Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bitey Things

Earlier this week while on a tour with a major land management agency I found a couple of interesting animals that I don't get to see everyday.

The first was this orb weaving spider my interns found in the grass as we were setting up a plot to measure Greater Sage-Grouse habitat. We had inadvertently flushed a few grasshoppers into her net and she was busy wrapping them up for a later meal.

We watched as she made her way from grasshopper to grasshopper, wrapping each in its own individual silken coffin. After each was well wrapped she would make a quick bite and move back to the center of the web. Even though she had unwrapped and subdued grasshoppers remaining stuck in the net, she would pause in the center before moving on to the next trapped grasshopper. We speculated that she was replenishing her spinnerets before she headed off to the next victim.

If you click on either of the previous two photos to enlarge it, you can see the silk emerging from her spinnerets as she rolled the grasshoppers around to cover them in silk.

On our way home we nearly ran over this larger fanged animal of the Great Plains - a Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalis viridis), the only rattlesnake found in Montana. It was lying in the middle of the gravel road and I had to swerve around her as we came over a hill. Before I could turn around another pickup passed us in the opposite direction and I thought for sure that they would hit it, but when we were able to turn around, the snake was still there in the middle of the road.

At first I wasn't too sure the it was still alive. As you can see in the photo above, there was a small stick laying across it's back and it wasn't moving at all. I scuffed a few pebbles from the road its way just to check and it became apparent real quick that the snake was indeed alive.

Shortly after I took these photos another pickup rolled over the hill coming our way. I hurried to pressure the snake off the road and into the grass, but it really wanted to make sure I would not get any closer, so it kept this pose as it slid slowly towards the road edge. Having a rattlesnake watch me like this certainly worked at keeping me a safe distance away.
The pickup pulled up next to me and the young man in the window peered out from under his well used felt cowboy hat and then looked down at the snake coiled up next to his truck and asked "Do you want a gun to kill that thing?"
I said "naw, I am just going to kick it off into the grass, but thanks"
"ok" he said and slowly shook his head back and forth as he rolled away from us.

I continued to pressure the snake until it moved all the way off the road and into the grass and disappeared.

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