Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How a Rattlesnake Eats: A Time Lapse


The snake begins the feeding process by locating the head of the prey to be ingested. This makes swallowing an animal with projecting limbs much easier since they can fold against the body and prevent impediment of the swallowing process. Notice how there is very little movement of the body advancing over the prey item; rather the prey item is carried into the gullet like a conveyer belt. The rodent is then moved down toward the stomach via rhythmic, lateral undulations.

The feeding motion that is seen in crocodilians and in some lizards is very animated; they toss and chomp at prey in order to arrange the meal for swallowing. Unlike snakes, crocodilians and lizards have larger heads to accommodate for prey size, limbs to aid in movement of body position and the prey, and the ability to rip, tear, and twist off flesh into manageable pieces if needed. Additionally, the heads of crocodilians and lizards are rigidly constructed, which means they lack the flexibility characteristic to snake skulls.

The relative immobility of the snake’s fore body during prey ingestion is made possible by the lose construction of the skull in concert with ligaments that allow for elasticity, this is called cranial kinesis or skull movement. A snake’s jaw does not come “unhinged,” despite the popular misconception for why snakes can ingest large prey with such small mouths.

The bottom jaw, or mandible, is not fused by bone at the front, as is the case in crocodilians and mammals; it is instead connected with flexible ligaments that allow the bottom jaw to spread outward and over a girthy prey item. The gape is also facilitated via elasticity. The bones of a snake’s jaw are themselves rather flexible, which is advantageous when force is being exerted on the mouth from all directions as large prey is engulfed. The upper and lower jaw in pit vipers is connected via a quadrate bone, this further aids in the vertical flexibility of the mouth over the body of large prey.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spring 2013


Spring is here. The budding of various species of deciduous trees is beautifully shaded in various hues of green; the Blue Ridge wilderness is awakening. The understory is for a seasonal moment bathed in sunshine, and the colorful wildflowers take this brief opportunity to spread their petals. Pollinators are everywhere, buzzing, flitting, flapping, and rapidly darting from nectar-baring plant to other nectar-baring plants of the same species. Thus the flowers breed. Mother bear is trailed by her cubs; they playfully tumble in the leaves making a mockery of mother’s foraging efforts. And in the warmest reaches of the Blue Ridge wilderness, ectothermic reptiles of various species are beginning their seasonal activities.

Early spring is when the timber rattlesnakes begin to stir; they greet the warmest days with just a glimpse of their coils, which are remarkably brilliant against a backdrop of fluffy leaves. With nighttime temperatures still hovering dangerously close to freezing, they will remain close to their refugia until a trend of reliable weather activates them to begin their seasonal migration. On the subject of hibernating timber rattlesnakes, it seems reasonable to assume that a species known for their impressive assemblages would be erupting from underground en-masse on a warm spring day; however, this does not seem to be the case at southern latitudes.

An interesting study published in August 2010 by Jeffery Mohr, revealed that highland South Carolina timber rattlesnakes overwinter singly and occasionally in pairs, much like their piedmont/coastal ecotypes the canebrake. Based on my observations, it could be forgiven to assume the same could be said of Georgia’s highland timber rattlesnake, being on roughly the same latitude as the South Carolina population. Telemetry studies of the seasonal temporal and spatial activities of Georgia mountain horridus can confirm or deny the aforementioned assumption. Northern Populations of Timber Rattlesnakes appear to be strongly communal, social animals that tend to aggregate/live in centralized “colonies”. The occupation of historical colonies is primarily dictated by environmental constraints and has lead to shared hibernacula, gestation and basking sites. Colonies are primarily found on open, rocky, south facing slopes, at higher elevations.

The difference in aggregation as fostered by the environment is not necessarily a disadvantage to their sociality as much as it is a testament to the forces of natural selection at work in shaping society at high latitudes. As Mohr suggests in his paper, timber rattlesnakes in the north are faced with longer, colder winters, coupled with fewer choices of available overwintering sites that can protect them from prolonged spells of freezing temperatures. Conversely, southern populations frequently see mild winters with very few lengthy stretches of freezing temperatures, so it is likely that there are a variety of microhabitats in the environment that can adequately serve as hibernacula. Thus, the southern climate relative to the environment did not select for communal denning.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Timber Rattlesnakes: Fixed Videography 5-22-12


In the spring months, the mornings start off cool and windy, and the rocky grey landscape is lonely and silent with the exception of windblown vegetation rustling. Some mornings are even still cool enough that spirals of steam can be seen pouring from the mouth and nose as one exhales, especially during a labored climb to a mountain top study site. The dullness of the winter landscape is slowly transitioning into the vibrant verder glow that is the beauty of an Appalachian forest in full leaf. This is my favorite time of year.

While all the serpents are laying in sluggish rest beneath stones, I make my way on site under the still visible moon and set up my camera to capture their awakening with the morning sun. After setting up my camera, I take a seat many yards away – but close enough so I can manipulate the camera with a remote, and I wait. The climb caused blood to rush and warm my body; however, my metabolic warmth escapes into the ground bellow me and into the air around me, so I shrug on a long sleeve. This is always a good time for writing, it is in these moments when I am alone at some of the loftiest altitudes Georgia has to offer that I find the peace and quite to put a creative pen to paper.

Before I know it, the sun peeks high enough over the mountainous horizon that its photons wash across the landscape like an electromagnetic rain, much to the delight of my ectothermic friends. Once I see their scaly bodies ooze from beneath the stones, I click on the camera and run it until the batteries are dead. Here is a glimpse into a few of those moments. This video is sped up 400% in I-Movie; there are spaces of tens of minutes where the snakes simply do not move at all. The volume is down, and in some cases off because of the wind.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fixed Videography From Spring 2012


These timber rattlesnakes are dull, have a patina of dirt from being underground all winter, and one, as you will see, is deep in the blue of ecdysis, all signs of freshly emerged spring rattlesnakes.

Something that has always impressed me is how quickly the snakes re-surface from underground after I have set out the camera equipment. None of the fixed video I have taken is much more than a half hour to fifty minutes in length. This means the snakes are re-emerging after just a few minutes of my leaving the scene.

The response at the end is typical of when I return to gather my equipment. Whenever possible, they pull their coils inward in such a way that allows them to retreat with the head poised close to the more vulnerable tail. This allows for easy defense against anything that might try to grab the snake by the tail. I simply use a snake hook to gather my camera, and then leave to allow the snake to settle back down.

This video is only a brief glimpse into the complex life that a timber rattlesnake leads, but in these tiny moments a great deal about how they interact with their biotic and abiotic surroundings can be inferred. With these technologies, we are learning things that were once obscured to and even dismissed by the herpetological pioneers Klauber and Kauffeld.

Mixed Effects Models and Extensions in Ecology with R (2009 Edition) b

Monday, February 18, 2013

Spring 2012: A Brief Encounter With a Black Bear


Studies in Zoology: A Book Devoted to Animals and Animal Life at the C

I was seated on cold stone, obscured by dwarfed pine, bunch grasses, and a fragrant tangle of herbs. The morning air was just cold enough that sitting still was uncomfortable. All around the woods were beginning to awaken. Squirrels scratched along their canopy highways, sweet birdsongs were coming into tune, and a clear blue sky above suggested a fine day was ahead.

My focus was on a spot among the rocks where I knew several gravid female Horridus to be resident, and I was waiting patiently for any of them to emerge, pull themselves into a tight coil, and wait on the radiation to elevate the temperature of their gestating bodies. It is amazing how slowly they drag their length out from within their burrows. I have filmed morning egress before, and each video is about twenty to thirty minutes in length, during which the snakes are actively moving only about a fraction of the total time. The action in the films is so slow that I speed them up so as not to get board watching it. Seeing it in real life, in the beauty of the out doors, is much more thrilling.

I was busily writing environmental and climate descriptions into my notebook, when a curious sound caught my attention. On this occasion, I was particularly alerted to certain sounds since this was the morning after the night the sound of many coyotes erupted near camp and caused me to lose some sleep. I started to stand in order to see where the sound was coming from and what was causing it. Twigs snapped in succession, obviously something was walking through the adjacent wood line toward my location.

I finally picked up on a black shape moving from just within a green curtain, pierced here and there by coarse woody debris. My pulse quickened as my initial assessment of the creature was that it might be a big black feral hog, and they usually are not alone. I stood, began to gather my gear so I could leave quietly, and then I realized that it was just a black bear.

My pulse was still elevated, and naturally, I quaked a bit in the animal’s presence. I would have been more worried about a heard of pigs joining me at my seat on the mountain than I was by a bear, as a matter of fact, I welcomed the sight of this bear and the chance to film it. It continued its march until it was in full view out in front of me, and by now I was covertly video recording.

What I initially thought was that the bear would just cross the rock face in front of me, and simply re enter the woods on a bee line path; however, it turned toward me, still unaware of my presence. After only filming it for a few short seconds, I had to break my silence to inform the bear that he was not alone. I called aloud: “here bear,” which is apparently the go to vocabulary for shooing off a bear as I have gathered from locals. It looked up directly at me and I looked directly back, not budging from my spot. I figured it hadn’t quite seen me because it kept coming, swaying its head around, looking.

Not wanting to surprise the bear, I moved out of my cover and stood up as tall as possible, and repeated my taunt: “here bear”. Those that know me know that I do not stand very tall, but I was able to coerce the bear to take a different path. Just to be sure that the bear was not going to return, at least for the moment to allow me to leave, I took a few steps forward, always using my voice to encourage the bear to move along.

As much as I love seeing wild bears, I was not in love with the idea that I was hidden away for one to flush from the snags like a hunted rabbit. After hearing the bear crash off into the depths of the valley, I took my leave of this particular site and went to another location for the day.

Zoo Med Laboratories - Adjustable Snake Hook 7.25 - 26 Inch - TA-25

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Coyotes Laughing in the Night


June 2012. The light faded, and the smooth transition of diurnal voices to nocturnal conversations reverberated. The cool breeze carried the fresh scent of mint tea on soft currents. The evening hour was quite a pleasure after a lengthy day of counting rattlesnakes in sun, it provided a much needed respite and the opportunity to crack open my thinking book to record thoughts that were otherwise fleeting while I was busy.

I chose to camp in a location just yards away from one of my sampling sites, but it was also in an area frequently trafficked by feral hog and other game. I worried less about bear than I did the hogs; the hogs are problematic, dangerous and bold. So I decided to place my tent-cot in the bed of my truck in order to sleep elevated up off of the ground and away from any trampling hooves. In the last moments of sunlight, I could already hear hogs feeding from within the neck-high grass of an adjacent game clearing. The sweet smell of my tea was likely not helping my desire to avoid a hog invasion of my camp, but it sure was a refreshing brew beneath the slowly appearing stars.

I had scarcely placed my head upon my pillow, when suddenly out of the black of night; coyotes began to laugh from within the forest nearby. It began as quite a domestic sound, but as their conversation continued, their howls intensified to a more sinister tone. They cackled and cried as the pack ran swiftly through the woods along which I was camped. I was unsure if they were tormenting a meal beneath the hunter's moon, or if they were simply engaged in playful canine antics. The sound was thrilling and also slightly chilling.

Predatory noises erupting suddenly in the night was undoubtedly frightening to our Paleolithic ancestors living in the wild Pleistocene, and it likely caused them to keep close to their firelight for security. The desire for light when shrouded in the dark unknown is an emotion that still tugs at the psyche of modern humans as a reflex of our past. I reached outside of my tent and ignited my lamp, and it cast a warm, comforting glow in a perimeter around my camp. I slept soundly with my lamp standing sentry over me, a beacon in the night to stave off the American Jackal.

Rite in the Rain Outdoor Journal

Friday, February 1, 2013

In Reverence of Rattlesnakes


Surveying rattlesnakes on a den is an entirely different affair than searching for them in the tin fields of the low country; something I learned gradually over time and with each new visit to an assemblage. Quite often I find myself in remote places and on dangerously uneven terrain. I suit up like a medieval knight in full harness, ready for the hastiludium. Leather boots or stout hiking shoes cover my feet, half chaps protect my legs bellow my knees and I always have on a good pair of Carhartt pants or jeans to deter snags and flesh ripping thorns. Poison ivy is abundant in timber rattlesnake habitat and often I spend the whole summer with mild blisters, but as a precaution I almost always wear a shirt with sleeves I can roll down.

Once a denning area is reached, it’s frequently necessary to bushwhack through dense foliage, thorns, and other greenery (especially summer time) in order to explore the many smaller facades and bordering escarpments. Sometimes I have to take to my belly, not unlike the creatures I seek, and slither under low hanging pitch pine branches or through a choking mass of laurel. On many occasions, I find myself battling through the skeletal remains of fallen trees; their dried, lifeless forms make for a frustrating obstacle course as well as a good place to hide snapping jaws. I can only imagine what I must sound like to the quiet and concealed animals living on the adjacent ridges. My shuffling feet through ankle deep leaf litter, a snap and crack that echoes like gunshots as I smash through deadfall, and the occasional vociferous expletive when the trees fight back.
Firefly Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians By Mattison, Chris

Monday, January 28, 2013

Life Anew: A Horridus Birthing in the Wild


It was around 0900 and I was at work. A feeling came over me that I could not shake; I knew that day I had to be in the mountains, no place specific, just any one of my survey sites would do. It was the middle of August, which is the start of timber rattlesnake birthing season, and I had a feeling that it would be a productive day for a survey. By 0930, I was heading north for the hour and a half long trip to a favored assemblage.

After huffing a short distance up a leaf and stick strewn hillside, I emerged onto the sun kissed stone face, and made my way directly to a crevice I knew housed a few gravid timbers. I stooped at the opening, and with a hand mirror, I reflected a beam of sunlight into the crevice and was quite thrilled by the sight revealed. In the best possible location at the throat of the crevice was a mother horridus birthing her young! I was thrilled! I immediately removed my camcorder from my pack and put it in place to capture the beautiful scene. Not only was there a mother Horridus birthing babies, but there were also two copperheads stuffed inside with the timber family.

I tried to position the mirror to give the camera better light to film by, but I felt the beam it emitted was too intense for the quiet moment. So instead, I used a small flashlight with a dimmer, warmer light to illuminate the family. I left the camera and took a walk in the surrounding forest, very pleased that I decided to take a day away from work in response to a hunch.

I left the camcorder recording for about 50 minutes while I explored outlaying stone escarpments in the forest. I found three other litters that had already been birthed. I then found a shady spot beneath some dwarfed oak species and amongst some tall grasses overlooking the den, took out my thinking book, and began to write. The breeze was fantastic in the spot I chose to sit; however, the bees were out in numbers and I had to keep a constant eye on their flight paths. None bothered me beyond their proximal buzzing.

I filled a page with some thoughts, and then I returned to my camcorder. As quietly and gently as possible, I removed it from the crevice and was immediately drawn to the blinking light that signaled a low battery. I dug into my ruck for the spare, but was dealt a blow when I realized it wasn’t there. I had so much more I wanted to record. Despite the dead battery, I was thrilled that I got 50 minutes worth of footage of a mother Horridus birthing young. Quite a productive day of truancy this turned out to be.

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Am

Saturday, January 26, 2013

December Indigos: A Survey With Orianne Society


I recently sojourned to the sandy palmetto lands of South Georgia’s low country in search of giant snakes—one, a robust viper that often tops five feet (eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Crotalus adamanteus), the other an iridescent blue and imperiled colubrid, the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi). Following a frosty morning apropos for the Holiday Season (with overnight lows the previous eve kissing 30F), we embarked on a lengthy hike across a massive dune of gray-white sand peppered with turkey oaks, yucca and cacti; dozens of yellow mounds, the aprons of burrows excavated by adult gopher tortoises, dotted the horizon…My guide, Dirk Stevenson, a field herpetologist with The Orianne Society, inventories and monitors populations of these snakes throughout southern Georgia. Dirk mentioned that, starting around late October, the “snake-hunting” gets pretty interesting in these environs, as the diamondbacks and the indigos, both migratory species that may roam up to several miles from these austere ridges in search of richer feeding grounds, pilgrimage back to the safe and cozy refugia of the deep tortoise burrows. One will sometimes spot a fresh smear as wide as a man’s boot across the sand trail at this time – the track of an adult diamondback or indigo.

I had the pleasure of being in the field with some very knowledgeable, good-natured people. There of course was Dirk Stevenson, a herpetologist of distinction and repute. Frankie Snow, who is an academic in the truest of form; he is both an archaeologist and an accomplished naturalist. Frankie and I talked of subjects ranging from Spanish Conquistadors to the now extinct in the wild Franklinia (Franklinia alatamaha). Lastly, there was David Jones. David had the honor of snake hunting with Carl Kauffeld in his youth. David works in restoration of native southeastern plants. I can only imagine how much native vegetation he has seen dwindle and disappear in his lifetime. I could not have asked for finer company as I sought to see my first wild indigo snake. My spirits were high as we headed into the interior of a large tract of longleaf pine —turkey oak sand hill under a clear cerulean sky.

David and Frankie walked off down a narrow cut; a sandy trail leading to a xeric ridge, and I followed close behind. They took quick notice of a gopher tortoise burrow, slightly obscured by some wiregrass and a few dead sticks. I noticed the pair was looking at something, and curious to see what the experienced men had found, I joined them. Frankie was talking to David about the burrow as I walked up, then in mid sentence he said: “there is the indigo”. He pointed and my eyes quickly followed and met with an enormous, fast moving, black form slithering among the deadfall and heading straight for the burrow. My pulse quickened. I reacted and immediately thrust my grasping hands through the tangled branches and gripped the snake’s latter portion. Frankie encouraged me to gently untangle the snakes fore body, which it was using very effectively to anchor itself. I could hardly contain my excitement as I tried working the snake loose from the scrub. Finally, with one hand holding near the tail and the other working to unravel the snake, I eventually freed the titan serpent from its cover.

I was overcome with an excitement that expressed itself as shaking knees and an indelible smile. The weight and strength of the indigo snake was comparable to any large boid of equal length, but with the speed and agility of Pantherophis. I could see why this snake is called “Emperor”. The moment was surreal; I held the snake skyward and witnessed the scales glimmer in the sunlight. Nothing reveals the beauty of a snake’s true color like unfiltered sunlight, and the indigo is truly one of the most brilliantly illuminated unicolor snake species that I have seen. There was a splash of red at the tip of the rostrum as well as a speckling of red on the throat and bottom jaw.

Dirk soon arrived on scene upon hearing the excitement, and I reluctantly handed the snake over to him so that I could freely search for my camera. I dug into my bag and pulled out my Canon and began taking pictures of Dirk with the first indigo of our trip. Dirk and Frankie must have seen hundreds of indigos during their surveys, but I could see by the look on their faces that they were equally as excited as I was. I was the scribe for this trip, so I recorded species count, sex, snout-vent and total length, mass, PIT tag code, whether or not the snake was a recapture, time of capture, and GPS coordinates for Dirk. I had the honor of setting the snake free; it slipped eagerly out of my hand like rapidly paid rope, and liquid soot vanished into the burrow.

We constantly referred to a set of topographical maps that Dirk carried, and after briefly discussing property boundaries and preferable search areas, we set off on foot down a soft, sugary sand road. We radiated out into the pine forest, and the warm December morning having already produced one indigo, kept each man holding his breath for the next one. I wandered off toward a few burrows I spotted at a distance by noticing the contrast in color between the burrow aprons and surrounding vegetation; it is a visual tactic I am used to using in the mountains to spot rocks. However, they produced no indigos, so I sought after Dirk and the crew.

I spotted another set of burrows in the pines that looked promising, so I headed for them. I approached quietly, peered along the grassy perimeter of the hole, scanned the apron for evidence of serpent egress, but saw nothing. I almost walked away, but after scanning the ground some ten feet from the burrow, I caught sight of a large black snake coiled perfectly atop a carpet of pine needles. I called out to the group with excitement, “INDIGO, INDIGO, coiled in situ in the pine straw!” I immediately went down to my knees, slipped my pack off and quickly dug out my camera. I crept up to the coiled snake with my camera held at my aiming eye, and snapped a few shots before the snake unraveled and bolted. I followed suit and caught the big male before it found the burrow. However, the glory of my life’s first indigo spot and capture was short lived. Frankie spotted another one only 20 yards distant from my own, and coiled in much the same fashion in bright splashes of morning sun. Dirk was quick on his feet and caught the third indigo of the day in only an hour’s time. It was only 11:18 in the morning!

Dirk Stevenson gave me a first rate indigo snake natural history lesson in one of the greatest classroom settings possible for a student of nature - the wild out of doors. A few bits of shed skin was discovered just feet from the indigo that I found, and Dirk explained to me that it looked to be from a female and that our male was most likely courting her down in the burrow. Dirk sent me a picture some months prior to our having met in the field, of a male indigo with the unmistakable dentition markings from another powerful colubrid on its neck. The tissue-deep U shaped wound could have only been inflicted by another indigo snake, and this was showing us that indigos would resort to biting during combat. Dirk and I looked over the two males, but found no obvious bite marks. Despite a few old scars, these two snakes were in great shape. During the examination one of the males musked, a smell I affectionately call the dragon reek (after Tolkien’s dragons), and it lingered through the rest of the day – a phantom reminder that indigos crawl in December.

It was now near one in the afternoon, and David had gone for home leaving just Dirk, Frankie, and myself. We were exploring a different region of the vast property, a xeric ridge bisected by a gas line and power line and then terminating at a clear cut. Dirk wasn’t long searching among ideal habitat before he called out he had found an indigo. I sprang into action when I saw the snake was quickly moving toward a nearby burrow. I slid up to the snake on my knees, and as gently as possible, I caught her and carried her to Dirk for processing.

This was the fourth snake of the day, and it was a beautiful, six foot female; she was a lustrous iridescence. Dirk presented me with a view of the vent and subcaudal scales, and then proceeded to explain characteristics in tail shape and structure of a female indigo snake versus a male. There were bits of shed skin lying near by, from what looked like multiple snakes of different sexes. Dirk grabbed one piece and, remaining true to his professorship, he explained how it is possible to tell the gender of a Drymarchon couperi by examining dorsal scales along the backbone. In males, there is a short keel, or a dash that does not quite span the length of an individual scale; female indigo snakes have smooth – more feminine scales.

Dirk encouraged Frankie and I to continue searching a perimeter, since he expected a male to be near by. After a lengthy walk among many burrows, we found no other snakes sitting on the surface. It was two in the afternoon and surprisingly hot. One sound that was eerily missing in the heat was the piercing, undulating buzz of the cicada. Despite the beautiful weather, a thorough search of other sections of the monitoring site, this was to remain a four indigo day. I left the woods that day with a great air of pride. I felt proud that Georgia is home to such an iconic reptile as the eastern indigo, and proud that I was able to seek them out and discover them in the freedom of the South Georgia out of doors.

There is a common saying in herp conservation: “it isn’t just the charismatic megafauna that are in need of saving”. I have no idea where it came from, where or when I first heard it, but it alludes to the daunting challenge presented to conservationist working to save wildlife that the majority of people would rather do without. Biologists with The Orianne Society, a pioneering group that champions the conservation of native snakes through research, habitat management, captive breeding and environmental education, are dedicated to the recovery of the eastern indigo snake population in the wild. The Orianne Society manages a preserve, the Orianne Society Indigo Snake Preserve (or OISP), which is a one of a kind management area and a sanctuary for numerous wildlife species dependent upon the longleaf pine ecosystem and the xeric sand ridge community. To learn more about the work the Orianne Society is doing please visit their website, and consider becoming a member of this exceptional conservation group.

Zoo Med Laboratories SZMRT500R Repti Temp Thermostat With Probe

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Escape: When Going Unseen Fails


This is an amalgamation of observations made from the 2012 season: The behavior seen in this video is representative of 90% of my experience approaching timber rattlesnakes in the field for observation; they will either slowly uncoil and slink away quietly beneath a favored shelter stone, or they slither to safety while rattling at the same time. However, rattling is an inherently risky behavior; it is a dinner bell to some while serving to incite aggression from others. Rattling is beneficial for a rattlesnake when dealing with a potential or immanent trampling threat, it is largely accepted that the rattle evolved during the Pleistocene when plentiful megafauna posed a crushing threat to a camouflaged (basking or ambush ready) rattlesnake. The rattle is an imposing sound and suffices to warn other animals of the snake’s whereabouts when the threat of retaliation is little to none.

Biting a non-food item is possibly the most expensive of potential outcomes for the snake. Venom takes time and metabolism to recover after spending it on a defensive reaction that could have been avoided if the snake was silent. This is likely the reason why some snakebites result in no venom being delivered in what is known as a dry bite. The metabolism involved in recouping wasted venom would be much better served developing embryos in a vitellogenic female, recovering from a wound, growth and ecdysis, osmoregulation, respiring, or securing a meal. It is because of the two aforementioned consequences that a rattlesnake prefers to rely on camouflage or a stealthy escape instead of bringing unnecessary and potentially costly attention to itself. I can literally count on one hand the amount of times a timber rattlesnake I was simply observing has attempted to bite me, and that is a generous estimate.

This video illustrates the behavior assumed by timber rattlesnakes when approached. None of these snakes were touched, moved, or otherwise messed with in any way. What is seen in this video is a mix between silent escape, flight while simultaneously rattling, and in once instance when a snake was fully exposed, there is a sort of hybridization between defensive and offensive readiness as the snake quickly escapes backwards into a nearby shelter. Also, in the previous video, I showed baby timber rattlesnakes emerging, basking, and adjusting themselves. The last clip of this video is the end of that scene, which shows the coiled neonate literally jump down into its shelter as I approached to retrieve my camcorder. This video clearly illustrates that if there is a way to avoid a threat, then the snake will favor escape above standing its ground.

Penn Plax REPSH2 Large Classic Glass Snake Cage

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Cautious Egress

Observation made August 26th, 2012. The first neonate to emerge from the shelter stone took a full four minutes to come out into the sun, and then another 10 minutes to fully leave its refugia. The original video footage is 25 minutes long, during which two baby horridus weave in and out of dappled sunlight trying to get comfortable. Something that has fascinated me for quite some time now is timber rattlesnake ethology, or their natural behavior, and I decided to start carrying a video recorder with me in the field. I quickly realized that just approaching and trying to film the snakes laying out would yield little, if any, footage of their natural behavior. So as quietly and respectfully as possible, I would approach familiar laying out spots, set my video recorder on the ground in as best a location as possible, and walk away hoping for the best. The original film was about 25 minutes long, which is condensed here. On my approach, the babies scurried away (some literally jumped [film coming soon]),but they were not long away in their hole before the desire to thermoregulate drew them back out again. Their re-emergence into the sun is what is seen here in this video.

Zoo Med Laboratories - Reptile Halogen Bulb 100 Watt - HB-100)