Basiliscus Family Values

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young cage
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Basiliscus Family Values

Post by young cage » December 8th, 2011, 6:37 pm

I was looking at some pictures from Mexico to help a friend with a book on Mexican Reptiles and Amphibians. It was fun to review some of our trips down there and how many interesting herps and experiences we encountered. One particular event from 2008 was especially noteworthy, and in fact I was sure it would end up in the science journals. Yet somehow that did not happen, so lets put it forward right here. It was lots of fun and so interesting! I sometimes do a talk titled “My Favorite Wildlife Events or Wow, That Is So Cool!” and this event was right there at the top.

We were down in southern Sonora, and there were six of us. We were in groups of two wandering about both day and night looking for and finding interesting wildlife. Dan Rosenberg and Lorrie Smith came back to our bivouac and told us that they had found a large Mexican West Coast Rattlesnake with her babies near her. Well, that sounded like something we had to see, so we launched off in three cars. My son Matt and I in one, Kenny Sharracks and Jeff Smith in another, and Dan and Lorrie leading the parade. Sure enough after a bit of scrambling we came to wide spot in the road with a little parking area and place to walk around just a bit. The sound of construction drifted to us as road work was occurring just a couple of hundred yards down the road. Dan and Lorrie walked us over to an overgrown area not far off the road, to a large downed log, and in the hollow of that log lay a large female basiliscus, and to her side were her babies. There were perhaps 12 to 15 of them, hard to count as they were balled up. Mom was calm, we all gawked at the sight, the babies got a bit nervous and worked their way from the open part of the hollow to the enclosed and protected area, a move of about two feet.

The Mexican West Coast Rattlesnake is an interesting animal. They can get very large and stout, and seem to be quite variable in color. This is in the northern part of their range. We have found them in southern Sonora thru the years but mostly smaller ones. The animals remind me very much of Crotalus mollosus, the Black-tailed Rattlesnake of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico. I have always wondered if the Timber Rattlesnake of the East Coast, the Canebrake Rattlesnake of the Southeast and the Blacktailed Rattlesnake were simply clinal variants of the same animal. Now throw in the Mexican West Coast Rattlesnake and is it possible they are all very closely related? Hopefully someone is looking at that with DNA analysis.

At any rate here is a photo of one from a previous year.

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Back to our mother. Here is a photo of her with a few of her babies

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You can see that the babies are slightly opaque

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And you can see the protected hollow where the babies would go when they felt a bit stressed

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We could not get enough of this. We hung around for a bit then decided to give mom and babies some relief. Over the next three days we returned somewhat regularly to see what was happening. Thru the whole event the mother never once rattled, never once seemed to feel threatened. The babies were just a bit more active, moving around the log to optimize warmth or protection. The babies gradually cleared up and then began the shedding process.

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Mom still watching over the process so carefully

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After the shedding, the babies were sparkling clean and beautiful, with very crisp patterns!

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All during this three-day period we were documenting the process. We were very careful around this log as the babies were difficult to spot and though they did not wander much it would have been most unfortunate to have sat on one or put our hand on one.

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During this time there were some interesting things going on. We were obviously spending time with several cars at this spot, and there was some traffic on the road. We were not betting on a good outcome if the locals discovered what we were looking at so we, on hearing a car coming, would walk about 30 feet away and point up to the trees as if we were birdwatchers. This seemed to work as nobody stopped to check what we were up to. There was also a family of Wood Rats living up in the tree. They seemed more upset at the snakes at the bottom of their tree, but were also irritated at us. They actually made a lot of noise chattering at us!

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After the last of the young snakes shed, things began to wind down. The babies began leaving. Mom hung around a bit but left the log and spent time in the nearby thick brush.

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When we returned the next morning we could not find any of the animals. But it was a remarkable three days, an exciting experience for us all. At that point in time I was still wrestling with the thoughts of maternal caring by mother rattlesnakes. I had seen it only in Rock Rattlesnakes and even then not over time, so there had always been the possibility that the births had just occurred and everyone would be on their way shortly. Now there is quite a bit of work on maternal care, with much of it occurring with Arizona Blacks in northern Arizona. I just hope to come across something like this again.

That was a fun trip. Around the same area we found other fun and interesting animals like these two, a Coachwhip then a Whipsnake

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Pretty Milksnakes

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And a very pretty Procinura aemula

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And as we headed back up north we encountered some old friends, the Mexican Spotted Box Turtle and the Ridgenosed Rattlesnake Crotalus willardi sills

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And a couple of “bugs”. The always beautiful Aphonopelma moorei and Sphingicampa hubbardi

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The herping here in Tucson is very slow as it is quite cold. This was the last Western Diamondback Rattlesnake that I saw about three weeks ago

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Wishing all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Here is our version of a Desert Christmas Card,

Young

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HerperChance
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by HerperChance » December 8th, 2011, 7:13 pm

Wow! Awesome post! Thanks for sharing. :thumb:

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VanAR
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by VanAR » December 8th, 2011, 8:09 pm

Great set! What's the story on the Procinura? Never heard of those, and I'm curious about the function of their apparently extra-keeled/spiny caudal scales.

Van

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Correcamino
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Correcamino » December 8th, 2011, 8:24 pm

Awesome stuff Young! I had already seen Kenny and Dan's photos, but there can never be enough documentation for that. I would give my left one and probably my right to find that scenario!

Anyone who has herped Mexico enough agrees that basiliscus is a form of molossus. Work is being done on this complex, some published (Wuster et. al) some not yet. Molossus/basilicus is the mother form of culminatus in one line, and tzabcan on another. Simus came off tzabcan and the durissus forms branched off of simus.

Recent work has shown a couple of lines of nigrescens with oaxacus falling into one, a basiliscus line which includes Arizona and roughly western New Mexico, and a totonacus line which includes Texas and roughly eastern New Mexico. This was supposed to be presented at the BOR but the guy didn't show, but the abstract for it is in the program if you have it. I fully agree with you that timbers are probably derived from this complex also, for many reasons. And I think it likely that adamanteus is probably more closely related to the molossus durissus complex than it is to atrox as commonly believed. Just look at the head shape and body and tail pattern.

Rest of the shots are killer, I love the little ground snake. That species has been my nemesis for many a decade, lol. Just Karma I guess. Always love seeing your work!

Saludos,

Rich

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Correcamino
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Correcamino » December 8th, 2011, 8:31 pm

Van,
Common name for them is File-Tailed Groundsnake. They gone back and forth from Sonora to Procinura back to Sonora. The are cool little snakes, no two are alike. Some are ringed the whole length of the body, some have only a few rings, one ring or no rings. Also the rings can have red touching black, or red touching white, some change halfway down the body from red touches black to red touches white. Some may have a multiple white black combination making them look a lot like South American Corals. I have no idea what the file tail is for though.

Rich

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chrish
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by chrish » December 8th, 2011, 8:34 pm

That's an interesting observation and great series of photos.

IIRC, that same behavior (mom staying with babies until their first shed) has been documented in molossus (or I should say more northern populations of molossus) in southern AZ. Seems natural then that the spanish speaking versions of this taxon would do the same.

I have used the same birder ploy on more than one occasion when dealing with herps in the field to avoid attracting attention. Its a great trick since most people think birders (like me) are geeks and don't want to talk to them. :lol:

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John Martin
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by John Martin » December 8th, 2011, 9:34 pm

Very nice Mr. Cage! :beer: I have experience with only one large basiliscus, and it was a total bad-ass. As for the Sonora/Procinura tail adaptation, I thought possibly it could be used for blocking a burrow? Or not, probably too tapered for that?

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ThamnElegans24
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by ThamnElegans24 » December 8th, 2011, 9:39 pm

That was awesome. Thanks.

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Norman D
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Norman D » December 8th, 2011, 10:05 pm

Thanks Young for sharing and always enjoy your photography/commentary. Very cool observations and I always wish to see this with any rattlesnake species

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moloch
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by moloch » December 9th, 2011, 1:37 am

Hello Young,

That was an excellent post with great photos as usual. That was very interesting behaviour displayed by the mum.

I really like the photos of the Procinura aemula. What a strange creature with a bizarre tail! It was nicely marked as well. I had never heard of it before so did a quick Google search. Again, something nice to have found.

Hope all is well there. We don't have snow but it has been a wet and cool start to summer. I am looking forward to hot, humid days in January.

Regards,
David

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » December 9th, 2011, 4:55 am

An amazing story, made even better by amazing photos! Thanks a lot!

erik loza
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by erik loza » December 9th, 2011, 6:54 am

I love posts like this, where you get a story.

Thanks for sharing.

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klawnskale
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by klawnskale » December 9th, 2011, 7:58 am

Young: have you seen Marissa Amarello's amazing videos showing the parental attendance behaviors of mother rattlesnakes? Her presentation was a real crowd pleaser at the Biology Of the Rattlesnakes Symposium. By utilizing video cameras strategically placed at the densite, she was able to find out that mom just doesn't sit there. She will actually confront a potential threat to her offspring, and direct them back to the safety of the den if she feels they are wandering to far away from safety. There's footage of what she believes is a male rattlesnake visiting the creche where he appears to be actually 'helping' mom in keeping the babies together. Here's a link to her webpage, The video is definitely worth watching!
http://www.public.asu.edu/~mamarell/BOR2011.html

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jonathan
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by jonathan » December 9th, 2011, 4:14 pm

That Procinura aemula is awesome. I hadn't heard of it, and I'd love to know what that thing could be for. The http://www.naherp.com database doesn't have any of them yet either. ;)

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Fundad
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Fundad » December 9th, 2011, 5:22 pm

Wow Amazing Photos.. Great observations.. :thumb:

Fundad

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Mulebrother
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Mulebrother » December 9th, 2011, 5:50 pm

LOVE this post...awesome stuff Young...I'm with Van:
Great set! What's the story on the Procinura? Never heard of those, and I'm curious about the function of their apparently extra-keeled/spiny caudal scales.
I thought the same thing when I saw its tail...what gives?

young cage
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by young cage » December 9th, 2011, 6:03 pm

Thanks to Rich for filling in some of what is going on in the background versus DNA of these Rattlesnakes. And David, always good to hear from you. Got to get back out there to Oz for some more fun time. Hope the family is doing great! Van, thanks for the thoughts on the Procinura. It is an interesting snake and as Rich pointed out it has bounced in and out of its own genus and Sonora. And thanks Klawnskale, I have followed Melissa and Jeff's wonderful work on the Cerbs of Arizona for a good while. They are outstanding researchers and we are learning so much from their observations and videos.
Now, one other interesting bit of info about the Procinura we found. It was in about 3 inches of water as it flowed over a spillway, swimming along very comfortably. It had rained a bit so it is possible that it got washed out. But it is also possible that the animal is somewhat aquatic. I have never read anything about that in the literature but I could have have easily missed it. Southeast Asia has several snakes with aquatic tendencies that have very spiny tails. Perhaps of great use pushing around in mud. Something to think about. Here is another photo of the tail,

Young


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Mattlesnake King
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Mattlesnake King » December 9th, 2011, 8:06 pm

Young,
That stuff is amazing. I've seen many rattlesnakes, but never been lucky enough to see a spent mom with youngins. Luckily I have had the pleasure of herping with you and your son. In regards to these basiliscus pics...you owe me some underwear! Thanks for sharing.

Matt K

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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Natalie McNear » December 9th, 2011, 8:35 pm

Awesome stuff, Young! I'm not a big fan of crotes, but even I think your observation and photo documentation with the C. basiliscus are simply outstanding. I wonder how many studies have been carried out on this pseudo-parental care in rattlesnakes... If you moved the female, would she move back to the birth site with the babies? Would the babies move in search of the mother?

I agree with the others, that Procinura aemula is one amazing snake.

RobK

Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by RobK » December 9th, 2011, 10:16 pm

The Xmas card reminded me of "Buddy".
Enjoyed the photos!

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azatrox
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by azatrox » December 10th, 2011, 1:23 am

Thanks for the amazing commentary and photos Young!

I find it quite interesting that mom didn't exhibit any defensive behaviors while you observed her offspring. In my experience (and related experience from friends and acquaintances), females of certain species can get quite defensive if they feel their young are in danger. This lack of active maternal behavior leads me to question whether mom (in this case) was actually exercising maternal care, or simply resting after the arduous ordeal of squirting out a bunch of babies...either way, this is a fantastic observation and I'm SO glad you had the opportunity to document it!

BTW, I have no idea why this observation didn't make it into any journals...If nothing else, it demonstrates rattlesnake behaviors seldom documented, and as such is worthy of note. (The fantastic pics don't hurt either! ;) )

-Kris

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Correcamino
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Correcamino » December 10th, 2011, 1:36 am

rained a bit so it is possible that it got washed out. But it is also possible that the animal is somewhat aquatic. I have never read anything about that in the literature but I could have have easily missed it. Southeast Asia has several snakes with aquatic tendencies that have very spiny tails. Perhaps of great use pushing around in mud. Something to think about. Here is another photo of the tail,

Young
Very interesting observation Young. Looking at the end of the tail I realized it looks much like the body of many subterranean beetle grubs.
Awesome stuff, Young! I'm not a big fan of crotes, but even I think your observation and photo documentation with the C. basiliscus are simply outstanding. I wonder how many studies have been carried out on this pseudo-parental care in rattlesnakes... If you moved the female, would she move back to the birth site with the babies? Would the babies move in search of the mother?
Natalie,

It's not pseudo-care by any means. It goes much further in many rattlesnakes than was previously realized, just nobody took the time to watch rattlesnakes in the past without grabbing them. I have been watching this in cerbs for over twenty years, even seeing baby sitting. People are just now starting to believe me after others are seeing the same stuff, lol. I was always told I was anthropomorphizing and generally cuckoo :lol: . Greene and hardy have found that although baby molossus leave the immediate vicinity of the mother after the first shed, they are in and out of contact with the parents for at least a year and appeared to be learning prey items by flicking the parent snakes muzzle right after they fed. In fact this has helped me immensely with captive bred snakes. I used to go thru heck trying to get baby molossus to feed, I knew females guarded them till the first shed, but I removed the babies from the mom immediately after. It took me up to a year to get some to even take lizards,then on to mice. After reading about Greene and Hardy's findings I started leaving babies with the mom for a few months with no disturbance except to feed mice to the mother. Interesting all babies fed immediately on mice when I finally did remove them and offer food. And it has worked like a charm on every form I have bred since, even notoriously difficult species like C. tigris. I could tell you all kinds of crazy stories of watching my female molossus rounding up stray babies and herding them into the hide. It's real, people accept it in crocodilians, but for some reason even experienced herpers often have a mental block, that there is no way a rattlesnake could exhibit such behavior.

Brendan and I have observed mothers of several species with their babies in the spring, seven to eight months after they were born.

Here's an old point and shoot pic from 2002, a female cerb with six babies advancing on me threateningly while the babies retreat to the rear of the crack. I wasn't fast enough to get the camera ready to catch all the babies....
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Willardi babies laying with mom. What was cool here was that once mom realized we were thre, she retreated under the rock. The babies were still on her tail and in the hook formed by the curve of her tail. She actually used her tail to hook and scoop the babies under the rock with her, one minute they were there, whoosh, the next they were gone.....
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Rich

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Correcamino
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Correcamino » December 10th, 2011, 1:48 am

Another interesting thing I meant to mention. I is usualy felt that the female crotes just stay at the rookery with their babies until the first shed. But the AZ/Sonora Desert Museum put time lapse cameras on wild female atrox that had give birth at the grounds. The footage showed that the females would leave the rookeries and young to forage at night and then return to them. That shows definite cognition/intentional parenting in my book, lol.

Rich

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klawnskale
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by klawnskale » December 10th, 2011, 8:04 am

To the people doubting the parental attendance of rattlesnakes to their young: I suggest you visit Marissa Amarillo's webpage and her personal blog links. It's a real eye opener which sheds light on the fact how little we really know and understand about herps. Perhaps we as a species, have taken them for granted due to ingrained presumptive biases and assumed them not to be complex. A recent wave of research interest plus the utilization of timelapse cameras are revealing some surprising results and are validating the
intutiive insights originating from respected researchers such as Dr. Green.

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ahockenberry
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by ahockenberry » December 10th, 2011, 10:40 am

A+
Young - great work
Love those rattlers and the turtle
Keep em coming !

Ashley

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Correcamino
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Correcamino » December 10th, 2011, 10:56 am

Post subject: Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Thanks for the amazing commentary and photos Young!

I find it quite interesting that mom didn't exhibit any defensive behaviors while you observed her offspring. In my experience (and related experience from friends and acquaintances), females of certain species can get quite defensive if they feel their young are in danger. This lack of active maternal behavior leads me to question whether mom (in this case) was actually exercising maternal care, or simply resting after the arduous ordeal of squirting out a bunch of babies...either way, this is a fantastic observation and I'm SO glad you had the opportunity to document it!

BTW, I have no idea why this observation didn't make it into any journals...If nothing else, it demonstrates rattlesnake behaviors seldom documented, and as such is worthy of note. (The fantastic pics don't hurt either! )

-Kris
Kris,

Rattlesnakes are as individually different in temper and moods as are humans. Many seem quite capable of reading our intentions. The female basi might have behaved quite differently had Young or any of the others made attempts to capture or harrass the babies.
My old female molossus used to be pretty defensive of her babies, advancing on me steadily when I messed in the cage, but in time she mellowed out and I am of no concern to her now. Occasionally if I put my face right to the glass to closely look at a youngster just on the other side she will calmly come up and place her head next to the baby while watching me, but there is no rattling or excitement. On the other hand there is one of her offspring, the black female. She is normally a very calm and placid molossus, never rattling or showing much interest in your activities. In 2009/2010 she had an unsuccessful breeding and passed only infertile ova. And she did a 180 degree personality change. She coiled on top of or next to those dried up old slugs and became a demon. Wherever I went in the room, she followed me in the cage, often striking and hitting her head against the glass if I got too close. If I opened the cage for anything she came flying and striking. It was almost a month before she finally went into the hide one day and I could safely block her in and remove the slugs. Once they were gone she spent a couple of days looking for them and then calmed down and went back to her old placid self.

CC

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Daniel D Dye
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Daniel D Dye » December 10th, 2011, 1:40 pm

Wonderful post, Young, of some amazing creatures. Your photos, as always, are excellent. May not make it out west in 2012, hopefully in 2013. Can't wait to see the area again.

Daniel

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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by justinm » December 10th, 2011, 4:50 pm

This was not only a beautiful post, you showed me a new species Procinura aemula, and some behaviors I wasn't aware of. Top notch post!

young cage
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by young cage » December 11th, 2011, 12:07 pm

Thanks for all your comments, it was sure a fun experience. The southern Sonora area is a wonderful spot to visit, it is a shame that things have deteriorated so much safety wise there. I do not recommend it as place to visit these days. There seemed to be quite a bit of interest in the Procinura as an animal not often seen that I thought I might share a couple more unusual animals from the area. First is Sympholis Lippiens. This snake has a very odd skin that feels loose and rubbery. The literature says that it feeds on termites. It is not uncommon in the southern Sonora area.


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Then there is Psuedoficimia frontalis which looks like a Hook nosed snake on steroids. Much larger and heavier than any Hook nosed I have seen, this one was a real surprise on the road at night. I actually had no idea what it was till I did some research in the room later that evening. It is the only one I have seen.


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And finally, though not at all uncommon down there, I just had to show you this baby Indigo Snake. He was scooting across the road and I tore up my pants and knee chasing him down. What a beauty!


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Hope you have enjoyed this, and again, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,
Young

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Bill Love
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Bill Love » December 11th, 2011, 11:55 pm

Great post as always, Young! That little Procinura aemula is especially unusual.

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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by chris_mcmartin » December 12th, 2011, 3:06 am

Came for the Jesus Lizards, left disappointed. 8-)

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Correcamino
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Correcamino » December 12th, 2011, 9:02 am

Cool stuff Young,

My understanding is that Sympholis dines on a fungus eating beetle grub that lives in the big ant mounds, the snakes waxy coating is thought to help burrow through the monds and to keep ants sliding off.

That's a beautiful Psuedoficimia!, much prettier than what I have seen further south.

Cheers,

Rich

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Brendan
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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by Brendan » December 12th, 2011, 11:22 am

Thanks for the walk down memory lane, Young. I've seen some video and photos from others on the trip over the years but its always nice too see photos taken by different photographers. I think over time as people become more in tune with opportunities like this and don't spoil a perfect scenario by disturbing the snakes, we will see that this stuff is much more common than we think. It's so nice to see groups like yours who can all show restraint in the field and just photo things as they are found! Kudos!!!

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Re: Basiliscus Family Values

Post by condyle » December 12th, 2011, 3:39 pm

Nice!!!

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