Eaton’s Firecracker

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This perennial herb produces several sprawling to erect stems reaching about 3 feet in height. I enjoy seeing the inch-long showy, tubular flowers in shades of bright red when I visit mountains in the Mojave Desert.


Eaton’s Firecracker is native to the western United States from California to the Rocky Mountains, where it grows in many types of desert, woodland, forest, and open plateau habitat. In California it is found primarily in high desert areas.


I usually see it in habitats like dry sagebrush scrub and pine woodlands. It is a type of Penstemon and does best on well-drained soils. I tend to find them in open areas, but they will tolerate semi-shaded conditions.

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Its attractive flowers attract pollinators and other insects, which provide a food source for birds and other animals.


When in bloom, Eaton’s Firecracker more than lives up to its name. Its sprays of brilliant color are a bright spot in the desert ecosystem.

Third Eye Herp

Desert Night Snake


While driving on a remote, Las Vegas Area road one night last month, I noticed a tiny serpent on the pavement, crossing the street.

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The Desert Night Snake is unusual among colubrids (the family it belongs to) in that it has elliptical pupils and is rear-fanged (mildly venomous, though harmless to humans).

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They tend to be small snakes, between one and two feet long, featuring pale gray or light brown ground color with brown blotches on its back and sides. Its head is flattened and triangular and it usually has a pair of dark brown blotches on the neck.

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These snakes can occupy a variety of habitats other than deserts, like grasslands, chaparral, woodlands and sagebrush flats. Their primary food item is lizards, which they use their venom to subdue.

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I haven’t seen one of these snakes in a few years, so it was really neat to encounter this one on my visit to the Mojave Desert.

Third Eye Herp

Ornate Tree Lizard

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Hiking in the Cerbat Mountains last week, I came across a few examples of this reptile. Although they are called “tree lizards,” they often spend a lot of time on rocks. Tree lizards are found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. This lizard is an excellent climber and it is commonly seen basking and foraging on logs, boulders and trees.

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Ornate Tree Lizards are slim, gray-brown, and feature an ornate pattern of thin, dark lines. They eat variety of insects including aphids, beetles, flies, ants, bees, wasps, termites, moths, butterflies, grasshoppers and crickets. They also feed on a variety of spiders.

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They are a behaviorally complex species. Males are quite territorial, at least during the breeding season; I saw them arch their backs and display their bright yellow and blue colors to each other while I observed them on my hike. The territorial displays also include “push-ups” and extending their brightly colored throat dewlaps.

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Ornate Tree Lizards tend to bask in the morning and then shuttle between shade and sun to maintain a fairly constant body temperature. This reptile is relatively short-lived. It matures and produces multiple egg clutch species. Very few individuals live to an age of three or more years.

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The species has been used to research the physiological changes in the body during the fight-or-flight response as related to stress and aggressive competition.

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It was a neat lizard to encounter in a remote place and made for an enjoyable morning.

Third Eye Herp

Arizona Black Rattlesnake

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Driving through the Cerbat Mountains in Arizona on Memorial Day, I was enjoying the weather and the variety of wildflowers in bloom. Then, up ahead in the road, I noticed the unmistakable shape of a rattlesnake in the road. The snake’s presence in a high-altitude habitat and its dark coloration distinguishes it from other subspecies of the western rattlesnake.

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Like other Pit Vipers, the Arizona Black Rattlesnakes is venomous and have a broad, wedge-shaped head much wider than their neck, large, erectable fangs that it uses to inject venom into their prey or predators, and heat-sensing pit organs in front of their eyes that they use to detect warm-blooded prey like rodents and birds.

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Arizona Black Rattlesnakes were initially considered to be a subspecies of the Prairie Rattlesnake. Until recently, they were then instead considered to be a subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake. Now, after DNA analysis, Arizona Black Rattlesnakes are considered to be their own species, Crotalus cerberus.

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When threatened, a rattlesnake will often (but not always) rattle its tail, producing a loud, dry rattling sound meant to warn threats to go away. A rattlesnake may also coil up into a tight, defensive posture, puffing itself up and arching its back to make itself look more threatening.

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Like others of their kind, Arizona Black Rattlesnakes produce live offspring. The babies are usually born between August and October. This was the first species of snake observed to exhibit complex social behavior, and parenting behavior reminiscent of that in mammals. Females often remain with their young in nests for several weeks, and mothers have been observed cooperatively parenting their broods.

Third Eye Herp