Unisexual Ambystoma

Unisexual Ambystoma

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Field Herpetology at the Southwest Research Station (Part 1)

We are three days through the 2013 Field Herpetology course at the Southwest Research Station. Whew, what a whirlwind this course is for the second year in a row. We have students from all over the country: college students, retired doctors, government contractors, and environmental consultants. 

I've been busy tweeting some of our activities, but need a place to show you some of the photos of the class at work and the animals we are finding. So here ya go.

A handsome Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus):

Dr. Carol Simon gives a seminar on the natural history of the Chiricahua Mountains:

My main man Dr. Steve Mullin describing the sexual differences between kingsnakes:

Here is a group of endangered Chiricahua Leopard Frogs (Lithobates chiricaheunsis):

Here is Matt Holding demonstrating to the field herpetology students and local residents how scientists safely transport and restrain venomous snakes:

Dr. Emily Taylor and Matt Holding implant a radio transmitter in a Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus):

My favorite rattlesnake: The Rock Rattlesnake (C. lepidus)!

A really nice find from night driving was a pair of Desert Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis splendida). She was no doubt cruising around looking for a nice rattlesnake meal. 

One of our first field trips was to Granite Gap, an area in Arizona know for having both a beautiful community of cactus and a thriving population of Gila Monsters (Heloderma suspectum).

And here is the star of the show. Worth all of the heavy hiking, for sure.

Gila Monster relaxing center-middle.

Monday, July 29, 2013

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Data or Art?

"Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance III" (1952) by Ellsworth Kelly
I stumbled upon this really neat post on Jim Davenport's blog, If We Assume: Data or Art?

Us scientists now have so many tools at our disposal to visualize data in new and interesting ways. While box and whisker plots may never go out of style, check out some of the sites below to find fascinating graphs, plots, charts, and more.

From Gong et al. (2011) PNAS

Wired magazine: Data as Art: 10 Striking Science Maps

The sub-reddit "Data is Beautiful"

This all-time classic talk from Hans Rosling, "Stats that reshape your worldview"

Information is Beautiful makes some very nice infographics that are pleasing to the eye

Data is beautiful on twitter

Do you have any other resources for finding beautiful, beautiful data visualization? Send 'em my way.