Speckled Rattlesnake

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My first example of this snake I found in the daytime in Valley of Fire State Park (NV), most of the others I have encountered while roadhunting at night in Nevada and Arizona. This is a venomous species found in the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

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The Speckled Rattlesnake is not a particularly large snake; most measure 2 to 3 feet in length. This species varies in color, often matching the earth tones of the rocks and soil in its habitat. Some occur in beautiful shades of orange or pink.

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Like all rattlesnakes, this reptile has heat-sensing pits on either side of its head with which it detects warm-blooded prey. The pits are located in between the nostril and the eye.

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With a scientific name of Crotalus mitchellii, it is named in honor of Silas Weir Mitchell (1829–1914), a medical doctor who also studied rattlesnake venom.

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The Speckled Rattlesnake eats mice, rats, lizards and birds. It uses venom injected through its long, hollow, retractable fangs to kill and begin digesting its prey.

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This is an alert, nervous species most often associated with rocky hillsides and outcrops. In older literature, this snake is known as the Faded, Bleached and Granite Rattlesnake.

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Great Plains Toad

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While visiting Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge in the Mojave Desert, I heard explosive jackhammer-like metallic trills that lasted almost a minute. I decided to investigate.

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Located in a region of Southern Nevada which receives only about 6-1/2 inches of rain per year, the refuge’s lakes, marshes, meadows and tall Cottonwood Trees are quite a contrast to the surrounding desert; it’s like an oasis.

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I eventually pinpointed where the noise was coming from and located my first ever Great Plains Toad. It was easily identified by its large, symmetrical olive blotches with light borders on a background color of gray-brown to green. It was a robust toad with dry, warty skin.

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Additional looking turned up a few more. This creature occurs in deserts, grasslands, semi-desert scrublands, open floodplains, and agricultural areas. The Great Plains Toad is beneficial to farmers, as its primary diet is various species of cutworms as well as other insects.

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This amphibian is widespread in the Great Plains States and the Southwestern United States. In dry areas it may only emerge from its burrow for a few weeks when conditions are right, and usually at night; but in areas with permanent water and abundant rain, it may be active all day.

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The Great Plains Toad is an accomplished burrower and often remains underground in the daytime if conditions aren’t ideal for it to be out and about. It has spades on its hind feet which makes them well equipped for digging.

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This amphibian is slow moving, often using a walking or crawling motion along with short hops. Like most toads in the United States, it relies on the secretion of poison from its wart-like glands to deter predators.

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It was very cool to come across this unexpected amphibian while on my visit to the Silver State.

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While hiking the Las Vegas Area, it’s easy to give your attention to the lizards scurrying across the desert floor, but by looking up, you may find another intriguing desert dweller quietly perched high in the rocks.

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Unlike most other lizards here in the southwest, the Chuckwalla is strictly a rock dweller and is found in rocky outcrops, lava flows, and rocky hillsides of the Great Basin, Mohave and Sonoran deserts.

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This is a large, bulky lizard reaching nearly 16 inches long, with folds of loose skin on the sides of its body. Its original species name, obesus, refers to how fat the reptile looks.

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Males tend to be slightly larger than females and are often darker in color. Their color varies considerably by region, but generally includes grey, reddish brown and/or yellow. The banded patterns found on juveniles are often retained into adulthood by females.


These day-active lizards emerge in the morning and before seeking food, bask in the sun until reaching an optimum body temperature of 100-105 degrees F. I often see them out and about when it is too hot for other lizards.

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The Chuckwalla is primarily a vegetarian and eats fruit, leaves, buds and flowers from a variety of annual as well as perennial plants. It also occasionally supplements its diet with insects. Its favorite foods are yellow flowers and the fruit of the prickly pear cactus.


When the Chuckwalla senses danger, it scurries between rocks and lodges itself tightly into a crevice. Then it inflates itself with air until it becomes securely wedged. This makes it nearly impossible to extract from its retreat.

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This is one of the largest lizards native to the United States. It’s a “classic” desert reptile that I always enjoy seeing in the wild.

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Western Blind Snake

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While driving in southern California one night in late Spring, I saw this tiny creature making its way across the road. At first glance, the Western Blind Snake resembles a worm more than a snake.

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They rarely measure more than 10 inches in length and no wider than a shoelace. This snake is pink, purple, or silvery-brown in color, shiny, wormlike, cylindrical, and blunt at both ends. It has light-detecting black eyespots.

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Considered among the most primitive of snakes, slender blind snakes retain tiny remnants of pelvic bones embedded in their muscles as well as rudimentary leg bones. Another curious feature of their anatomy is that they only have teeth in their lower jaw.

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They frequent rocky hillsides with patches of loose, moist soil suitable for burrowing and canyon washes near streams. I have mainly found them under rocks near creeks in Nevada. Though it is probably quite common, the Western Blind Snake is rarely seen.

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Western Blind Snakes feed upon soft-bodied insects, especially ants and termites and their eggs and larvae. Its cylindrical shape and solid head allow it to easily enter the nests of its preferred prey. This unusual serpent is also know as the Slender Blind Snake and Western Threadsnake.

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Tadpole Shrimp


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While hiking in Valley of Fire State Park one morning, I decided to investigate several pools on the desert floor, some no bigger than large puddles.

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In the water there were tiny, interesting crustaceans. Tadpole Shrimp are considered “living fossils,” since they have not changed significantly in outward form since the Triassic.

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Their broad protective shell at the front end, and a long, slender abdomen gives them a similar overall shape to a tadpole, from which their common name derives.

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To complete their lives, these creatures depend on the changing nature of the temporary pools of water that they inhabit. During the dry season (Summer and Fall), their offspring stay inside the eggs and the pools are devoid of water.

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As pools fills with rainwater during the Winter and Spring, the eggs hatch and feed on tiny invertebrates as well as algae and other organic debris.

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Not only was it cool to encounter this “mini horseshoe crab,” but Tadpole Shrimp is also considered a human ally against the West Nile virus, since they eat mosquito larvae.

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