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

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Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max 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. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed 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. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn