m going to end with a brief description of my favorite little lizard that appears so delicate, like a desert flower, it stands in stark contrast to this seemingly inhospitable environment. In good light its paper thin skin covered with minute scales, allows one to see the interior workings of its slender body.
The western banded gecko is secretive and nocturnal, foraging at night for small insects and spiders, often seen, silhouetted against the black asphalt of desert roads. It is one of the few reptiles that controls scorpion populations by eating their babies. If captured it may squeak and discard its tail. As a defense mechanism, it can also curl its tail over its body to mimic a scorpion. Geckos also store fat in their tails. Being they maintain a reduced metabolism at low temperatures, their tail fat can sustain them for up to nine months. Because the western banded gecko restricts its activities to nights, it is often seen, silhouetted against the black asphalt of desert roads.

This is Jack Greene and I’m wild about the banded gecko, all its cousins, and this amazing land we call Utah!

Credits:

Pictures: Banded Gecko Courtesy US NPS
Pictures Leopard Lizard, Courtesy PXHere.com
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Strand, Holly, The Lizard and His Tail, Wild About Utah, June 11, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/the-lizard-and-his-tail/

Repanshek Kurt, Western Banded Gecko, Wild About Utah, Feb 23, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/western-banded-gecko/

Strand, Holly, Gila Monsters, Wild About Utah, Feb 4, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/gila-monsters/

One Biota Network, Noosing Technique for Capturing Lizards, YouTube, May 25, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkcOpPRfeug

Reptiles, Zion National Park, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/nature/reptiles.htm

Reptiles, Canyonlands National Park, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/cany/learn/nature/reptiles.htm

Species List, Arches National Park, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/species-lists.htm

Reptiles and Amphibians, Bryce Canyon National Park, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/brca/learn/nature/reptiles.htm

Rattlesnakes

Great Basin Rattlesnake
Courtesy & Copyright 2009
Holly Strand

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Its rattlesnake season in Utah, for the warm weather draws them out of their dens. We have 5 species plus 2 subspecies of rattlesnake in the state. The Great basin rattlesnake is the most widespread, living all across Western Utah at elevations up to 9000 feet. This is the fellow you see around Logan. Another subspecies of western rattler–the midget faded rattlesnake –is dominant in the eastern part of the state. The Hopi rattlesnake and the greenish colored prairie rattlesnake are found in southwestern Utah. And the Mojave rattlesnake, speckled rattlesnake, and sidewinder are found only in the extreme southwest corner of Utah.

The rattle itself is a unique biological feature. It’s a loose, but interlocking series of nested segments—actually modified scales– at the end of the tail. When vibrated, the rattle produces a hissing sound. Kevin Colver– an expert in natural sound recordings –provided this clip of a Mojave rattlesnake. Sound from Westernsoundscape.org Hmm. wouldn’t that make a great ringtone?

Aggression and venom in rattlesnakes vary by both species type and by individual. The western diamondback rattlesnake is the archetypal large, aggressive and very dangerous species, responsible for the majority of human fatalities. But its northern range limit is south of the Utah border. However, the Mojave rattler found in southeastern Utah is extremely toxic and excitable. Its venom attacks both the nervous system and circulatory system.

Luckily, rattlesnakes aren’t out to get us—mainly they just want to be left alone. You’ll be fine if you stay aware of what might be lurking in or around rocks. And don’t walk barefoot or in open-toed shoes in their habitat. Also, use a flashlight after dark –most rattlesnakes are active at night too!

Thanks to the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation—the Russell family for supporting Stokes Nature Center programs. And to Kevin Colver for the sound of the rattlesnake. Additional nature sound recordings can be found at 7loons.com and westernsoundscape.org

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Credits:
Audio:     Courtesy & Copyright 2006 Kevin Colver, 7loons.com & Univ. of Utah WesternSoundscape.org
Images:     Courtesy & Copyright 2009 Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center
Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading:

Klauber, Laurence M. 1982. Rattlesnakes. Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind. Berkeley: University of California Press, http://www.amazon.com/Rattlesnakes-Habits-Histories-Influence-Mankind/dp/0520210565 (1997 Version)

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Utah Conservation Data Center. http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/ucdc/ (Accessed July 17, 2009)

Rattlesnake safety tips, Wildlife, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, http://wildlife.utah.gov/wildlife-news/1671-rattlesnake-safety-tips-2015.html (Posted June 19, 2015, 11:06 am) (Accessed Aug 7, 2016)

Don’t Tread on Me!

Don't tread on me! Great Basin Rattlesnake Courtesy & Copyright © 2009 Holly Strand
Great Basin Rattlesnake
Courtesy & Copyright © 2009 Holly Strand

Holly: Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Rattlesnakes are pit vipers with heavy bodies and broad heads. There are about 30 species and 40 more subspecies found in North and South America. They aren’t found anywhere else. All possess rattles and all are venomous.

Here in Utah we have 5 species plus 2 subspecies. The Great basin rattlesnake is the most widespread, living all across Western Utah at elevations up to 9000 feet. Another subspecies of western rattler–the midget faded rattlesnake –is dominant in the eastern part of the state. The Hopi rattlesnake and the greenish colored prairie rattlesnake are found in southeastern Utah. And the Mojave rattlesnake, speckled rattlesnake, and sidewinder are found only in the extreme southwest corner of Utah.

The rattle itself is a unique biological feature. It’s a loose, but interlocking series of nested segments—actually modified scales– at the end of the tail. When vibrated, the rattle produces a hissing sound. Kevin Colver– an expert in natural sound recordings –provided this clip of a Mojave rattlesnake.

A snake gets a new rattle segment every time it sheds—and it sheds from one to four times a year. 15 or 16 rattles are common in captive snakes, but in wild snakes six to eight are more common. In wild snakes, rattles are subject to a lot of wear and tear. So they break off before they get very long.
The rattle sound is the reaction of a startled or threatened snake. You’ll often see the rattling snake in a defensive S-shaped coil—but not always!

Aggression and venom in rattlesnakes vary by both species type and by individual. The western diamondback rattlesnake is the archetypal large, aggressive and very dangerous species, responsible for the majority of human fatalities in America. But it’s northern range limit is south of the Utah border. However, the Mojave rattler found in southeastern Utah is extremely toxic, excitable and its venom attacks both the nervous system and circulatory system.

But rattlesnakes aren’t out to get us—mainly they just want to be left alone. You’ll generally be fine if you stay aware of what might be in or around rocks, and don’t walk barefoot or in open-toed shoes in their habitat. Also, use a flashlight after dark –most rattlesnakes are active at night too!

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the development of this Wild About Utah topic.
And to Kevin Colver for the sound of the rattlesnake. Additional nature sound recordings can be found at westernsoundscape.org

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Sound: Courtesy and Copyright 2006 Kevin Colver
Image: Courtesy and Copyright 2009 Holly Strand
Text: Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading

Klauber, Laurence M. 1982. Rattlesnakes. Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind. Berkeley: University of California Press, http://www.amazon.com/Rattlesnakes-Habits-Histories-Influence-Mankind/dp/0520210565 (1997 Version)

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Utah Conservation Data Center. http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/ucdc/ (Accessed July 17, 2009)