The first of our four pregnant rattlesnakes has given birth since last Thursday (between September 8 and 12).
The animated GIF file above shows Female 54 in the foreground inside a hollow log and still pregnant (note the scales pulled apart on her abdomen) but with babies crawling over her on both sides. Female 39 is in the background and no longer pregnant. Since these are the only two females I have seen gestating in this hollow log this year, I believe the kids belong to Female 39. The video was recorded with our BurrowCam, actually a Ridgid Tools inspection camera that can be inserted up to three feet into burrows, logs and other narrow chambers.
As you know if you have been reading this blog for very long, mom and babies stay together for a week or a little longer, until the kids shed the corneal layer of their skin for the first time. After that, they go their separate ways to forage for food before hibernation. Thus, if my telemetered females are in sync with the larger population, baby rattlesnakes should begin appearing on the trails around the fourth week in September.
This is Female 39’s third brood in four years. Each time she has reproduced since I have been monitoring her, she has made a beeline to the same spot in the blackberry thicket on the other side of San Lorenzo Way as soon as the kids leave home. Apparently fall rodent hunting is very good there! We’ll see if she stays true to form this season.
Just a brief update to report that three or our six telemetered females (41, 39 and 53) have returned to the shelters where they have delivered broods in past years and all look quite heavy. Another, Female 66, is also stationary in a hollow log with a full abdomen but she did not reproduce last year and, since 2016 was our first year monitoring her, we don’t know where she has gestated in the past. Female 75, who did produce kids last year, is not heavy, still on the move, and looks like she will skip this year. Female 80 was on the hillside at the bluff but I have recently lost her radio signal. She was heavy and I could not palpate embryos when I replaced her transmitter in early June but she had lots of material in her GI tract which complicates the exam. Hopefully, her new transmitter has not failed…
Our females continue to often produce offspring during consecutive years, sometimes three years in a row before taking a year off. As mentioned before, this is not the norm for temperate-latitude pitvipers. While annual reproduction is common in the tropics where it never gets cold, the shorter warm season this far from the equator usually means that females need a year or two between broods to replace body fat before they can reproduce again. Conditions for our rattlesnakes are obviously quite good (even in past “drought” years), allowing them to replenish their weight quickly after losing 30%–50% of their body mass when they give birth.
Finally, I thought you’d find this photo interesting. Our big beautiful Male 37 was just in for his transmitter change two days ago and had obviously consumed a ground squirrel just before I captured him.