Sunday, November 24, 2013

Utah Milk Snake

The Utah Milk Snake is the most beautiful thing that you can find in the wild anywhere in the entire world. I must warn anyone that has even a mild interest in reptiles to turn away quickly and never gaze upon this creature again. The Utah Milk Snake is a ghost that haunts my thoughts and dreams and wastes a lot of my time and I can't get it to stop. I gave up on this blog over 3 years ago and the fact that I am even writing this post is proof of the continuing obsession. Is the Utah Milk Snake my favorite Utah snake? Definitely not, but this milk snake sub species has me captive and there is nothing I can do about it. I have looked directly into the eyes of medusa and it is too late for me. Don't let this happen to you. The first Utah Milk Snakes that I found were purely accidental. Dumb luck! I didn't even know what I was finding. My thought was Utah Mountain Kingsnakes because of the elevation. I also thought that they were juveniles because I had obtained some old literature on Utah Milk Snakes that said they were supposed to reach 3 feet in length. Actually, I think that 25 inches is as big as they get. Either that or I am only finding younger ones. The early information also showed a range map that included nearly 1/3 of the state of Utah in a solid/continuous range area. Looking back on that range map makes me laugh. I once assumed myself that if these milk snakes were found in two adjacent areas and that there was similar terrain in between the areas, then you could just connect the dots. That is not the case. I have worked the areas in between really hard in the right conditions and for reasons unknown to me I have failed miserably to find them while the other areas produce somewhat consistently. I prefer to flip stones to find Utah Milk Snakes. Flipping stones gives me a feeling of being in control. Also, there is a lot of great habitat that can only be flipped. The snake is a bit difficult to find, even in a known area in perfect conditions. I think that this is a large part of it's appeal, never mind the gorgeous colors. Ancient Utah tribal people lived where the Utah Milk Snake lived. Utah Milk Snake colors and patterns can be seen in the weavings of these former Utah inhabitants. Is this just a coincidence, or were these people acquainted with the Utah Milk Snake? I think it is possible that there may have been some ancient Utahns that had an interest in this beautiful little snake. Field herping is much more interesting than sitting around making arrowheads. The ancient Utahns are long gone, but the snake still remains.

Note:  I do not claim to be a Utah Milk Snake guru. Also, don't contact me for information to find them. Don't ask for "habitat shots", etc. Those are sensitive subjects and giving out info to those that might come collect snakes would not be fair to the snakes or those that have given pointers.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Black Widow vs. Scorpion

Just in case anyone was wondering if a black widow was tougher than a scorpion, this was something interesting that was found earlier this year while snake hunting. This photo shows what happens when a scorpion gets together with a black widow spider. The scorpion becomes just another meal. In this area, it is extremely common to find black widows with abdomens the size of quarters. The first time I found a black widow this large, my heart started pounding and I checked my clothes repeatedly to make sure I didn't have one on me, but now we have become used to finding them and have very little fear of them.

The scorpion is just a lesser arachnid and becomes hollowed-out web discard:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Great Basin Rattle Snake By Request

My cousins were out here the other day. One was telling me of some alligators he caught back home recently, but he also mentioned that he had never seen a live rattle snake. He lives right in the middle of palmetto habitat, so I don't know how that is possible, but I immediately made it my goal to find him a live one. We would have only 45 minutes of searching after the sun went down before he had to be somewhere. The first snake we would find would be a gopher snake that was trying to absorb some heat. My cousins liked the gopher snake. This one didn't hiss or get tough with us and was calmer than some of my pet snakes.

After looking for a while, I started to wonder. Then I took a separate trail and almost immediately found what we were looking for. His first ever live rattle snake was a Great Basin Rattle Snake. The rattle snake was very calm. It never rattled and only held this defensive posture for a few seconds after I kept blocking it's escape.

When the rattle snake was on the ground, it was hard to see it, but it had 2 distinct prey lumps. They were easier to see with the snake suspended over a stick.

Kangaroo rats were most likely what the snake had eaten. We saw quite a few of these guys hopping around. Kangaroo rats never need to drink water their entire lives. They have special kidneys that allow them to survive on only the moisture from things that they eat. I have no idea what purpose the super-long tail serves. Really, the tail encumbers the rat (mouse) and makes them easy to catch.

We saw some of these hairy scorpions in the same area:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Canyon Tree Frog Behavior:

This is a canyon tree frog exactly as we found it on a warm, nearly vertical canyon wall.

The canyon tree frog exactly matches it's surroundings because it is covered in the same sand that is also covering the rock. Is the frog intelligent enough to camouflage itself by rolling around in the sand, or does the frog's natural behavior just provide this perfect sand camouflage without the frog even realizing it?

The canyon tree frog looked much cooler after my neice poured some creek water on it and revealed it's spotted pattern.

We found a lot of red spotted toads in the same area. There were also leopard frogs in the same area, but to get photos of more than just their eyes and noses with horrible reflections, I would have had to damage some habitat.

Toads do not ever have to submerge in water to keep their skin healthy. They have super absorbant skin on their rear-ends that can absorb any little bit of moisture that they sit on.

A couple tiny toads that recently transitioned from water to land:

This is a chorus frog. These are the frogs that are often heard and seldom seen. They are classified as tree frogs, but are usually found at the edge of bodies of water

I have found that chorus frogs are very calm and will eat moving insects right out of your hand. This one is a female:

A light rain brought out hundreds (maybe thousands) of tiger salamanders on this night. The road was turning gray in one area with salamander guts because so many were getting smashed. My son and a friend jumped out to save some, but it was a futile effort because more were coming onto the road than could be removed. Stopping on the road nearly got us hit and also attracted a sheriff's deputy, who questioned us for a while. I explained about the salamanders and the gray salamander guts all over his tires and what that nasty popping noise was as he was unknowingly running over so many salamanders. He took my license, ran our plates, and then told us to get out of the road. I took a few shots before he made us leave:

Another shot of the same group of live ones:

This one was really cool looking:

The large one in this shot is albino:

Seeing hundreds of tiger salamanders smashed in the road like that was horrible.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Western Toads

Toads are really cool creatures. They're a lot less slimy than frogs, but they seem to have a never-ending supply of pee when you pick them up. A close-up shot of a western toad reveals some cool markings. The black and gold pattern in their eyes is awesome.

A light rain while road cruising brought out dozens of these, even in areas far away from any body of water.

The toads were content to sit on hands.

A group photo was a lot trickier:


We found a lot of cool things this night, but the toads were the most entertaining to my son.


Let me get back to the bugs.


Toads don't really give you warts.


Getting 2 toads to pose isn't too difficult.


Three requires a little work.


Six active toads was as many as I could try to photo.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Gopher Snakes in Rock Piles

A common but spectacular sight in Utah Valley:

We tried our luck with some rock piles:

The cactus flowers were worth a look:

In each of the many

colors:

This was a breeding pair of gopher snakes. They were copulating when found and then decided to take off in different directions when they saw us. Both of these gopher snakes were about 5 feet long.

Judging by their huge heads, these were really old gopher snakes. The male, being held on the right, had girth like a python.

Another pose with the well-fed couple:

We made sure they escaped in the same direction:

Both didn't quite fit in this hiding spot:

Some of the scenery. We also observed a juvenile hawk being chased away from a high cliff nest repeatedly. It was complaining loudly and kept trying to return to the nest, which probably had this year's chicks in it. We were fortunate to have found any snakes in this small canyon with a hawks' nest overlooking almost every part of the rock slides.

This is the first bat that I have ever flipped. It literally scared the pee out of it:

The bat made some of the most unusual noises that I have ever heard. I thought that bats hung out in groups and in caves.

I put the thing back by the bark to allow it to climb back in and it gave us a bat farewell.

We stumbled upon 2 fawns:

These fawns froze and wouldn't move a muscle:

The fawns wouldn't even flee when approached:

It was cool to be able to pet wild fawns, but

then we wondered if the mom would abandon them because of our scent.