Snaking has gotten quite a bit slower since our last blog entry, with our snake count now at 37 (with 25 Bullsnakes and 12 Yellow-bellied Racers). With the warmer weather our snakes have been spending quite a bit of time out of the heat in their burrows. Even though we have not been catching many new snakes, we’ve still been having a ton of fun tracking the snake gang and continuing our adventures in snaking!
Otto swallowing a ground squirrel.
One morning, we were out tracking Otto the Bullsnake in a pasture and we noticed him from a distance, sitting on a hill. We thought he looked contorted and a bit unusual, so we walked around him to the get a better look. It turns out that he was chowing down on a ground squirrel! He had the ground squirrel wrapped in his coils and was in the process of swallowing it whole. The whole process of swallowing his prey did not take long. Soon Otto was slithering away into the pasture, with a full belly. (One of the reasons the farmers in the Big Muddy enjoy having the snakes around is because they help control rodents, including ground squirrels.)
Otto after completely swallowing the ground squirrel.
In the past month we have also captured our first pregnant Yellow-bellied Racer: Luna. We had taken her to the veterinary clinic in Regina to get her implanted with a radio-transmitter, and that was when we discovered she was pregnant! By running our fingers firmly along her belly, we could feel six eggs. Hopefully in the late summer/early fall we will start to see little baby racers (and bullsnakes) roaming around the Big Muddy. Here's a fun fact: Baby snakes are called neonates.
Tera holding Luna, the pregnant Yellow-bellied Racer.
In the past week we’ve captured our first Smooth Green Snake of the season. These snakes are incredibly tiny and very green, which means they can camouflage very well in the grass. This little fella was sitting on the highway when we spotted him. We slammed on our brakes, whipped the car around, and Leagh had to do a full on dive, head first across the highway, to snag him before he slithered away!
Leagh with her capture: Kermit, the Smooth Green Snake.
Finally, Brutus was our most recent Bullsnake capture (number 25), and he reminded us of the predation risks faced by bullsnakes. Though they are the largest snakes in Canada, many mammals and avian predators prey on bullsnakes. Brutus’s injury was quite large, with the skin missing from a part of his body and the muscle exposed. We are not too sure what happened to him or what got a hold of him. Though his wound was fairly fresh, Brutus was as feisty as ever when we captured him and reminded us of Nagini’s first capture.
Brutus the Bullsnake and his fresh wound.
One of the things we’ve been noticing about our snakes in the Big Muddy is that they move shorter distances than the snakes that have been previously observed in Grasslands National Park. Both the bullsnakes’ and racers’ movements over the summer have been within a relatively small area (within 1 km or less for most). We are very excited to see what the fall may bring for tracking, as we will be able to determine where our snakes overwinter in the Big Muddy Valley!
Although summer may be half over, we are still hopeful that we'll see more snakes in our future excursions.