We were only able to pay a quick visit to our favorite rattlesnake nest sites in 2013, but it was a very productive trip. As always, we were greeted by familiar faces, one in particular a delightful surprise.
In most snakes, we’re missing some basic information: How long do they live? How old are they when they start reproducing? It’s impossible to precisely age a snake by appearance alone, even rattlesnakes (it’s only possible to estimate a rattlesnake’s age using the size and shape of their rattle). Few studies are long enough to track snakes from birth to death or even maturity because money and/or interest runs out. And many snakes are too small to track as juveniles using the usual methods, like radio-telemetry. So we could only guess when one of our baby AZ black rattlesnakes would return to nest.
When we arrived at the nest sites this year, the first snake we spotted was a small (=young) female sitting near a newborn. We didn’t immediately recognize her as a mother who used this spot before, so we studied her pattern. And it was ZONA!?!
You can read Zona’s story here, but briefly, Zona was one of the first snakes in our study. We first observed her in May 2010, her first spring, hunting a few meters from this nest site. She put in appearances at the den in Spring 2011 and 2012.
Now here she sits, a 4 year old rattlesnake with a newborn. Is this Zona’s first baby? While we can’t say for sure, she had the thin appearance of a snake that has recently given birth (post-parturient) and she was guarding the same baby both days we saw her. We also don’t know if Zona was born here, but again it seems likely.
Ah, snakes… Always more questions than answers, but that’s why they’re fun!
For more on parental care in rattlesnakes…