Today we present a guest post from friend and #SnakeHero, Jeff Servoss:
I share a rather depressing story about one of the most ecologically unique snake species in North America, the narrow-headed gartersnake (Thamnophis rufipunctatus). I’ve spent the last three years of my career conducting secondary research on the status of this species, culminating with its listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014. The narrow-headed gartersnake is a fish-eating specialist which forages in clear, rocky streams at mid- to high-elevations across the Mogollon Rim of Arizona and New Mexico. Using its long, prehensile tail to anchor itself to cobble or other substrates on the stream bottom, it lies in wait for fish to come near, and strikes with surprising accuracy – all underwater.
Once formerly well-distributed within several subbasins within the Gila River watershed, only a small handful of (likely) viable populations persist. Those familiar with the plight of native fish and other aquatic vertebrates in the American Southwest (over 60% of Arizona’s native fish species are listed as threatened or endangered), should not be surprised by the decline and eventual listing of this fascinating creature. The #1 threat to the narrow-headed gartersnake and all native aquatic vertebrates is the predation by and competition with harmful nonnative species (spiny-rayed fish, brown trout, catfish, crayfish, bullfrogs) that are directly or indirectly associated with recreational sport-fishing and harvest (bullfrog introduced in the 1920’s for sport (frog legs)). Only strong political will from the public can reverse this downward trajectory of our natural aquatic heritage. Close seconds, climate change-driven drought and wildfire (interrelated to one another) also threaten the continued existence of this species. The individual here is from the Tularosa River, a tributary to the San Francisco River in New Mexico.