Reptile supervisor Bradley Lawrence guest-blogs on ZooHoo!
As much as we all love Texas Horned Lizards, I’d like to take some time this week to talk about another small part of our work at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch…RATTLESNAKES!!!
We love rattlesnakes at the Dallas Zoo, and they are such a vital part of our ecosystem. Rattlesnakes were historically hunted heavily in the area around the ranch for “round ups.” These snakes were hunted indiscriminately until the current property management took over 15 years or so ago. Since then the rattlesnakes have been protected from harvest.
Rattlesnakes are the frontline defense against rodents that carry many diseases harmful to other wildlife, agriculture, and of course, humans. We need them! If you ever encounter one in the wild, leave it alone. Rattlesnakes only bite as a last resort when threatened (and they give you fair warning before doing so!)
As a side project during our time at the ranch monitoring Texas horned lizard populations, we do a similar mark and recapture study for every rattlesnake we see. This allows us to get an idea of the population size, their home ranges, growth rates, and more. We’ve tagged and released about 12 rattlesnakes on the property this spring so far. When we catch one we record its location, weight, length, body condition, and environmental data as well. Most of the rattlesnakes on the property are western diamondbacks, but this week we also found an elusive prairie rattlesnake!
Although they can be dangerous if harassed, I can’t stress enough how important these predators are to the ecosystem. The Texas horned lizard, the rattlesnake and the quail all live in perfect balance at the ranch. Perhaps we could all learn something from them…