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Ménage à trois (part 2)

Thursday, August 11, 2011


(if you haven't already, see part 1)

When we left our 3 gophersnakes, Bluto had just interrupted courtship between Popeye and Olive Oyl and was biting Popeye repeatedly along his body. Popeye released his bite-grip on Olive Oyl and she fled so fast that we were unable to follow. Bluto continued biting Popeye, making him to wince but not retaliate. Instead, Popeye seeks refuge in a nearby burrow. In his fervid biting, Bluto barely notices that Popeye has escaped, actually biting himself a couple times by mistake. Finally realizing that his competitor is sidelined, Bluto resumes searching for Olive Oyl, who had a 2 ½ minute head start.

Bluto appears to be in a hurry, and while he initially showed brief reactions to close encounters with us, he no longer expresses concern. He flicks his tongue almost continuously, halting almost imperceptibly several times a second to deliver particles into his mouth. Undoubtedly, Bluto is following traces of Olive Oyl, but apparently her trail is not clear. He travels in wide loops, backtracks, and even ascends a pine tree. Perhaps Olive Oyl has passed through this area more than once. And the wind must make his search even harder!

Popeye’s urges can wait no longer. We find him peering from the burrow only 3 minutes after entering. After five more minutes, he locates Olive Oyl’s scent trail, and heads off in the same direction as the other two.

He appears to be a little more careful than Bluto, pausing to hone in on the path ahead. We try to keep tabs on both males as they move about, but we are distracted by a beautiful rattlesnake and Popeye slips away.


After about an hour Popeye reappears, coming within just a few meters of Bluto. He appears to pass Bluto, and we again lose him as he cruises on through the vegetation. Finally, at 1417, 80 minutes after we last saw her, we find Olive Oyl being courted by Popeye on open ground beneath a tree, 113 meters NE of their roadside rendezvous (see part 1). Moments later, Bluto finds the pair, Olive Oyl slips away, and conflict begins anew.

In a repeat of part 1, Popeye is first to find and court Olive Oyl, but they are interrupted by latecomer Bluto, and the female flees. With an enduring calm, Popeye once again slips from Bluto's sway.

To be concluded...

Desert Dining

Thursday, August 4, 2011


On a humid Sonoran Desert evening we met up with Roger Repp and Gordon Schuett at their study site along with some old friends from near and far. Wandering the washes, we find a juvenile desert rodent stumbling out of a hackberry bush into the dry stream channel. It turns at our approach and manages a couple of hops away before spiraling onto one side. While at first we attribute its ungainly locomotion to its youth or perhaps being blinded by a flashlight, it soon becomes clear: its situation is dire.

Six minutes after encountering the rodent, we spot a tiger rattlesnake (Crotalus tigris) emerge from the bushes about 10 meters downstream. It’s a beautiful male with a long, intact rattle, and he’s intent on finding his meal. This next video clip shows him scent trailing his prey.

Tiger rattlesnake venom is extremely potent, and this one knows his prey couldn’t get far. His search is slow but methodical; he may turn away momentarily, but he is quick to correct course and close in on his meal. In the following video, the tiger passes very close to the rodent, visible above the stick to the left. Portions of the film are sped up 3 times.

Observations like this are infrequently witnessed. By searching on foot, keeping our minds open to what may come, and being willing to sit and watch what unfolds were we able to observe this feeding event. That, and quite a lot of luck....

In the interest of full disclosure, this snake was captured after feeding. He is now being radio-tracked by Roger and Gordon, and further updates on this snake’s life will be available on Roger’s Suizo Report, posted regularly to John Murphy's blog: