By Nick Cairns, Sam Jaques and Graham Rothwell
We need to locate the hibernacula used by snakes in the badlands area in and around the east block of Grasslands National Park to understand the local biology of these cryptic and interesting creatures. However, due to the aforementioned crypsis, we need an insider; enter our Judas snake*.
The first and so far only bull snake we have captured in this area will hopefully lead us to others of his kind, but not without a bit of technology. Yesterday he had a radio transmitter implanted by a very talented surgeon.
First he had to be anesthetized so he would not be in pain and so he would be still. However due to slow respiration rates and metabolisms, snakes are not as readily affected by gas as mammals, so Graham found himself holding the snake in the mask for some time.
Anesthetics were followed by a quick and efficient surgery to implant the tag...
a few stitches and good as new.
We would be remiss to not take advantage of a groggy and malleable snake to observe the pre-glottal keel that characterizes the genus Pituophis. This projection in front wind pipe produces the emphysemic hiss produced by these snakes as a defensive display and gave them the name Pitu (from the latin pituitarius for phlegm or mucus) and ophis(greek for snake or serpents) or the phlegmy snakes.
This snake has recovered well and will be returned to his point of capture as soon as the roads dry up enough to get him out there. Hopefully following him will inform us of the day to day activities of a local bull snake and ultimately lead us to a hibernaculum.
Many thanks to Dr. Tracy Fisher for her expertise and professionalism while organizing and conducting this surgery.
*A snake used to locate other snakes is called a “Judas snake” by scientists.