Pretty in Pink

28 April:  Molly basks briefly before leaving the security of the den to fulfill what is on every rattlesnake’s mind: the first meal of the year. It’s been over seven months since they’ve last had a chance to eat, so they’re probably quite hungry.

Molly comes out first and coils on the left. The snake on the right is Freckle, another young adult female.

Fortunately, they need not travel far, at least at first; there’s an abundance of lizards, birds, and small mammals active around the dens when the snakes emerge in spring. Molly first moves to a rock about 6 meters south of the den entrance and sits in an ambush posture for a couple of hours before retiring for the evening.

The next day, after basking in the morning sun, we find her moving among branches and rocks, and take the opportunity to swab some pink paint on her rattle using a telescoping fishing rod. Although we are able to use blotch pattern irregularities to identify individuals, a little paint on the rattle further facilitates future identification. She appears unperturbed by this, and continues her meandering to a rock several meters further from the den. Over the next two days we see Molly using the same rock for hunting by day and shelter by night.

7 May:  Molly is nowhere to be found. In the spot where Molly was last seen is the unmistakable reek of skunk. While humans may perceive rattlesnakes as fierce predators, they are killed and eaten by a variety of birds and mammals, including skunks. While waiting for her first meal, did Molly fall prey to a skunk?

12 May:  We spot Molly on the west side of the den, stretched out in leaf litter, poking around in the leaves with her snout. At first the behavior seems quite unusual, but then we notice a long, smooth, tail poking out of the leaves.

We are then able to capture on video a rare observation of a snake feeding in the wild and thus document the first reported predation of a Gilbert’s Skink (Plestiodon gilberti) by an Arizona black rattlesnake.

An after dinner yawn:
To see more pictures of Molly, click here