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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Herpetology Course - Class #2 Methow Reptiles

Our 2018 "Conservation Course" started February 12th with an introductory class by Professor Dan Beck.  Below are notes taken by Kristen Kirkby.  See notes and videos from the previous classes here:
Class #1
Learn more about the Herp Course here

Class #2 -Methow Reptiles with Scott Fitkin, Feb 26, 2018

Watch and listen to the 2 hour lecture portion of the class on this video

The Class of Reptilia includes turtles, snakes, lizards, and crocodilians.  They are characterized by ecotothermy, dry scaly skin, lungs, internal fertilization (not dependent on water), and shelled, amniotic eggs.

Within a 100-mile radius of the Methow there are:
                1 species of turtle, 6 lizards, 10 snakes, but within the Methow we typically only see 1 turtle, 4 lizards and 6 snakes.

Turtles (Order Testudines)
Have a shell, can withdraw their head and appendages inside shell, are long-lived, and lay eggs on land. 
There are 257 species around the world, 2 native species in Washington, 1 of which is in the Methow.
Turtle vocab:
          Carapace: upper shell
          Plastron: bottom shell
          Emydid: semi-aquatic

In the Methow:
We have the Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)
Distinguished by red patterning on plastron
Live in still, slow, shallow water with muddy bottom, need basking sites where they congregate
Omnivorous (mostly plants)
Reproduce at 5-6 years old; hatchlings over-winter in the nest and can withstand freezing (heart stops beating and use glucose in cells to prevent freeze damage)
Turtles absorb oxygen through their skin(!) when buried in mud or under the ice of a pond
Where to find them in the Methow!: Twisp-to-Carlton ponds, Davis, Paterson, Barnsley, Pearrygin lakes

Lizards (Order Squamata)
Have claws on digits, external ear openings, most can lose/regrow tail, and shed skin in large pieces.
There are 3300 species in the world, 7 species in WA, and 4 known in the Methow.
Lizard vocab:
          Oviparous: young hatch from eggs
          Viviparous: young born alive
          Autotomy: casting off of part of the body

In the Methow: 
We have the Northern Alligator lizard, the Pygmy Short-horned lizard, the Western Fence lizard, and the Western Skink.

Northern alligator lizard (family anguidae, Elegaria coerulea)
Long-bodied, snake-like, 3-5” from snout to vent (S2V), olive-brown with black/white checkering
Live in forested areas with rocky openings, up to 4600’, can live moister and cooler than other lizards
Insectivorous; viviparous (1-8 young), home bodies that stay within about 10m
Where to find them in the Methow!: War Creek bridge, Cougar lake, W Fork Methow, Buck Lake, Chewuch River

Short-horned lizard (family iguanidae, Phrynosoma douglasii)
Small, flat, round, cryptic (blend into surroundings)
Live in open shrub steppe to 3500’; Okanogan County is their northern limit (extirpated in BC),
Live on top of knobs with open shrub steppe, bitterroot
Insectivorous (specialize in ants), semi-fossorial (lots of time underground), need loose soil
Viviparous (2-7, newborns are just 1” long)
Where to find them in the Methow!: Patterson, Lewis Butte, Big Buck wildlife area, Studhorse (report to Scott if found!)

Western fence lizard (family iguanidae, Sceloporus occidentalis)
Gray/black/brown, blotches of color which can change with surroundings; rough, keeled dorsal scales, males have blue undersides, S2V 3.5”
Oviparous (up to 10 eggs), 60 day incubation
Reduce the prevalence of lyme disease by destroying the spirochetes in ticks that feed on them. 
Areas with W. Fence lizards had 5% of ticks carrying lyme, areas without had 50%
Where to find them in the Methow!: Pine Forest, above Aspen Lake, near rattlesnake dens

Western skink (family scincidae, Eumeces skiltonianus)
Long body, short legs, smooth shiny scales, S2V to 3”, brown/tan with striped pattern, blue tail
Very fast, will often lose tails
 Live in dry forest with rim rock to 3200’, often found under rock/bark
Construct burrows and lay 2-10 eggs, only lizard in NW that guards eggs
Where to find them in the Methow!: Pipestone, near rattlesnake dens

Snakes (Order Squamata)
No limbs, no moveable eyelids, no external ear openings, swallow prey items whole, and smell with protrusible tongue.  There are 2700 species in the world, 12 species in WA, and 6 known in Methow
Snake vocab:
          Ecdysis: shedding of the skin
          Thigmothermic: get heat from direct contact with a warmer object
          Solenoglyphs: snakes with hinged front fangs (rattlers)
          Opisthoglyphs: rear-fanged snakes (night snakes)

In the Methow: 
We have the Gopher snake, Western Racer, Wandering Garter snake, Common garter snake, Rubber Boa, and the Northern Pacific rattlesnake.

Gopher snake (family Colubridae, Pituophis catenifer)
Longest snake in the Valley at 4-5’; dark brown blotches on tan
Lives in shrub steppe and open pine to 3500’
Constrictor, eats small mammals, birds, lizards
Strongly thigmothermic
Lay eggs (4-20) in rodent burrows
Rattlesnake mimic (does not eat rattlers), great climbers
Initially aggressive, but calm quickly
Poop on you 25% of the time when you pick them up
Where to find them in the Methow!: Upper Bear Creek, Gunn Ranch Rd)
Western racer (Family Colubridae, Coluber constrictor)
Long, thin, narrow pointed tail, dull-green/gray dorsal, yellow/cream ventral, large dark eye, often has head up
Live in low elevation, open shrub steppe, on the edge of pine forest
Prey on lizards, small mammals, insects, frogs, eggs
Non-constrictor (grab and swallow)
Oviparous (3-7)
Visual, diurnal hunters; squat in rattlesnake dens
Poop on you 100% of the time, sometimes bite
Where to find them in the Methow!: Gunn Ranch, areas with lizards

Wandering garter snake / Western terrestrial (Family Colubridae, Thamnophis elegans)
Long, slender to 43”, many color morphs, light jagged dorsal stripe
Moist habitats below 5000’, terrestrial and semi-aquatic
Grab and swallow eater with diverse diet
Viviparous (4-19)
Opisthoglyphs with toxic (not to you!) saliva
Migrate long distances from hibernacula (den)
Poop on you 100% of the time, may bite
Where to find them in the Methow!: everywhere

Common garter snake/ Valley garter snake (Family Colubridae, Thamnophis sirtalis)
Long, slender to 52”, vibrant dorsal and lateral striping, often red spotting
Most widespread, everywhere there’s water available, more aquatic than wandering garter
Varied diet, lots of fish and amphibians
Cold tolerant, hunt in the water
Mate at spring emergence, viviparous (3-18)
Have resistance to toxic amphibians (like rough-skinned newt)
Poo on you 100%, might bite
Communal denning, world’s largest snake concentration in Manitoba with 1000s of snakes
Where to find them in the Methow!: everywhere there’s water, Methow and Chewuch rivers,

Rubber boa (Family Boeidae, Charina bottae)
Small to 30”, thicker body, small eye, small head and blunt tail look similar, tiny smooth scales, brown/olive dorsal, creamy yellow ventral, very slow moving (look like large worms!)
 Live in riparian, to dryer forest to 4000’
Semi-fossorial, mostly nocturnal
Specialize on shrews, small mice, kill with constrition
Viviparous (1-8)
Cold tolerant, active into fall
Have a vestigial pelvic girdle,
Poo 50%, never bite, slow and easy to handle, and they are sooo very cute
Where to find them in the Methow!: Mixed shade/sun with ground litter, Upper Chewuch, Twisp River, Winthrop trail

Northern Pacific rattlesnake (Family Viperidae, Crotalus oreganus)
Large, heavy-bodied to 48”, brown to greenish with dark blotches, banded tail, wide head, rattle
Live in shrub steppe and dry forest to 5000’, limited by good denning habitat
Only venomous snake around, most evolutionarily advanced, hinged fangs
Subdue prey with venom, eat lots of mammals
Viviparous (1-25)
Can “see” in dark with infrared detection
Live in communal hibernacula
Don’t handle!
Where to find them in the Methow!: south-facing rocky areas, Pipestone, Rendezvous, Finley Canyon, Golden Doe

Unverified Methow residents:
Night snake (Hypsiglena torquata)
Dark blotches on light background, dark head, <18”, vertical pupil
Live in arid, rock areas under rocks
Nocturnal, oviparous, opisthoglyphs

Sage brush lizard (Sceloporus graciosus)
Look like fence lizard, but no blue under males, smooth rear thigh, S2V 2.5”
Arid, sandy areas, likely in the lower Methow

Snake handling! Do it but do it carefully! (but not to rattlers!)
                Move slowly
                Support weight of snake with two hands
                Move hands with scales, not against
                Don’t grab behind head

Developing reptile issues:
                Snake fungal disease: is out east and has been moving west
                Pond turtle shell fungus
                Invasives (like bull frogs)

Rubber Boa up-close - Look at its eyes!

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