Goodbye to a friend

Chris, 10 October 2011.

It is with a heavy heart that I report the death of one of our snakes, Chris (male Arizona black rattlesnake). While I love all of the rattlesnakes at Muleshoe, Chris has a special place in my heart because he was the first Arizona black rattlesnake I found here (from The Arizona black rattlesnakes trickle in…):

One week to go and we haven’t found any Arizona black rattlesnakes yet (remember, we wanted six). The clock is ticking.

On the afternoon of 26 September, I hiked downstream in hot springs wash and didn’t see another snake for hours. This is such a beautiful place, it is difficult to be disappointed by not seeing any snakes.

At about 5pm, it was time to turn around and head back in defeat. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a jet black little disk under a fallen log. Finally, our first Arizona black!

First encounter with Chris, 26 September 2011.

Since coming out of his den in early April, Chris has been a busy bee. He headed straight for hot springs wash and was in a new spot nearly every time we tracked him. He crossed the wash at least three times and that behavior may be what killed him. Moving is dangerous business for snakes as it makes them easier for predators to see (think about your encounters with wild snakes, were those snakes more often moving or sitting in cover? Also see Bonnet et al. 1998).

Monday (21 May) morning Jeff tracked Chris into a thickly vegetated area adjacent to hot springs wash. As he was carefully trying to locate Chris without getting too close, Jeff spotted red, and knew we had lost him. Only a little bit of bone and his radio transmitter were left. Nature doesn’t waste and every bit of Chris had been eaten by his predator or scavengers that came along after. No one wants to see that, so here are some of my favorite photos of Chris:

October 2011: his favorite habitat along hot springs wash.
April 2012: my first glance of Chris this year.
May 2012: my last look at Chris a week ago.

Rest in peace, my friend

melissa

Further reading:

Bonnet, X., G. Naulleau, and R. Shine. 1998. The dangers of leaving home: dispersal and mortality in snakes. Biological Conservation 89: 39-50.