The highlight of my visit to the Mojave Desert was finding a snake I’ve been in search of for quite some time. One evening while hiking at the base of a mountain, I saw this creature crawling across the dirt trail.
Rosy Boas are one of the two “true” boas residing in the United States, like it’s counterpart, the Rubber Boa, it is relatively small, usually under 3 feet in length. These snakes tend to have at least some trace of three longitudinal stripes, one down the center of the back, and two on the lower sides.
In the United States, it is only found in California and Arizona. The common name is derived from the rosy or salmon coloration that often adorns some populations of these snakes. Like other boas, they produce live offspring (usually about 6).
Rosy Boas spend most of their lives hidden beneath rocks and in crevices to escape the elements and natural predators. In the cool of the evening they are often out and about, foraging for small mammals, which they subdue by constriction.
It was awesome to come across this creature and a fine way to conclude my Mojave Desert herping adventure.
Third Eye Herp
Amphibians in the desert? It almost seems like a contradiction of terms, yet there are some types of toads that find a way to make a living in the arid, hot Mojave Desert. I saw one of them while visiting this desert spring this month.
The Woodhouse’s Toad is a robust, medium-sized amphibian that can get up to five inches in length. Their call resembles the bleat of a sheep and lasts one to three seconds. Like most True Toads, it has warty skin, horizontal pupils, and neck (parotoid) glands which store poison, the toad’s main defense against being eaten.
In the desert part of its range, this amphibian is usually found in lowland areas, beside streams and rivers. They hide in burrows during the daytime to avoid the desert heat.
As an adult, it is a nocturnal creature feeds on insects and other small invertebrates. The young toads can be seen in the daytime and I’ve come across them a few times along desert waterways. The Woodhouse’s Toad hibernates during the Winter and becomes active once the weather warms. One of its first activities after hibernation is breeding. Like other species of toads, this species lays several thousand eggs in flooded areas as well as permanent bodies of water.
This amphibian’s adaptability goes beyond being able to live in a harsh climate: They coexist well with introduced American Bullfrogs, crayfish and fish.
Third Eye Herp
On my last visit to the Mojave Desert, I found several examples of this fine serpent. It resides in a wide range of habitats: dry sandy areas, pine woodlands, plains, abandoned fields, deserts, grasslands and mountain scrub.
Like other Gopher Snakes, it is straw or pale brown colored with a row of large square blotches, reddish brown and black on the back and similar smaller blotches on the sides. The head is quite pointed, an adaptation for burrowing.
A unique feature that Gopher, Pine and Bull Snakes have is a filament of cartilaginous flesh in the mouth is situated immediately in front of the breathing passage. When the snake is angry and the mouth is partially opened, the filament is raised and breath is violently expelled against it – creating a very loud hissing noise.
As the name implies, this constrictor eats gophers and other rodents. It is mainly active in the daytime in Spring and Fall, though in the heat of Summer it changes its activity pattern to become nocturnal during the intense desert heat.
The individuals I have come across are usually 3-4 feet, but this snake can get over 6 feet in length. It is a harmless snakes and actually quite beneficial to man, due to the large number of rodents it consumes.
Third Eye Herp
While visiting the Mojave Desert last month, I saw this ancient creature lumbering across the arid landscape.
The Desert Tortoise has a lifespan of 80 to 100 years and grows slowly. It is not a fan of the desert heat and most of its life is spent underground in a burrow. The Desert Tortoise’s burrow creates a subterranean environment that also can serve as a shelter for other desert inhabitants like snakes, lizards, mammals and invertebrates.
Its shell length is about a foot long. This reptile’s legs are elephantine (or “columnar”), to support its relatively heavy body. The front legs are protected by a covering of thick scales and equipped with claws to dig burrows.
The Desert Tortoise’s diet is made up of a variety of vegetation, including grasses, wildflowers and cacti. They often emerge from their burrows to drink from pools of water after rainstorms. Adults can survive a year or more without access to water.
The Mojave Desert population of this species is listed as “Federally Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Livestock grazing, urban development and off-road vehicles (as well as highways) degrade the tortoise’s quickly disappearing habitat.
I’ve only seen a few of these reptiles during my many trips to Nevada, so it was nice to come across this one. The Desert Tortoise is the state reptile of Nevada and California.
Third Eye Herp
During my last visit to the Mojave Desert I had my first encounter ever with this very cool insect. It lives in the desert scrub and mesquite woodlands of the American Southwest. It spends most of its life cycle in and around various cactus plants, relying on the cactus for both food and shelter.
These flightless black beetles have long antennae that stick up almost like horns, helping them earn their name. They are Darkling Beetle mimics and behave like darklings in that they raise the tips of their abdomens in the air when disturbed. Unlke Darkling Beetles, they are not able to produce a noxious smelling chemical defense.
Adults are nocturnal and feed on cacti. They hide during the day at the base or under the pads of cacti. At night they crawl to the tops of plant to feed. Their larva feed underground on the base and roots of cacti. The adult beetles are over an inch long and rather imposing in appearance.
Beetles comprise the largest group of insects on Earth, representing one-quarter of all living organisms and one-third of all animals – and this is one that I find intriguing.
Third Eye Herp