Wildlife & Wild Places

The Venomous Lizard, a Snake-Eating Snake, and the Tortoise that Holds its Poop

Saguaro National Park, Arizona–It’s reptile country here on the outskirts of Tucson, the site of the 2011 BioBlitz. As I write this, the 2,000 people who have fanned out across Saguaro National Park to identify all the species in the preserve have identified some dozen species of reptiles. I spotted one myself, right outside this very tent — a magnificent black snake with a bright yellow eye that a park ranger told me was a coachwhip.

Across from where I am sitting is perhaps the most popular table in the science tent. U.S. Geological Survey herpetologist Cecil Schwalbe has brought some live specimens, including a giant pink venomous lizard called the Gila monster, two tortoises, and a couple of non-venomous snakes.

In the video interview above, Schwalbe talks about all these reptiles, which are commonly found in Saguaro National Park. Some of the highlights:

— The Gila monster does not use its venom to kill prey, but rather as a defense against predators. Nonetheless, it’s not an animal you’d want to handle. According to Schwalbe, a bite from a Gila monster is like being sliced with a razor blade, and profuse bleeding is likely to ensue.

— How do desert tortoises prevent themselves from being baked by the sun inside their shells? Schwalbe says these animals are adapted to the harsh conditions and are masters at preserving every scrap of moisture. They can even retain their pee and poop to avoid voiding even the slightest bit of water.

— The king snake is so-called because it eats rattlesnakes. When a rattler encounters a human, it will often coil itself and be threatening. But if it sees a king snake it gets away as fast as it can. “They know the king preys on them,” he says.

Coachwhip spotted at the 2011 BioBlitz. Photo by David Braun/National Geographic News

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
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  • […] The Venomous Lizard, a Snake-Eating Snake, and the Tortoise that Holds its PoopNational GeographicSaguaro National Park, Arizona–It’s reptile country here on the outskirts of Tucson, the site of the 2011 BioBlitz. As I write this, the 2000 people who have fanned out across Saguaro National Park to identify all the species in the preserve have …Avoid Saguaro National Park tomorrowTucson Velo24 hour BioBlitz counts park’s speciesKOLD-TVSaguaro visitors can be amateur scientists at BioBlitzTucsonSentinel.comKVOA Tucson News -Tucson Weekly -NatGeo News Watch (blog)all 18 news articles » […]

  • Ima Ryma

    “What’s up!” hissed the snake eating snake.
    The poop holding tortoise replied,
    “A BioBlitz – give us a break -”
    “Humans are spreading far and wide.”
    The gila monster flashed its tongue.
    “Why can’t they just leave us alone?”
    They’re pests – especially their young,”
    “Every one with a cell phone,”
    “Chattering and texting galore,”
    “Not watching anything about.”
    “A wayward foot will flop no more,”
    “Once I have bitten it – no doubt!”

    “Humans call it the BioBlitz.”
    “We’ll be glad when they call it quits.”

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Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

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Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

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