Arizona Black Rattlesnakes at Muleshoe Ranch

On our way to the 2013 Field Herpetology course at the Southwest Research Station, Dr. Emily Taylor, Matt Holding, and myself took a side adventure to look for rattlesnakes. Our destination: Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area in southeastern Arizona.

Muleshoe is operated by Melissa Amarello and Jeff Smith, who both do some fascinating work tracking rattlesnakes and documenting the secret habits of these cool creatures. Muleshoe is absolutely crawling with rattlesnakes, as evidenced by our first hour of looking around:

Two professionals doing there thing: Matt Holding (left) and Jeff Smith (right)
Within the first ten minutes, we had already found a beautiful male Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus) that Jeff and Melissa wanted to capture to insert a radio transmitter. These devices are surgically inserted into the snake and provide a way to track an individual without causing any harm to the animal.

Within a few hundred meters, we crossed the remaining rattlesnakes in the area off the list.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) sitting on a nice large pile of horse poop.
Woo-hoo! Arizona Black Rattlesnake (Crotalus cerberus)
I’ve never been anywhere that had such a diversity of rattlesnakes in such a small area. Despite our lazy attempts at finding snakes, we stumbled into them left and right.

Want to come and look for snakes with us? Give it a try:
Above is some of the typical man-made habitat that is associated with old ranches. Great for attracting small mammals and small mammals are great for attracting snakes. See anything in that photo?

Take a step closer:

Here she is, a female Arizona Black Rattlesnake:


What a great spot to relax and wait for a fat mouse to walk by!

Muleshoe provided some great examples of how secretive and non-aggressive most rattlesnakes are. Although we observed more than ten rattlesnakes in a couple days, never once did a snake shake its rattle or behave aggressively. These animals rely on staying hidden, and will usually remain still and silent unless harassed. Here is another example of what a rattlesnake looks like naturally:

Matt and I were looking at the lizards scurrying along the fence in the above photo when Matt spotted a snake hidden in plain site. 

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)
Finally, Melissa was kind enough to break out her antennae and track one of the Arizona Black Rattlesnakes. After looking for only a few minutes, we found him crossing a river wash.

Here’s “Bane”, the largest Arizona Black Rattlesnake that is currently being observed by Melissa and Jeff. Bane is a pretty formidable snake, and he had an agenda when we located him. We followed him for a bit while he cruised along, and he couldn’t have cared less about our presence. As he disappeared into some thick brush, we were left wondering where he was headed. Was he looking for a meal, a mate, or something else? 

It is a rare thing for people to be as connected to a landscape and its animals like Jeff and Melissa are connected to Muleshoe and the rattlesnakes there. The work they do takes a great amount of time and effort, but also lets scientists learn some very important aspects of these animals’ lives. Keep track of what Bane and the other snakes are up to by following SocialSnakes on their blog and on Facebook.

Next stop for us: The Southwest Research Station and Field Herpetology 2013

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