Saturday, September 29, 2012

Neonate Timber Rattlesnakes

As many of you know I've been working with Dr. Mark Mills of MWSU on a rattlesnake survey on one of the farms my husbands family owns. We've been P.I.T. tagging rattlesnakes for 2 seasons. Nearly two weeks ago my brother-in-law found a neonate (newborn) rattlesnake hiding under a piece of tin. He did not capture it thinking we weren't interested in tagging the babies. Little did he know it was the babies we are the most interested in tagging. I made a quick trip to the farm, and by the time I got there it was nearly dark. I prayed the snake would still be where he had found it, but had doubts as three hours had already passed. I grabbed a flashlight, my bag and my snake tongs. I flipped over the piece of tin and voila! The snake WAS still there. Such a beautiful little snake. I called Dr. Mills and told him what I had, and he was as excited as I was at the opportunity to tag a newborn.
We agreed to meet at 10:00 AM the next day and process the snake.

(Mark measuring the neonate)
(Safely contained in a snake tube)

This snake measured 15.5 inches in length, weighed 1.36 ounces and is a female. She has one little button and rattle which tells us she has shed once. The average size of newborn timber rattlesnakes is 9 to 13 inches. So this snake is considerably larger than that. Our hypothesis is that this snake was born earlier than is typical for this species. Perhaps sometime the end of July or first of August. We know it is a neonate as the umbilical scar is still visible.

(Umbilical scar)

We released this little darling back to the piece of tin where she was found after P.I.T. tagging her. We took some time and searched the area for additional litter mates to this snake. We did not locate a single other snake of any kind.

Ten days later I was at the farm looking for snakes and found another neonate under the exact same piece of tin. I suspected it was probably the same snake we tagged previously, but decided to capture it anyway. I took it into work with me and called Dr. Mills. He met me at the office and we went to one of MWSU biology labs. He ran his scanner over the snake and it had no tag in it!!!! This was a new snake!!! We were so excited to have another neonate and most likely a litter mate to the one from 10 days ago. We measured her at 16.1 inches and she weighed 1.94 ounces. Again it is a female. We P.I.T. tagged her and I ran back to the farm and released her back to hiding spot. This is such an awesome opportunity for us to be able to tag not one, but two neonates. The data that we can potentially get from these snakes is invaluable. I can hardly wait to see how they do on their own.

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