Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Right on Track with the Racerunner

     It was the end of a balmy June here in Nebraska, and summer had kicked off to a great start. I had been hiking for a week in Virginia, and attended the Biology of the Pit Vipers Conference in Tulsa, OK. But I had a sweet spot for this time of year, because the end of June is when the 4-H National Shooting Sports Invitational happens! And I'll throw my modesty aside for a sentence and admit; I competed in Recurve archery back in 2010 in Texas, and then again in Compound archery in 2012. But even though you can only compete in a given discipline once in your career, I've been blessed to be able to come back here every year as either a volunteer or a core crew member. Needless to say, I really enjoy getting to meet a whole crop of top notch marksman and women who will likely compete professionally in the coming years. Not to mention all the competitors are usually kind, honest, and supper friendly individuals. Ahhhhh, it was going to be a great week!

This is one over grown hay field we turned into a
FITA archery range for the tournament.
     After a few days of setting up ranges, laboring under the sun with the grass and dust sticking to our sweat, and having much more water in my sweat soaked clothes than in my water bottle at the end of the day, I was feeling pretty good! (Probably not what you thought I was going to say huh?) I must explain: I enjoy manual labor. You see, at my current job, I'm stuck up in a 5th floor office everyday, for 5-8 hours.... And this bushman is not built for office life! So when I go home on the weekends, I relish chores like pulling weeds, scooping snow, trimming trees, and any over labor where I can see the works of my hands once the task is done; it's naturally gratifying to my soul!
All the mosquitoes.... Well, they weren't quite as gratifying to my soul.
     You might think a good hard day's work usually warrants the reward of a cool shower and a night of relaxing in the air conditioning, and you'd be right! That is a great way for most folks to cap off a day like today, but seeing as I'm encamped in a new town and there is wildlife here that I haven't seen in a long time, I decide to reward myself with an evening hike.
     As I cruise back to the hotel with both windows wide open to dry my sweat (my truck doesn't have AC), I think of the nature park I'll be visiting in a short time. We camped there a few years ago when I competed in compound archery at this very event, and there were magnificent piles of rubble and railroad tines for all sorts or reptiles, bugs, and amphibians to hide in! As I stroll up to our hotel room, I whip out my room key. I fumble with it for a while until I finally get the thing oriented correctly for the door swipe to read it. Once in the room, I drop my work pack, throw a few field guides into my field pack, fill my bottle, and I'm back at the door almost before it has time to latch itself back shut.
     After my short trip across town, I roll through the camp ground before getting to the nature park. Those pesky 15 mph speed limits just seem so inconvenient. Especially when you're revving to track some dirt at the trail head and flip some cover. But alas, I finally arrive at the trail head and my feet feel a new wave of rejuvenated energy, even though I was standing on them all day.
This is my co-worker holding a Lined-Snake I found as we were setting up the range
     As I round the first bend in the trail, the setting sun highlights the cotton specks floating through the air. The Eastern Cotton Wood tree is Nebraska's state tree, and each seed has a fluff of wispy cotton attached to it to help it disperse via the seemingly continuous Nebraska breeze. This area is chalk-a-block full of cotton wood trees, and that means there is plenty of large tree limbs and bark for habitat and cover. As I scan each side of the trail, looking for movement, I hear a favorite sound of mine. The classic rustle of scales along dead grass is etched into my mind ever since I was a boy, and I automatically lock onto the spot where the noise came from. As previous experience has taught me, after you hear a snake slither through the tall grass, you must immediately stop, locate the snake, assess the surroundings, and quickly catch the snake before it mysteriously disappears unnoticed. As I watch the Common Garter Snake glide over a small log, I noticed the poison Ivy mingled within the thick brush it escaped into. I'm not afraid to a few scratched or bruises, but I have no inclination to suffer from dreadfully itchy Poison Ivy blisters and rashes all over my body, at least not for catching this very common snake. Plus, the hike is young, and the territory yet to cover is great. 
     While I stalk up to the first pile of rubble, I question why I've never flipped these hunks of concrete in search of reptiles before. Maybe I was not yet strong enough? Or just though of better things to do? but after the first rock I flip, I question my priorities earlier on in my life. It was a smaller chunk of rubble, probably only 20 pounds, but behold! A beautiful adult Northern Prairie Sink rested peacefully beneath this rock! But alas, I had been too ambitious in my approach to this rock flipping, and still had my camera safely stowed in my pack. As I contemplated taking my bag off before attempting to catch the little beauty, my new acquaintance wised up to my presents and made his move! As he dashed for the other rocks my hand flew after him! I was down to my knees and up to my elbow in concrete boulder when he flipped a U-turn and escaped into the depths of the rock pile, but not after leaving my knuckle scraped and blooded from the rocks.
     I was floored! What luck! To find a lizard under the first rock is unheard of in the history of herping with Dylan. I was jazzed and ready to flip some more rocks. Now I had my camera and catching hands ready! But as all you hunters, fishermen, herpetologists, and any other fellow who seeks wildlife knows, you never know when you'll find the next critter. And in many cases you may not find anymore critters, which is what I was thinking after flipping the next 3/4 of this rock pile. And it occurs to me that the reason I didn't flip these rocks in my younger days, was probably because I had planned on not ruining my back before I turned 30. It also occurred to me that if I could just go Hulk whenever I wanted to, I would be the best Herpetologist that ever searched a rock pile!
A big healthy looking Six-lined Racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineata)gave me some great photos on a rock!
     But my sweat and sore muscles find a reward as I flip a rock on the opposite side of the pile and find a beautiful Six-lined Racerunner awaiting me. With my left hand already posed and ready for the capture, I flip the rock and make one swift and delicate motion to catch the lizard by his abdomen. It's important not to grab the tail, as most lizards are able to lose their tail to predators which enables them to escape, and it is also important to use a very delicate touch to hold the lizards, so as not to hurt their small bodies.
Long claws for traction on loose substrates
That long tail can come off if a predator
grabs a hold of it. This is one of their main
defensive strategies.
Like all reptiles, the Aspidoscelis sexlineata
is an ectotherm and must regulate its body
temperature via the external environment.

     The Six-lined Racerunner (Asidoscelis sexlineata) is a member of the Teiidae family. This family of lizards is commonly known as the whiptails, and it contains Parthenogenic and non-parthenogenic lizards. This term, Parthenogenic, means they can reproduce asexually, and even though the Asidoscelis genera are known to be quite parthenogenic, the Six-lined Racerunner here in Nebraska is not generally known to be parthenogenic like the Western Whiptail populations of the desert South West. But our Six-lined Racerunner is a diurnal lizard and very insectivorous, but for some reason it avoids eating beetles. Males tend to show a more vibrant blue coloration on their underbelly, especially during mating season. This particular Racerunner sported a very beautiful blue belly, and looked to be a nice big healthy male.
     As I replaced the rock he was under back to it's original resting place, I lowered the lizard to the base of the rock. He began to squirm as he neared the ground and only a slight release of pressure from my thumb allowed the beautiful reptile the zip off to the stony safe place. Check out the sweet video of this catch here >>>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7q1ctrkzw8
     A happy summer, a happy week of events, and a beautiful night for herping. What a great catch! and video too! They say the it's the small things in life that can be the some of the happiest things in life. And though lizards in Nebraska are generally pretty small compared to other animals, I'm a big support of the motto that says, it's the life in life that makes the most happiest things in life. And yes I just made that up, but honestly, the whole world, flora and fauna, macro and micro, all interacting in so many amazing ways, this is what rocks my world! and this beautiful creation is what I want to share with you!